Howard Rheingold

As we are increasingly inundated with information from websites like Twitter and Facebook, it’s become more and more difficult to filter out what’s important. In his new book, “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online,” Howard Rheingold guides the way with tips on how to use social networks and “crap detection” to figure out what’s relevant.

Interview Highlights

On How to Cut Through the Online Noise and Be Productive

"First of all I think [there's] this matter of meta-cognition, of knowing where you're putting your attention. You need to make decisions. 'Am I going to click on that link? Am I going to maybe open a tab for it on my browser and look at it later? Am I going to bookmark it to look at it much later or am I going to ignore it?' You need to make those decisions consciously and I think most of us make them unconsciously. As I said, we wouldn't have so many cute cat videos if people didn't click on impulse.

You have to make [decisions] in the context of what you intend to get done for the day. Write down, with good old right-brain pencil and paper, three things you want to get done [online] today, and just two or three words each, and put that in the periphery of your vision… and put it near your screen. And when your sight, when your gaze falls upon it, simply ask yourself 'Is what I'm doing now going to get me to where I need to be by the end of the day?' I'm not asking you to admonish yourself or to make any changes to your routine, I'm only asking you to add a little layer of awareness."

On What Kids and Parents Need to Know Before Using the Internet

"Kids need to be told before they get online that nowadays everything that you put online is going to be there forever, it's going to be searchable, it can be connected to your name, it can be reproduced, and it can be spread around the world. Kids have always done dumb things and they've always kind of said snarky things about each other and they've always had their best friends. They've never had them reproduced forever, search-ibly and reproduce-ibly and able to be broadcast everywhere. You need to know some of these things before you dip your toe in."

On Why Sharing What You Ate for Breakfast Matters

"When you meet a stranger, you talk about the weather, you talk about sports, you kind of take the temperature of that person, and I think sharing what you have for lunch everyday is kind of boring and maybe narcissistic. But saying 'I'm sitting under my plum try, I'm very happy to be able to do so,' gives people a sense of you as a human being — maybe they will trust you enough to give you a little bit of their time and information.

Small talk lubricates trust. Certainly, it's trivia and it's not going to do you much good to spend all day with trivia, but I think throwing in a little bit of the human element is not a bad idea."

"The person who thinks of herself as a contributor to digital culture, in however a small way, a participant rather than a passive consumer, is a different kind of citizen. They think of themselves as having more agency in the world."

On Audio and Video Reducing Online Bullying

"Now that I can bring my students into a space where we can see each other via video and listen to each other…  we all agree, that it's a very different experience from the ones that we've done for years online, where we have exchanged words and maybe we've posted pictures and links.

There's something about face to face that can't be duplicated online. But a great deal of that signaling can be duplicated with audio and video. So I think we're getting a richer form of communication than we used to have. Here's a research question for some sociologist: Are people going to flame each other when we have universal audio and video or is that an artifact of the text-only world?"


Howard Rheingold: ‘Net Smart’ 29 August,2012forum

Howard Rheingold, author of "Net Smart: How to Thrive Online" and of previous books including "The Virtual Community" and "Smart Mobs"

  • Flintlocked2012

    Helped pioneer them? It seems HR has been wrong about everything he wrote concerning the power of online communities. The WELL community, for example, was unable to see the forest for the trees with the rise of the web when Bruce Katz attempted to create a web interface for the service, and now the WELL is a has-been service, only kept alive through the benevolence of Salon’s owner.

  • BaneCapitol

    The Internet connects people in a positive way in that whereas in person, a slick talker or manipulative person can pull one over on you, online their interpersonal power is gone. If they push sheer nonsense claims or bogus logic, like what you see in religion, politics, and current events, we the People can call them on their sh*t, and defeat them based on logic and rationality.

  • Tim

    Staring at your own private screen is fundamentally disengaging and destructive to true community. Real community has been sacrificed to virtual community. This becomes increasingly obvious every day. We need to evolve to limit our screen time.

  • Theodore Grover

    The media is still the message…content is only secondary….from CB radio to twitter meaningful content is lost….McLuhan’s prophesies were warnings of a diminished intellectual future.

  • HollywoodDog69

    Who IS this pompous windbag? SHEESH!!!!

  • Anne

    I think it helps to ask yourself why you are so drawn to click on things that are really of no interest to you but takes your mind off the parts of life that seem overwhelming  and desperate. The internet is an enormous time saver if you are able to filter  and only look at what  you need or are looking to learn more about.  I think it also helps to set aside a certain time of the day to just surf and “waste” time to relax.

  • doug eisenstark

    I bought a computer in the late 1980’s because I read in a magazine about the WELL and wanted to participate. I eventually left because I unwittedly ran up such a big credit card bill using it. Technology and commerce collided. 

  • Rhet

    I hate this talk about “echo chambers”. I don’t listen to people who AGREE with me, listen to people whom I judge to be TRUSTWORTHY, even if they say things I don’t like. Common mainstream sources are not trustworthy for the most part, nor are government sources. These are corporatist.

    It’s the spinmasters and liars who belittle people by claiming they only listen to agreeable sources, because spinmasters and liars want the gullible public to fall for their lies.

  • Indicia7

    I was married to an incredibly engaging and romantic man 3 years ago.  At that time we only had regular cell phones and laptop computers.  6 months into our marriage we got smart phones and he got an i pad.  Now he turns to his I pad first thing in the morning and the last thing at night and If I really want to get his attention I E mail him.  I really enjoy staying connected with friends and family with facebook, but for me it is not a struggle to limit that time spent.  I think for many others the often superfiscial level of relationship in social media is more rewarding and comfortable than real intamacy.

  • Liza Loop

    Thanks, Howard. Insightful as ever. 

  • Yle

    Thank you for the advice.  Whenever I try to study online, I get distracted with ads, shopping online, music, videos and social sites.
    Now I will make a plan of things I need to get done and then spend the rest of my free time (If any left) just browsing online

  • Hmacbeath

    Rheingold brings to mind Tony Wagner’s “Creating Innovators.” Wagner addresses the palpable uncertainties we parents feel giving our children over to an increasingly outdated public school system. This is also easily accessed in Sir ken Robinson’s brilliant TED talk.

    I can heartily recommend Caitlin Moran’s “how to be a woman.” If you are brave enough to get into this candid autobiography, she has some revelatory stuff to say about the first images of sex your kid will see are likely to be from an Internet porn site. Food for thought.

  • Daveash1

    this program was wonderfully informed except from the perspective of an
    historical myopia concerning social media.

    is understandable that many companies in the valley want to be viewed as new,
    progressive, cutting-edge – it drives revenue!

    social media was being used in the 80s and 90s by a very large diverse
     group of people. The functionality was no different than to-day.
    All the has changed is the ease of use!


    did not invent the wheel just modified it!




    employed at Bell Labs – inside and outside : internet user groups for mail


    user groups were available to subscribe to (free). These covered all the topics
    we current see in social media – vacations, products, political forums, etc.

    difference then was usability.

    download  could take 5 to 30 minutes depending on the baud RATE (300 AND
    LATER 9.6k) over a phone internet connection

    user then was required to use a search tool to extract useful information.

    could post comments

    could form exclusive groups

    other similarities too numerous to go into here


    used this for a variety of purposes. Obviously, the browser replaced and made
    easier this activity in the mid- 90s


    2 :




    very popular during the late 90s and early naughty’s


    groups have most of the functionality seen in FB, although more specific to
    professional FB pages


    last pet peeve : when you think of the IPOD think of the late 70s early 80s
    Sony Walkman. All that’s changed is the interface technology to provide the
    ease of use (capacity, etc)


    A great discussion but remember, understanding
    history allows us to understand the present and future

  • Tim

    Mr Rheingold’s answer to my comment was relativistic. Of course there’s such a thing as true community, composed of authentic and meaningful social bonds based on material engagement. It’s called civitas — the root of the word civilization. I’ll google his expert, but it sounds like he’s talking about how people have come to define the word “community” now that its original meaning has become hollow. Furthermore, people understood community long before Google.

    It’s easy for people of his (and my; I’m not that far behind him) generation to minimize the effect of digital culture because they were introduced to it well after their social habits were established; it was overlaid onto the semblance of community we had until we all became digital junkies, so he takes real socialization for granted. Is it the only culprit in the decline of local community? Of course not. Our economy in numerous ways has undermined local communities. Also, his remark that cities were created by people who didn’t fit in to the communities where they were from is an absurd overstatement. Big cities are economic efficiencies on both the production and consumption sides. That’s why we  have them.

    His inability to recognize that there is such a thing as community is in fact the real answer to my comment: a culture digitally obsessed is no longer even able recognize true community.

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