Group Assembly

by Brian Haven
@ 2:33 PM

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The second example of participation is group assembly. Group assembly involves ad-hoc gatherings or coordinated actions by groups of people using technology originally intended to enable one-on-one communication with known individuals (such as text messaging or conversations on mobile phones). However, when the members of adapting enterprises use these technologies, the participants in the group often do not know each other. While this alternative use of technology is not explicitly impossible or prohibited by the originating enterprise, it is certainly unexpected. The motivations for such activities vary from entertainment and performance art to political protest.

When I originally did this research for my thesis work at CMU back in 2002-2003, flash mobs were just emerging. For those not familiar, a flash mob is a gathering of individuals coordinated online using technological tools such as email, mobile phones, or bulletin boards (back in the day).
[Pillow Fight Club from by Boston Globe]
They agree to suddenly assemble at a specific location for a short period of time, typically just a few minutes, and then disperse immediately. Usually, there is an assigned task, like asking a humorous question of an employee or purchasing a random item at a store where the flash mob is occurring. I thought that flash mobs would be the quintessential example of group assembly, but then it mostly died out. Other than the occasional pillow fight, I guess I was wrong. That being said, other forms of group assembly did emerge — meet ups and social networks.

Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs was on to this phenomenon early on:

But whether or not people in the future use the Internet and their mobile devices to self-organize urban performance art, the fact that peer-to-peer media enable people to organize their own entertainment will not go away. The millions of massive multiplayer gamers and the smaller crowds of flash mobbers are both engaged in varieties of self-organized amusement. Instead of buying a ticket and waiting in line to consume packaged entertainment fed them by others, online gamers and flash mobbers are making their own entertainment.

Channeling the past’s masters of public pranks and ad hoc performance art like Merry Pranksters, Suicide Club, or Cacophony Society, whether or not flash mobs will regain popularity remains to be seen. The emergence, and recent dominance, of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter lend credence to the importance of group assembly. These tools mostly enable group assembly online, but the participants can be considered adapting enterprises. Social Networks utilize technology to enable behaviors that weren’t previously possible — connect, communicate, and collaborate with with a massive number of individuals. As I’ve said before, the core behaviors are part of human existence but the scale at which these action can occur is entirely new.

The power of these tools and behaviors is evident in the recent political protests in Iran. A culture once silenced and controlled by its own government is now
[Mousavi Protester from by Damir Sagolj/ Reuters]
using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to circumvent censorship and exert political force on its leaders. This is group assembly on a mass scale.

Services like Meetup facilitate physical interactions that were born online. As you can see, these new interactions are made possible by adapting enterprises (the creators of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and MeetUp) as well as the members of these communities) were neither possible just a short time ago nor were they ever successfully enabled by originating enterprises.


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