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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #116     A Publication of The Nature Institute      January 11, 2001
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NetFuture is a reader-supported publication.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Growing Potatoes in the Ivory Tower
    Factory-farmed Pigs: Further Thoughts (Douglas Sloan)
       How human society mirrors our attitudes toward animals
       It's Not the Media; It's the World (Jillian Baxter)
       Computer Game Stereotypes May Be Wrong (Jeff Dieffenbach)
       Response to Jeff Dieffenbach (Langdon Winner)
       Negativity Is Better Than False Positivity (Myron 'Pete' Krimm)
       The Dangers of Undue Modesty (Kevin Kelly)
       Technology for People with Disabilities (Josh Krieger)
       One Positive Solution: Home Schooling (Rick Powers)
       It's Time to Articulate a Vision (Tom Mahon)
       The Positives and Negatives of Technology (Thomas Leavitt)
       NetFuture May Prove a Victim of Its Own Success (James Souttar)
       An Effort to Teach Children about Technology (Miguel F. Aznar)
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    You'll have to forgive me for including one particular, four-line letter
    to the editor in this issue.  I guess my impulse to include the letter has
    something to do with the fact that it defies normal editorial and
    deliberative standards with such spectacular verve as to achieve the level
    of poetry.  I couldn't help appreciating the achievement.
    This issue is completely given over to reader response.  Even the feature
    article by Douglas Sloan is actually a response to Lowell Monke's article
    in NF #114 on factory-farmed hogs.  Don't miss the connection Sloan, both
    a Kansas farm-boy and a life-long educator, finds between raising hogs in
    confinement units and educating children in confinement units.
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Growing Potatoes in the Ivory Tower
    NetFuture reader Peter Kindlmann passed this along from the INNOVATION
    newsletter (Jan. 1, 2001):
       Scientists at Edinburgh University have pioneered a genetically
       modified "super potato" whose leaves glow green when they're
       dehydrated.  The plants have been injected with a fluorescence gene
       from a luminous jellyfish, and are not intended for human consumption.
       Instead, they would act as "sentinels," planted at the edge of a crop
       to alert the farmer when the rest of the field needs watering.  "This
       is an agriculture of the future," says Edinburgh professor Anthony
       Trewavas.  "We were trying to design a way of monitoring the resources
       within a field and decided it was the plant itself which has that
       information." (Reuters 18 Dec 2000)
    With items like this, I'm always struck by a certain near-insanity on the
    one hand, and an almost unarguable logic on the other hand.  It all
    depends on the entire surrounding world of thought you bring to the matter
    -- and, unfortunately, by the time you go to all the trouble of laying out
    the two differing thought-worlds and identifying the issues lying between
    them, your long-windedness has probably bored everyone to tears.  So, of
    course, it's the unarguable logic that prevails, based as it is on the
    "common sense" of the age.
    Nevertheless, I've spent a number of years of my life as a farmer, and I
    can't help thinking that this particular idea has all the marks of a
    classic ivory-tower impracticality to it.  How does one know whether a
    particular sentinel plant received exactly the same, or a little more (or
    a little less) water than the other plants at the previous irrigation?
    And small differences in soil condition or water uptake or air movement
    from one spot to the next can greatly affect the water retention of the
    The matter can be summed up in three questions:  (1) Why doesn't the
    farmer simply observe the soil and crop for signs of approaching water
    need?  (2) Isn't this kind of observation essential in any case for
    noticing important crop symptoms of all sorts?  (3) Are the sentinels, if
    usefully employed, going to require less attentive observation than
    would be required in their absence?
    To employ the wondrous sophistication of a genetic engineering lab, and to
    insert one's arbitrary impulses so aggressively into a living organism,
    all in pursuit of such a marginal end, just seems obscene.
    Goto table of contents
                                  Douglas Sloan
    I am writing to commend and lend a voice of support to Steve Talbott and
    NetFuture in general and to Lowell Monke in particular for his recent,
    splendid article on the factory farming of pigs -- with all its
    implications for modern agribusiness and the factory farming of other
    animals as well.  Substantively, I have nothing to add to what Monke has
    so eloquently presented.  However, I am convinced that it is extremely
    important that more and more people learn of the cruelty being inflicted
    on animals, and of the critical economic and social problems this
    involves, and to share that awareness with others.
