Respect the law of the Long Arm

A recent USA Today article on cell-surveillance (cellveillance) explains how video cameras on cell phones will change the world as we know it, making all of us “passive papparatsi.” From the phone to to Entertainment Tonight to the nation—there is an emerging new power group on the scene. Call them the Smart Mob. They are taking over the world.

OJ, News Corporation, Fox and Regan Books all felt the heat of the Smart Mob a few weeks ago. Coming in from the blog world, interactive survey universe and digital court of public opinion – the answer was NO to “If I Did It.” promised to get your vote to News Corporation. Tom Peters told his business universe that anyone connected with the project should fry in hell. An army of electronic activists offered up their missives from Amazon’s book listing to an open letter to Jeff Bezos.

Television, from shout-fest cable to network news tapped into the buzz and moved the story up to front and center. Book stores recanted their support of the book and feigned ignorance of the author and content up until just recently. In the end, Fox and Regan were corralled and News Corporation started damage control.

The world has changed. And you changed the world, one click at a time. I’m not claiming that the Internet single-handedly killed the OJ project. But I believe the web community the tipping point in this situation.

Enter the Smart Mob and its Long Arm.

In his must-read-to-know-what’s-next book, Smart Mobs, futurist Howard Reingold predicts that many real world decisions will be driven by strangers working in unison with real-time digital tools in a world pervaded by computing. By “smart mob,” he is referring to people who have the capacity to coordinate electronically with other people– whom they probably don’t know and will never meet–to elicit change. When strangers can coordinate an attack on something they want to stop/destroy/protest/boycott against; they become Smart Mobs.

While the OJ Back-Peddle-Play might be the most recent example of a Smart Mob tipping the balance of power, it is not the first. In Reingold’s book, he points to 2001, when the president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, was toppled by a few thousand cell phone-carrying texters. Tens of thousands of protestors converged on a popular street, known as EDSA, within just an hour of the first mass text message that said, “Go 2EDSA, wear black.” Within a few days the net-fueled black-clothed crowd on EDSA swelled to over a million. Estrada was finished.

As the world wide web converges with the daily grind, Smart Mobs will begin to change business decisions, political actions and even the future of organized religion. If the theory of The Long Tail is true (digital niche products will have a long shelf life of profitability), then I suggest that the Long Arm must be recognized also. The reach of conscience has extended from the television studio to the entire populations. The combination with ubiquitous recording devices combined with a global personal publishing platform breeds a perfect storm for change. The distance between disgust and deletion is narrowing, and fast. In the old days, where the paper and the nightly news were running the show; OJ’s show would have aired, he would have appeared on Oprah and the book would be a #1 best seller. If and only if a committee in congress could organize themselves, then and only then would News Corporation make the decision to stop the madness. The fuse was long and there was little guarantee anything would “go off in time to make a difference.” The public moved on to something else more explosive.

But like I said, the world has changed. And for the better.

How long did it take for Michael Richards to have his private club meltdown broadcast to the universe? Who broke the story—Geraldo? No, Internet fueled, the story blew up in minutes on the Internet and barely made it on the evening news in time to promote his satellite appearance on Letterman. The Long Arm reached from the digital to the real world and now the Laugh Factory says, “no more going Kramer in our pad!” I don’t expect Judith Regan to commission Richards to write a book titled, If I Said It. He’s over.

The Smart Mob hasn’t really organized yet to make a difference in a national election. But they could/can/might.

The Long Arm hasn’t changed the face of business – putting the sqeeze the bad companies on bulletin boards. But it probably will.

Bad guys take notice, your window of opportunity has just shrunk again.

Recommended reads:
Smart Mobs by Howard Reingold
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki