NetSmart is Howard Rheingold’s latest book. It synthesizes his 30 years of experience if being a model digital citizen and what he has learned from asking other this simple question: How to use social media intelligently and mindfully? Lately, I have been working in far flung places which means long, very long airplane rides without Internet access! This book has been my companion lately – not only because it is so rich (check out the table of contents) but it has given me a lot to think about and reflect on in terms of my own social media use – and how to be a lot of smarter about it.
If you are going to purchase one book about using social media, this is the one to read. It’s for people who want to go deeper and get practical know how, improved productivity, and integrate physical and virtual lives.
What I like most about this book is that isn’t rant against social media and how it is destroying our lives. Instead, Rheingold is telling us that networks and social media aren’t a fad that will go away, and that we need to put into practice intelligent ways of using it in our lives and work. He emphasizes that living mindfully in cyberspace is as important to us as civilization itself. Mindfully is defined as not just going in to auto pilot to update your FB status, but to consciously think about all aspects of our digital actions. He also suggests that making use of social media and other online tools without getting hit with information overload is the essential secret to success in the 21st century.
The book covers five digital literacies – each starting with an illustration by Anthony Weeks that graphically communicates the key points. They include: attention, crap detection, collaboration, networks, and participation.
The attention chapter is about why and how to control your attention when you’re online. Some points that particularly resonated and that I have been working on myself are:
- Mindfulness is about becoming aware of how you direct your attention – both online and offline
- Breath links mind, brain, and body – and paying attention to your breath help cultivate mindfulness
- To say that social media facilitates distraction is not to say that social media has to control your awareness – you can take control back and through repeated conscious efforts
- Social media attention training requires understanding your goals and priorities and involves asking yourself at regular intervals whether your current activity at any moment moves you closer to your goal or serves your higher priority.
- Like meditation, mindful use of social media begins with noticing when your attention has wandered, and then gently bringing it back to focus on your highest priority – like training a puppy.
- Sometimes your goal might be to learn or deepen relationships – in which case – having fun or making small talk or exploring from link to link is permissible – and important. Don’t make attention training so rigid that it destroys flow.
- To establish new attention habits, start small, find a place in your routine for a new behavior, and repeat until paying attention has become a habit.
The networks chapter includes some important points about the value networks and a networked mindset. A few points that resonated:
- A portfolio of both strong and weak ties is useful to individuals a network society. Social media can help maintain larger networks of weak ties, but only a limited number of strong-tie relationships can be maintained irrespective of media.
- One’s position in social networks matters. Centrality – how many people and networks go through you to connect with each other – can be more important than the number of connections.
- Diverse networks are collectively smarter and provide a richer variety of resources to participating nodes.
- People who can bridge networks – fill structural holes – stand to benefit.
- Small talk nourishes trust. Trust lubricates transaction.
- Pay it forward. Doing favors for others online is the strongest predictor of whether you receive favors from others.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the section on content curation called “Curation is Short for “We’re All Each Other’s Filter.” This is how I first learned about Rheingold’s new book – when he was doing the research on content curation and did the above interview with Robert Scoble. Later I discovered Rheingold’s interview with master curator, Robin Good. In his book, Rheingold’s summarizes the best advice from these two curation giants and adds his own experience in curation, something he as been doing since 1987.
Rheingold reminds us of the value of becoming a content curator.
“Judgement, taste, depth, and breadth of knowledge can be an asset, a public good, and a commodity. People can gain attention, admiration, collaboration partners, professional reputations, and business relatinships by becoming known curators.”
Curation is a form of digital participation that can refine your captured information into contextualized knowledge, enhance your reputation, and serve the information needs of others.
All in all, this is a must read book – not only for those of who work in social media, but everyone who wanted to working smarter with networks and the Internet.