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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #83      A Publication of The Nature Institute      January 19, 1999
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Trust Me: I'm Vulnerable
       How to Beef Up Your Infant's Knowledge Base
       Imagining a Better Potato
       When Technology is Smoke and Confusion
    Letter from Des Moines (Lowell Monke)
       Wired Schools, Broken Trust
       Does NETFUTURE Hold to a Masculine Standard? (Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg)
       Response to Rebecca Eisenberg (Stephen L. Talbott)
    Announcements and Resources
       The Monsanto Files
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    One of the stranger notions in modern journalism is that every bit of
    commentary, in order to be relevant, must be given a tie-in to some kind
    of "breaking news".  I hardly need to tell you that this is not the policy
    of NETFUTURE.  Rather, the truth and importance of an item, together with
    the likelihood that it contains something fresh for most readers, is what
    I require.  That's why, for example, the current issue summarizes and
    comments on an "ancient" story from last October's New York Times
    That's also why I often do not report "breaking news" such as the
    Carnegie-Mellon study on Net use and depression or the recent Educational
    Testing Service study about the effectiveness of computers in teaching
    math to fourth and eighth graders.  As these studies pile up by the
    hundreds, they do little to affect the attitudes of knowledgeable people
    -- and for good reason.  They give nice, precise numbers that no one has a
    clue about interpreting.  The imbalance between statistic-gathering, on
    the one hand, and conceptual profundity, on the other, is so great in
    contemporary social science that almost the only responsible thing for any
    investigator to do is to work at clarifying and deepening concepts.  One
    needs to struggle to see things in different ways -- even though every
    such alternative view effectively scrambles all the data gathered from
    previous vantage points.
    Take, for example, the computer's use in math education.  What exactly is
    the comprehension, what are the skills, we are trying to teach?  You'll
    recall the piece in NF #80 ("Toddlers as Geometricians") where I cited
    John Alexandra's remark:
       We may think ... that we need to get children to memorize the idea that
       a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.  But even
       one-year-old children already know this:  when frightened, they will
       run to their parents in the straightest of straight lines.  At that
       age, however, they know it only in their legs, where this knowledge is
       unconscious, asleep.
    So then:  where, on the journey from legs through imaginative
    consciousness to abstract consciousness, should we look for the straight
    line in a fourth grader?  How would we test for an age-appropriate
    understanding?  And if we test a fourth grader for the most purified,
    abstract grasp of things (as we must, if we would achieve standardized
    results), are we taking a measure of the child's long-term cognitive
    health or of his developing imbalance?
    Well, these aren't the kinds of question one often finds in the
    literature.  Imagine the social conversations we might have if journalists
    probed on this level instead of merely passing along the endless stream of
    statistics from poll and experiment!  Statistics always presuppose -- and
    result from -- the answers we give to questions like those just asked; the
    problem is that we are not often aware of the answers we have presupposed.
    In any case, offering people different ways of seeing things is as good a
    description as any of what I try to do in NETFUTURE.  It is gratifying to
    hear from readers -- as I often do -- that, despite the prevailing
    journalistic canons, this exercise is appreciated.
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                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Trust Me: I'm Vulnerable
    Phil Agre made an important point about trust a while back.  When people
    talk about building secure mechanisms for electronic commerce so that we
    can trust each other, they're using the word "trust" in direct opposition
    to its usual meaning.
       To trust someone, in normal usage, is precisely to place yourself at a
       certain risk without formal guarantees of your safety.  If you don't
       trust someone, then you insist on contracts and proof and collateral
       and documentation and video surveillance and elaborate cryptographic
       payment protocols and so forth.  And if you do trust someone
       then you don't insist on these things.  (Red Rock Eater News Service,
       Dec. 15, 1998)
    I've long noticed a parallel oddity in the way people speak of being
    vulnerable on the Net.  As the story often goes, the shy, the outcast, the
    hurt, and the maladjusted find a safe haven on the Net.  They can "risk"
    expressing their true feelings -- they can be "vulnerable" -- because the
    medium gives them relative anonymity and the option of a quick disconnect.
    Lost in this picture, of course, is what vulnerability means:  to be at
    genuine risk.  My favorite story is the one told by the young woman who
    visited online "singles' bars":  she didn't need to worry about what she
    was getting herself into, she said, because as soon as anyone started to
    misbehave, "Poof!  I'm gone."  Some vulnerability.
    (This is not to say that a person who is incapacitated by insecurity may
    not find temporary therapeutic value in the Net's relative anonymity.  But
    this is less a virtue of networking technology than a failure of the
    community to embrace and make a place for all its citizens.  And surely we
    ought to hope that the sufferer can exchange invulnerability for normal
    society as quickly as possible.)
    That the promise of electronic culture should so commonly be put in terms
    that mistake human qualities such as trust and vulnerability for their
    opposites seems to me terribly significant.  What we see here, I think, is
    the projection of our psyches into the external machinery of the Net.  The
    machinery stands in place of the inner work of trust and of risk-taking.
    We are, as a result, powerfully tempted to abandon the human struggles
    upon which the future of society hangs.
    You find the same sort of projection at work when technical networks are
    mistaken for social networks -- a confusion that overlooks the generally
    corrosive effect of the former upon the latter.  And likewise when
    information flows are mistaken for learning.  (In general, and in most
    contemporary contexts, the intensification of these flows actually works
    against learning, for reasons I will be discussing in the near future.)
    In all these cases, bewitched by the objectified products of our own inner
    activity, we have lost awareness of the activity itself.  More and more we
    are content to fiddle with computers and the other machinery of our
    existence while remaining forgetful of ourselves.  (See also "Forgetting
    Ourselves in the Age of Automatons" in NF #23.)
    How to Beef Up Your Infant's Knowledge Base
    On Dec. 22 ABC News online ran a little story called "Wired Babies".  It
    began, "Jessica Barton turned 1 this month, but she's already spent more
    hours in front of a computer than many Americans have in a lifetime." Then
    it continued:
       How young is too young for a baby to be put in front of a computer?
       Child psychologist Will Staso says there is no lower age limit.  He
       even backs up a company's claim that its software, Babywow, makes kids
       smarter.  Babywow displays words and plays sounds in several languages.
       "These are sounds that a child can't hear in a normal environment",
       says Staso.  "Presenting infants with information that can expand their
       knowledge base can have a positive effect on their developing
    This item has been sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks while I've
    been too stunned to know what to say.  The knowledge base of an infant?
    This is what we need to worry about?  And the way to help is by playing
    recorded sounds completely divorced from the child's meaningful
    interaction with its surroundings?  Is it really so urgent to get an early
    start on the habits of dissociation, the fragmentation of context, that
    already vitiate modern life?
    I would challenge Staso to utter a single coherent phrase about the
    knowledge base of an infant -- an infant, remember, who does not yet even
    possess language.  What really seems to be at work here is the belief that
    "stimulation is good", period.  By itself, this nonsensical belief would
    justify inflicting random pain on a child.  However, it is not stimulation
    as such that counts, but a warm, nurturing, human environment where the
    verbal expression is the natural speaking of the overall context.
    The essential, unitary nature of the infant's world is something Staso, as
    a psychologist, ought to know a little about.  But it doesn't need a
    psychologist to grasp it.  The best description I know of, despite a form
    of expression we today quite naturally find alien, comes from George
    MacDonald, a nineteenth-century Scottish cleric:
       [The infant's inward condition] is one, I venture to say, of absolute,
       though, no doubt, largely negative faith.  Neither memory of pain that
       is past, nor apprehension of pain to come, once arises to give him the
       smallest concern.  In some way, doubtless very vague, for his being
       itself is a borderland of awful mystery, he is aware of being
       surrounded, enfolded with an atmosphere of love; the sky over him is
       his mother's face; the earth that nourishes him is his mother's bosom.
       The source, the sustentation, the defense of his being, the endless
       mediation betwixt his needs and the things that supply them, are all
       one.  There is no type so near the highest idea of relation to a God,
       as that of the child to his mother.  Her face is God, her bosom Nature,
       her arms are Providence -- all love -- one love -- to him an undivided
       bliss.  (From MacDonald's essay, "A Sketch of Individual Development"
       in A Dish of Orts)
    The infant, you might say, dreams his own existence within this Mother-
    world.  We must gently help him to wake up over time, but if we do it
    wisely, it will be less a matter of shattering his dream than of helping
    him to discover, in clear daylight, its infinitely far-reaching truth.
    The attempt of those panderers who push software like Babywow is to wake
    the child prematurely -- into a nightmare of random, meaningless
    (Thanks to Joel Kahn for passing along the news item.)
    Imagining a Better Potato
    If you missed the exceptional article, "Playing God in the Garden", in the
    Oct. 25, 1998 New York Times Magazine, it's well worth looking up.
    Focusing on the Monsanto corporation and a genetically engineered potato,
    author Michael Pollan wonderfully elucidates a mad mix of science, policy,
    bureaucratic denseness, public ignorance, corporate arrogance, and sheer
    insanity, all of which coalesced into a stark fact of 1998:  forty-five
    million acres of American farmland were planted with genetically altered
    As to the safety of these crops, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin has
    remarked, "We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism
    develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don't get one
    rude shock after another."  Nevertheless, few Americans are aware that
    they are eating genetically altered crops daily, and government regulating
    agencies have taken a number of steps to discourage the labeling that
    would give consumers choice in the matter.
    Among the revelations you'll find in Pollan's article are these:
    ** Some of Monsanto's potatoes have to be registered as a pesticide,
    because the plants produce the Bt toxin in every cell.  (Bt is a
    bacteria-produced poison that is approved for use on crops by organic
    farmers.)  However, you will not find any label on these potatoes
    informing you that you are eating a full-strength insecticide, and the
    bureaucratic logic behind this omission is a marvel to behold:  the Food
    and Drug Administration says that the potato, despite being eaten by
    humans, is not a food, but rather a pesticide, for purposes of Federal
    regulation.  Therefore, no label is required.  The Environmental
    Protection Agency (which regulates pesticides) says the potato is a food,
    not a pesticide.  Therefore, no label is required.
    Meanwhile, don't expect Monsanto to take such a radical step as to assume
    responsibility for its own actions.  As Phil Angell, the director of
    corporate communications, says, "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the
    safety of biotech food.  Our interest is in selling as much of it as
    possible.  Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."
    ** The idea that farmers would plant parts of their fields as pesticide-
    free "refuges" to help slow down the development of insect resistance to
    genetically engineered pesticides turns out to be a fiction -- if not a
    joke -- to both farmers and Monsanto.  Upon discovering this, Pollan
       It probably shouldn't come as a big surprise that conventional farmers
       would have trouble embracing the notion of an insect refuge.  To insist
       on real and substantial refuges is to ask them to start thinking of
       their fields in an entirely new way, less as a factory than as an
    ** Monsanto is fully aware that its insecticidal crops will result in
    insect resistance to one of the most effective pesticides approved for use
    by organic farmers.  Responding to this, a company vice-president advises
    us not to worry, since Monsanto can easily produce new (non-organically
    acceptable) toxins.  "Trust us", he said, presumably adding under his
    breath, "to destroy organic farming."
    A central element in industrial agriculture is monoculture -- the devotion
    of huge acreages to the same crop year after year.  As Pollan points out,
    "monoculture is poorly fitted to the way nature seems to work":
       Very simply, a field of identical plants will be exquisitely vulnerable
       to insects, weeds and disease.  Monoculture is at the root of virtually
       every problem that bedevils the modern farmer.