    In the issue of NetFuture following Monke's article, one reader wrote a
    letter of appreciation, but also complained that the article did not tell
    us what to do to change the situation.  Actually the article provided two
    very concrete "things to do," both of which are indispensable starting
    points for the development of any further plans of action.  The first was
    to become aware, to look at what is being done to animals.  Without such a
    growing awareness, all will continue to take place as now, out of sight
    and unchallenged.  The other concrete step suggested is simply not to eat
    meat from factory-farmed animals.  I will return to this latter in a
    moment.  First, however, a couple of reflections triggered by the article.
    Many issues taken up by Monke in connection with factory-farmed pigs are
    of critical importance.  Among them:  the pollution of ground water,
    streams, and lakes from massive manure and urine disposal; the stench
    affecting people and whole communities for miles around; the documented
    increase in serious health problems among workers in high-confinement hog
    facilities; the health problems of consumers forced to ingest with their
    meat (pig, cow, chicken -- and, don't forget, high-confinement-produced
    eggs) untold quantities of antibiotics, and, at the same time, swarms of
    e-coli, salmonella, and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria that teem
    under the crowded, high-confinement conditions of modern factory farming;
    destruction of more jobs than are created in local communities; the
    transformation of farmers into a low-level factory proletariat; the
    degradation of rural life and rural communities as ownership and control
    of the local environment passes into the hands of distant corporations.
    Given the implications of such problems for the well-being and future of
    our culture, one wonders why as a people we do not demand at least to know
    more about them.
    The Question of Cruelty
    One problem that is almost never faced, let alone dealt with -- and Monke,
    therefore, deserves special credit for taking it up directly -- is the
    suffering of the animals themselves.  Our culture has succeeded in
    inflicting cruelty and suffering on millions of animals of a magnitude and
    intensity hitherto unknown.  A pall of suffering of living, feeling
    creatures hangs over our modern culture, and most of us are complicit in
    it, if only through willful ignorance of what is taking place.
    I grew up on a farm in western Kansas.  We raised our own animals -- pigs,
    cows, chickens, and, occasionally, sheep.  We did our own butchering, and
    engaged in all the other attendant things necessary to feed meat to one's
    family.  Like Monke, I can remember helping my father castrate pigs that
    would have become young boars.  My job was to hold them down as they
    squealed and screamed, with my knee on their neck and my free hand trying
    to control their kicking, while my father performed the quick surgery with
    a razor-honed pocket knife and a can of pine-tar as a primitive
    disinfectant and covering against maggot infestation.
    Telling of this in later years to friends with no farm experience almost
    invariably produces some expression of disgust and, often, disdain, with
    the question, "How could you do such a cruel thing?"  My response has, too
    often I fear, been a snide, "I notice that you like your tender ham well
    enough."  Castration was necessary to prevent the young male pigs from
    fighting, as Monke notes, but also to ensure that their buttocks, deprived
    of the requisite male hormones, grew fat and tender, rather than lean and
    tough as they otherwise would have.  So there were cruelties, but we tried
    to avoid as many as possible.  And butchering day was somber, and a little
    sad.  The cruelties were limited, however intense for the moment, and,
    apart, of course, from their doomed end, our animals were treated well and
    with respect.  And they lived well and enjoyed their time.
    Nothing but cruelty and intense, life-long suffering remains for the
    animals today.  Pigs, for example, are highly intelligent (much smarter
    than dogs).  They are very emotional, and -- often surprising to those
    whose only contact with pigs has been a ham sandwich -- they can be, and
    want to be, deeply affectionate.  Now, they are treated, as Monke gives
    vivid illustration, as unfeeling pieces of machinery, and they go crazy as
    a result.
