Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs and read through it in one sitting. While I wasn’t surprised that people had found ways to use wireless communications in radical new ways, I was floored by how easy it seemed. But, like all good ideas, it wasn’t long afterwards that I felt like we might be wasting a grand opportunity.

I’ve joked over the years that this disruptive technology once held tremendous promise, but has instead turned into a way to make sure that all your buddies showed up at the correct bar on Friday night.

So, it heartenend me just a tad to read today’s story about Live 8, the worldwide concert aimed at pushing the world to forgive debts from the planet’s poorest country. More than 26 million people sent text messages supporting the concert’s ideal. Even AOL chimed in, saying more than five million people watched streaming versions of the concerts.

Now, on the eve of the G8 gathering, it will be interesting to see if that worldwide call to action has any bearing on the discussions there. My guess is that our president has his agenda set – and no amount of texting from citizens around the world will push him off of that. (And, I wonder, how much of that agenda do I want him to change because of those texts?)

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing former President Bill Clinton give a talk about micro-economics at the University of California at Berkeley. It was brilliant, in that he tied the future of American business to the development of small economies around the world that would be enticed to buy our products. In other words, our altruism was tied firmly to our financial well-being – and you can sell that to the American people. That is an idea that gives political cover to anyone pushing for a global economy.

I’m not wise enough to understand the complexities of foreign debts (or even our own debt), but conceptually I can understand this: a rising tide lifts all boats. Creating new markets not only increases the goods that can be sold, but also reduces the expenditures it takes to keep sinking markets from sinking (and that, I assume, is an exponential number, since if there is never any growth, you not only lose the growth, but also struggle to maintain an even-ground, which each year gets more expensive to do).

Which brings me back to the texts and Rheingold, and my question about the impact of 26 million texts supporting the debt forgiveness idea. In this case, the texts aren’t so much an agent of change as permission from the world for our leaders to make a change – which, in a republic, is all that we can do.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me