    Pollan found organic farmers working hard to adjust their fields to
    nature, while conventional farmers work "equally hard to adjust nature in
    their fields to the requirement of monoculture and, beyond that, to the
    needs of the industrial food chain."  On the conventional side, for
    example, farmers engage in protracted warfare with net necrosis, a disease
    of potatoes.  When Pollan asked an extremely successful and efficient
    organic farmer about this disease, the farmer replied, "That's only really
    a problem with Russet Burbank [potatoes], so I plant other kinds."  But a
    neighboring conventional farmer can't do that:
       He's part of a food chain -- at the far end of which stands a long,
       perfectly golden McDonald's fry -- that demands he grow Russet Burbanks
       and little else.
    All of which illustrates that there is no single villain in this picture
    -- even if companies like Monsanto are doing their best to play the role.
    We who eat McDonald's fries take our place alongside the industrial farmer
    in upholding the system -- and many others stand with us.  We remain
    largely unconscious of the fact that we are choosing between two different
    ways of viewing the world.  Pollan captures the choice well:
       Monoculture is in trouble -- the pesticides that make it possible are
       rapidly being lost, either to resistance or to heightened concerns
       about their danger.  Biotechnology is the new silver bullet that will
       save monoculture.  But a new silver bullet is not a new paradigm --
       rather, it's something that will allow the old paradigm to survive.
       That paradigm will always construe the problem in [a conventional
       grower's] fields as a Colorado potato beetle problem, rather than as a
       problem of potato monoculture.
    By our actions, we accede to one view or the other.  It is remarkable that
    in an era of sophisticated systems analysis and all the rest, we find it
    extremely difficult to see or feel the connections between ourselves and
    the larger order of things.  We don't experience our system-defining
    choices as system-defining choices.  Those who do make personal
    choices in light of the larger picture, and who therefore raise questions
    about what is good for society, typically find themselves dismissed as
    quixotic neo-Luddites.  They are charged with resisting inevitable
    technical progress, against which no individual should try to stand.  So
    much for systems thinking.
    Happily, though, quixotic neo-Luddites have been scoring some points in
    agriculture.  See the following article.
    When Technology is Smoke and Confusion
    I managed an organic farm back in the Seventies, so you can imagine my
    satisfaction in seeing organic food "go mainstream" these past few years.
    But I was still unprepared to come across an article in the prestigious
    science journal, Nature, under this heading:
       In comparison with conventional, high-intensity agricultural methods,
       "organic" alternatives can improve soil fertility and have fewer
       detrimental effects on the environment.  These alternatives can also
       produce equivalent crop yields to conventional methods.  (Nov. 19,
    There is nothing particularly obscure or difficult about the data
    supporting this conclusion, and the data have been readily available for
    decades.  That the conclusion has finally appeared in the pages of
    Nature is less an indication of new discoveries than of cultural
    shifts allowing more people to open their eyes to what formerly was
    invisible -- invisible because incommensurate with their entire outlook.
    As the author of the Nature article remarks (referring to an
    accompanying report on an experiment with maize), "This advance is not
    based on a miracle of technology but is a lesson from agriculture's past
    that may presage its future."
    The article is by David Tilman and is entitled "The Greening of the Green
    Revolution".  Tilman briefly lists some of the costs of conventional
       contamination of groundwaters, release of greenhouse gases, loss of
       crop genetic diversity and eutrophication of rivers, streams, lakes and
       coastal marine ecosystems (contamination by organic and inorganic
       nutrients that cause oxygen depletion, spread of toxic species and
       changes in the structure of aquatic food webs).  It is unclear whether
       high-intensity agriculture can be sustained, because of the loss of
       soil fertility, the erosion of soil, the increased incidence of crop
       and livestock diseases, and the high energy and chemical inputs
       associated with it.
    According to Tilman, half to two-thirds of all nitrogen fertilizer enters
    non-agricultural ecosystems, causing serious environmental problems.  In
    the conventional plots of the maize experiment, "sixty percent more
    nitrate was leached into groundwater" than in the organic plots.  This
    illustrates how "the green revolution and the large-scale livestock
    operations that have come with it are reminiscent of the early stages of
    the industrial revolution, when inefficient factories polluted without
    Tilman comments that the results of the maize experiment "may seem
    astounding, or even suspect, given the widespread use of chemical
    fertilizers.  They are not."  He reminds us that the United Kingdom's
    Rothamsted Experimental Station has been running similar trials
    continuously for over 150 years, with organically fertilized plots
    producing yields of wheat fully as high as the conventional plots while
    retaining more carbon and nitrogen in the soil.
    You may recall that, just when dissatisfaction with conventional education
    was reaching a peak less than a decade ago, with calls on every hand for
    reform and experiment, the Internet came along.  All the energy of reform
    was quickly diverted toward the inordinately expensive goal of wiring
    every school.  The educational issues disappeared behind the smoke and
    confusion of new technologies.
    The question in agriculture today, I suppose, is whether the vivid case
    for reform will likewise disappear -- this time behind the smoke and
    confusion of biotechnology, with "miraculous" quick fixes all too easily
    helping to sustain an underlying, pathological relation to nature.
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                           WIRED SCHOOLS, BROKEN TRUST
                                   Lowell Monke
                                                        Letter from Des Moines
                                                              January 19, 1998
    (This column is adapted from part of an address to the conference on
    "Education and Technology: Seeking the Human Essentials", Columbia
    Teachers College, Columbia University, December 4-6, 1997.)
    Four years ago an article appeared in the education section of Newsweek
    under the title, "We Have Seen the Future: it is in Iowa."  I don't know
    whether it surprised anyone else, but it sure shocked a lot of us teachers
    in Iowa.  The article was, of course, about technology -- specifically, the
    Iowa Communication Network (ICN), a fiber optic network the state was
    building to provide high-speed computer communication among all schools in
    the state.
    It turns out that the ICN has not been the panacea many thought it would
    be and these days it is rarely spoken of as a model for the future of
    education in this state, much less the country.  But that hasn't stopped
    us from taking our new role as cutting-edge educators seriously.  In fact,
    last year the governor's commission on education proposed putting a laptop
    in every student's book bag.  I've heard rumors that the next step is to
    put satellite hookups on all of the tractors.
    A Contract with America's Children
    I, too, take my responsibility to stay out on the cutting edge seriously,
    so I am going to describe for you the newest high-tech product being
    distributed in my district.  It's called the AUA.  I'm fairly certain you
    haven't seen it touted anywhere yet.  For one thing, it's not electrical;
    nor has anyone figured out how to sell it to schools (yet).  In fact, it's
    just an old-fashioned page of paper -- four pages actually.  Yet it could
    be one of the most revolutionary developments to result from the
    technological transformation of our schools.
    AUA stands for Acceptable Use Agreement.  Thousands of schools across the
    nation already have them.  Des Moines Public Schools finally adopted a
    fairly standard version last fall.  Its purpose is simple:  to set the
    conditions for appropriate use of the Internet in the classroom.  I'm not
    going to include the document here; it's a lot of legalese.  But to give
    you an idea of its effect, I want you to imagine that you have sent your
    eight-year-old child off to her first day of school.  You have images of a
    bright, warm classroom, a loving teacher who immediately goes about the
    task of building a close, trusting relationship with your child.  That
    afternoon your eight-year-old brings the AUA home to you, with
    instructions for you to read it and explain it to her so she knows the
    rules and consequences.  Then you're supposed to sign and return it, so
    she can get on the Internet.
    You read through the document and eventually come to the section,
    "Liability," which reads like this:
       The district does not make any warranties, whether expressed or implied
       including those of fitness for a particular purpose with respect to any
       services provided by the system and any information or software
       contained therein.
       The student and his/her parents or guardians will hold the district
       harmless for student violations of copyright laws, software licensing
       requirements, student access of inappropriate materials, violations by
       the student of others' rights to confidentiality, free speech and
       privacy, and damage to systems accessed by the student.
    You stop for a minute to figure out what in the world this means and how
    you are going to explain it to your child.  You move on, and when you get
    to the end of the AUA, you have to sign your name, right below this little
    reminder of what could happen should your eight-year-old not follow the
       Violations of the acceptable use guidelines, any district policy or
       procedure, or any federal or state law, rule or regulation may result
       in disciplinary action up to and including expulsion.  Violations which
       may be criminal will be referred to appropriate law enforcement
    This, along with oceans of information, is what the Internet has brought
    to schools.  It has inserted this threatening, legal document directly
    between the teacher and the student.  It hasn't stirred much controversy,
    at least in my school, because it really is a legal necessity, and
    because, as one parent told me "It's a small price to pay to get my child
    on the Internet."
    This attitude puts a smiley face on Jacques Ellul's observation that with
    any technical progress, "...its harmful effects are inseparable from its
    beneficial effects" (1990, p 39).  But Ellul also said that the harmful
    effects tend to be "long-term and are felt only with experience" (1990, p.
    73) and that these problems tend to be more treacherous and difficult to
    solve than the original problem.  So it might be worthwhile to think a bit
    about just how small a price the AUA really is.
    The Child as Criminal Suspect and Consumer
    First, this document makes very clear that the district is giving its
    students access to a dangerous tool.  This puts the district itself in the
    odd position of having to construct a legal shield to protect itself from
    its own students' use of the learning tools the district gives them.
    That is certainly an issue worth pondering.  But what is revolutionary is
    the liability clause, in which the district disavows all responsibility
    for any harmful cyberspace experiences that occur to any of its students.
    This is radically new.  In effect, the district is telling parents that
    not only does the district not trust their children, neither can the
    parents any longer trust the district to protect their children while in
    the classroom from the nastiness that exists in the outside world.  When
    it comes to computer-mediated communication, in loco parentis is out, and
    caveat emptor is in.
    It's interesting to me that these agreements have been implemented all
    over the country with hardly a word of discussion among national education
    leaders.  It didn't even require school board approval in my district.
    Here we are thirty years after the "hidden curriculum" was revealed in all
    its subtle indoctrinating power, and we seem to have forgotten to apply it
    to computers and the Internet.  Maybe there aren't any consequences from
    treating a first grader as both criminal suspect and naive consumer.  And
    of course, this kind of tough, distrustful atmosphere exists "out on the
    street."  But it is something we aren't happy about, something we
    recognize as a coarsening of the community -- in fact, it's something we
    have always looked to education to help overcome.  The classroom, like the
    home, has always been viewed as a haven against this kind of
    depersonalized treatment.  The classroom may not have always lived up to
    that ideal, but the AUA engraves this dehumanization into school policy.
    Where are the Powers of Judgment?
    It also typifies one of the most common effects that high technology has
    on education.  At least one of the prices we pay for the employment of
    these external cognitive tools is the arrested development of many of our
    students' internal resources.  In this case the substitution of external
    controls releases the student from the need to develop the inner
    discipline needed to use this tool "appropriately."  We aren't willing to
    wait until the child matures sufficiently to trust him with the tool; we
    want to give him power now and we will stand over him with a big stick
    while he uses it.  The long-range consequences, at least the ones I see,
    are disturbing.
    Let me use students in my Advanced Computer Technology class as an
    example.  I have from time-to-time suggested to some of my students who
    are having trouble coming up with challenging projects, that they design a
    simple computer virus or try to break through the school's network
    security. Their first response is usually to ask if it would really be OK.
    When I tell them it is up to them, almost invariably the response is a
    variation of:  "Hey, cool!"  And off they go until I haul them back and
    reassert my authority.  Which, again, is the point I am trying to make:
    once the external controls are lifted, there are no internal controls in
    many of these seventeen- to eighteen-year-olds to take over.
    It seems to me that if we are failing at anything in our schools today, we
    are failing to develop in our students the kinds of internal human
    qualities -- including ethical and moral strength -- needed to resist
    abusing the tremendous power we are handing them. These qualities take a
    great deal of time and effort to develop in a child, but I've come to
    believe they ought to be as much a prerequisite to using powerful computer
    tools as learning how to type.  Trying to teach a student to harness and
    use appropriately the power of computer technology without those cognitive
    and social traits is like trying to build a skyscraper without steel.
    It's what forces us to rely on the external scaffolding -- the
    psychological prison bars -- that quasi-legal documents like the AUA
    Shall We Limit Technology, or the Child?
    None of this is new insight.  The problems I see in my classroom today are
    ones that Joseph Weizenbaum cited over twenty years ago.  He warned that
    in conferring on our students this enormous power we must also help them
    accept the immense responsibility of using it for the good of humanity.
    Yet at the very time when we most need to nurture and expand the inner
    resources of our children, we are diverting their energies toward
    external, mechanical activities that may make school more fun, but leave
    their characters untouched.
    Making activities easy and painless at the cost of our children's inner
    strength is no bargain.  Having failed or given up on nurturing those
    inner resources, we end up with sad developments like the AUA.
    It seems to me that in education, as in society at large, it is time we
    began to take seriously Langdon Winner's essential question:
       How can we limit modern technology to match our best sense of who we
       are and the kind of world we would like to build?  (1986, p xi).
    I think this is the most important technology question to ponder in our
    schools today.  Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck on the inverse of it:
       How can we limit human beings to best match what our technologies can
       do and the kind of world these technologies are building?
    We need to turn that question around in our schools.  We need to stop
    concentrating on outfitting our youth to meet the demands of a
    technologically determined 21st century, and start helping our youth
    develop the independence of mind and strength of character to make the
    future what they will it to be.  To help them strengthen that will, along
    with the self-discipline, courage, determination and social consciousness
    that must accompany it, we have to start talking about limits -- not those
    imposed on them by legalistic AUAs, but those which we can impose on
    technology to help us better focus on developing the most deeply human
    qualities of our children.
    Ellul, Jacques. 1990.  The Technological Bluff.  Grand Rapids: William
    B. Eerdmans.
    Weizenbaum, Joseph. 1976.  Computer Power and Human Reason -- From Judgment
    to Calculation.  New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
    Winner, Langdon. 1986.  The Whale and the Reactor -- A Search for Limits in
    an Age of High Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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    Does NETFUTURE Hold to a Masculine Standard?
    Response to:  "Can Open Standards Suffocate Us?" (NF-82)
    From:  Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg (mars@bossanova.com)
    In the latest netfuture, you wrote:
       If there's any place where the spirit of exploration and the spirit of
       re-visioning should reign, it's in the classroom.  Teacher and students
       should encounter what for both of them holds something of the
       unknown -- on the teacher's part because he is engaging the subject
       matter "live", right there before the students, rather than presenting
       what has already been completely structured by bureaucrats, textbook
       authors, software, or his own memory.
    With all due respect, it strikes me as highly ironic to use the so-called
    "neutral masculine" within the context of an article about "revolution"
    and rejection of "standards."  The masculine is, simply, not neutral --
    and using it as if it were not only conforms to (as well as reinforces) a
    sexist "standard," but also is not just non-revolutionary, but counter-
    Your error in this regard is not uncommon, however.  It always appalled me
    how the vast majority of science fiction literature, film and television
    managed to express creativity of the future (and present) potential of
    technology and science -- yet displayed no creativity whatsoever in
    imagining a world where the sexes are equal, or even (god forbid) a
    society where gender does not exist.  The few books that did describe such
    an egalitarian society -- in particular Marge Piercy's Woman on the
    Edge of Time -- rarely are classified as "science fiction," even
    though they are.
    Within the context of a society whose standards rarely become evident to
    those who benefit from them, I offer one small grain of hope:  some Web
    site forms list "female" before "male."   Now that is re-vision.
    All my best,
    Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg, Esq.
    mars@well.com * http://www.bossanova.com/rebeca
    Columnist, Nouveau Geek, CBS MarketWatch  http://CBS.MarketWatch.Com
    Regular Contributor, Silicon Spin, ZDTV http://www.zdtv.com/siliconspin
    Columnist, Net Skink, SF Examiner  http://examiner.com/skink/
    Response to Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg
    From:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
    Rebecca Eisenberg --
    Please understand that I don't feel I have neatly nailed down the issues
    surrounding gender-neutral language.   I continually quail internally at
    the less-than-perfect nature of my own choices.  I find unsatisfactory
    alternatives on every hand, and have simply chosen what seems to me the
    least of evils.
    You might be interested in the brief essay I wrote on the subject.  It's
    called "Why I Do Not Use `Gender-neutral' Language", in NF #61.  There was
    also a follow-up letter by Joan Van Tassel in NF #66.  While Van Tassel
    didn't comment on my main point, she nevertheless made an eloquent plea
    against my position.  I haven't seen fit to change my usage as yet, but I
    don't find I can relax about it either.
    One thing seems clear to me, however:  in our society today it is less and
    less possible to make the unqualified argument that the generic masculine
    usage helps keep women subservient and unconscious.  Just the opposite:
    this usage seems more likely to provoke an immediate seizure of attention
    -- and a letter like yours.  That's part of the change I referred to in my
    earlier essay.  There may still be good reasons for rejecting the generic
    masculine, but the need for consciousness-raising is hardly one of them.
    I don't happen to agree with you that my usage is inherently sexist.  (Can
    words be sexist apart from the meanings we give them?  And don't those
    meanings continually change with time?)  Nor am I sure what you could mean
    by "a society where gender does not exist" -- which sounds like a hellish
    place to me, one where both men and women are required to deny part of
    themselves.  But I suspect that not much would come of our arguing these
    points even if we both had the time.
    In any case, I'm glad you stated your concern, even though it only worsens
    my discomfort!
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                           ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES
    The Monsanto Files
    In NF #82 there was a brief story about the effects of bovine growth
    hormone upon the milk millions of Americans are consuming.  The Monsanto
    corporation produces and aggressively promotes this hormone.  Likewise,
    the current issue of NETFUTURE contains a story about a genetically
    engineered potato -- again the product of Monsanto.  But the story of
    Monsanto is vastly bigger and more horrifying than these items have
    suggested, and you will find the larger picture in a special issue of
    The Ecologist (Sep./Oct., 1998) on "The Monsanto Files".  It's quite an
    amazing story of corporate rapacity -- not a theme I've often emphasized in
    NETFUTURE, because it's all too easy to vilify corporations instead of
    assuming personal responsibility for one's own role in sustaining the vile
    But certainly the Monsanto story needed to be told.  (I've recently been
    amazed at the sheer, ugly arrogance, not to mention law-breaking, of some
    of our largest corporations -- an arrogance encouraged, perhaps, by the
    widespread feeling that American business is now unstoppable, without
    rival on the world stage.) "The Monsanto Files" is full of articles on the
    company's long history of environmental abuse, its lying, it's
    intimidation of any who get in its way, and its depressingly easy co-
    option of government regulatory agencies.  If this doesn't get your blood
    boiling, nothing will.
    The Ecologist is published in the United Kingdom.  You can contact
    the subscription department at sgc@mag-subs.demon.co.uk, and the editorial
    department at ecologist@gn.apc.org.
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                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
    Copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute.  You may redistribute this
    newsletter for noncommercial purposes.  You may also redistribute
    individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this
    paragraph are attached.
    NetFuture is supported by freely given reader contributions, and could not
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    http://netfuture.org/support.html .
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    To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture:
    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #83 :: January 19, 1999
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