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Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold, an influential writer and thinker on social media, is the author of Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (both published by the MIT Press), and Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

Titles by This Author

A BIT of The Virtual Community

The “virtual community” of online networking is as real as any physical community. In this BIT, “First Citizen of the Internet” Howard Rheingold offers an account of the people who made this networked world possible—“stubborn visionaries who insisted that computers could be used by people other than specialists”—describing pioneers of citizen tool-making that range from a former radar operator who had an epiphany on the way to work in 1950 to crusading programmers, clever MIT hackers, and the creators of Usenet, MUD, and the WELL.

Purchasers of this MIT Press BIT will also receive a discount code (good on the MIT Press website only) for 40% off the price of the book The Virtual Community, from which this BIT is excerpted. Please email mitbits@mit.edu with your order number to receive your discount code.

How to Thrive Online

Like it or not, knowing how to make use of online tools without being overloaded with too much information is an essential ingredient to personal success in the twenty-first century. But how can we use digital media so that they make us empowered participants rather than passive receivers, grounded, well-rounded people rather than multitasking basket cases? In Net Smart, cyberculture expert Howard Rheingold shows us how to use social media intelligently, humanely, and, above all, mindfully.

Mindful use of digital media means thinking about what we are doing, cultivating an ongoing inner inquiry into how we want to spend our time. Rheingold outlines five fundamental digital literacies, online skills that will help us do this: attention, participation, collaboration, critical consumption of information (or "crap detection"), and network smarts. He explains how attention works, and how we can use our attention to focus on the tiny relevant portion of the incoming tsunami of information. He describes the quality of participation that empowers the best of the bloggers, netizens, tweeters, and other online community participants; he examines how successful online collaborative enterprises contribute new knowledge to the world in new ways; and he teaches us a lesson on networks and network building.

Rheingold points out that there is a bigger social issue at work in digital literacy, one that goes beyond personal empowerment. If we combine our individual efforts wisely, it could produce a more thoughtful society: countless small acts like publishing a Web page or sharing a link could add up to a public good that enriches everybody.

Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier

Howard Rheingold has been called the First Citizen of the Internet. In this book he tours the "virtual community" of online networking. He describes a community that is as real and as much a mixed bag as any physical community—one where people talk, argue, seek information, organize politically, fall in love, and dupe others. At the same time that he tells moving stories about people who have received online emotional support during devastating illnesses, he acknowledges a darker side to people's behavior in cyberspace. Indeed, contends Rheingold, people relate to each other online much the same as they do in physical communities.

Originally published in 1993, The Virtual Community is more timely than ever. This edition contains a new chapter, in which the author revisits his ideas about online social communication now that so much more of the world's population is wired. It also contains an extended bibliography.

The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology

The digital revolution did not begin with the teenage millionaires of Silicon Valley, claims Howard Rheingold, but with such early intellectual giants as Charles Babbage, George Boole, and John von Neumann. In a highly engaging style, Rheingold tells the story of what he calls the patriarchs, pioneers, and infonauts of the computer, focusing in particular on such pioneers as J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, and Alan Kay. Taking the reader step by step from nineteenth-century mathematics to contemporary computing, he introduces a fascinating collection of eccentrics, mavericks, geniuses, and visionaries.

The book was originally published in 1985, and Rheingold's attempt to envision computing in the 1990s turns out to have been remarkably prescient. This edition contains an afterword, in which Rheingold interviews some of the pioneers discussed in the book. As an exercise in what he calls "retrospective futurism," Rheingold also looks back at how he looked forward.