    Recently, I heard a National Public Radio special on high-confinement hog
    rearing.  The program raised some good issues, mostly about the
    problematic economics and environmental hazards of factory farming, but
    not much about the animals themselves.  In fact, the narrator-reporter
    ended by saying that what had been especially noticeable to him in the
    large, high-confinement hog barn he had visited was the constant, loud
    cacophony of thousands of metal cages being jangled by the pigs within
    them, day and night.  He left the impression that this was actually a
    mollifying, even winsome, background accompaniment to the otherwise wholly
    utilitarian scene before him.  What he missed, or failed to acknowledge,
    was that this background melody was produced by thousands of pigs, caged
    on bare concrete floors, unable to move but a few inches their entire
    lives, pushed to the verge of insanity, shaking and gnawing on their bars,
    the only activity available to them to express their unrelieved
    I am no longer a meat eater.  I have lost my taste for it.  My wife needs
    meat for health reasons, but only eats animals raised humanely and
    organically on farms known to her.  Most people, of course, do not have
    this possibility.  One very concrete thing that could be done would be to
    begin to think through how to mobilize more and more people to agree to
    eat only organically grown, non-factory-farmed meat, milk, and eggs.  This
    does not require taking up older arguments for vegetarianism (though I
    myself do not dismiss such arguments).  It is, however, to recognize that
    modern agribusiness has succeeded handsomely in drastically reconstructing
    the framework within which we must consider anew age-old questions about
    how and what we eat.
    How We Govern and Educate
    Another issue Monke deals with, which has ominous implications for the
    future possibility of a truly democratic society, is the collusion between
    corporate and government forces that makes the imposition of factory
    farming on any community possible.  Monke documents the aid provided by
    the state of Iowa to factory farm corporations by taking away the rights
    and powers of the citizens of the state to protect themselves from the
    actions of these corporations.  Nearly all state governments today --
    North Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, and
    others -- provide similar special privileges to the corporate interests
    promoting factory farming.
    In my own home state of Kansas, for example, the state legislature has
    granted Seaboard Farms, Inc., one of the nations' fastest growing, high-
    density hog producers, the right to issue $9.5 million in tax-exempt bonds
    toward building animal waste lagoons in the state, and has helped Seaboard
    gain the right to build their facilities even in counties that have voted
    overwhelmingly against corporate hog farming.  The Federal Department of
    Agriculture itself has also long had cozy relations with agribusiness of
    every kind.  In certain countries during the twentieth century this kind
    of collusion between the government and powerful corporate interests has
    gone under the name of National Socialism.
    Finally, one last comment.  How we treat the animals on which we depend
    and for whose well-being we are responsible will inevitably be reflected
    in how we treat each other.  The neglect and denial of our powers of
    thought and feeling in any realm in which they are appropriate and needed
    will leave those same powers undeveloped and ultimately atrophied in other
    realms where they are appropriate and essential.  If an abstracting,
    purely technological mind-set treats sentient creatures as nothing but
    mechanistic "units of production" (as factory-farmed animals are often
    called), it should come as no surprise to find that same mindset treating
    its own children, for example, more and more in the same way -- with
    increased, standardized testing to ensure a standardized product; the
    elimination of literature, music, and the other arts in favor of ever-
    earlier academics in a misconceived effort to ensure a more
    technologically proficient population; and the doing-away with recess and
    playgrounds, as is now occurring in many states and cities, to make room
    for more intensive, high-confinement, academic hot-housing of children,
    themselves viewed increasingly as future "units of production."
    Again, I thank Lowell Monke and Steve Talbott for their good work.  Keep
    it up.
    Douglas Sloan
    Professor Emeritus of History and Education
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    Goto table of contents
    It's Not the Media; It's the World
    Response to:  "Confronting the Culture of Disrespect" (NF-115)
    From:  Jillian Baxter (jillian_ia_52501@hotmail.com)
    Alright all this stuff in American schools is not cause by media its stuff
    u see in the real world all wars and shit!! Im from Iowa and we had a
    shoting in our school like 4 years ago and it was over a girl.  so i know
    its not the media
    Computer Game Stereotypes May Be Wrong
    Response to:  "Confronting the Culture of Disrespect" (NF-115)
    From:  Jeff Dieffenbach (dieffenbach@alum.mit.edu)
    Langdon Winner wrote:
       In movies and television, of course, the relentless barrage of verbal
       abuse is tied to exhibitions of physical violence, where catharsis is
       achieved by shooting one's enemies, beating them up, or blowing them
       away.  The same is true of video games -- Quake, Doom, Half Life, and
       countless others -- where the players participate in simulated gore.
       Earlier hopes that video games would engage children in more positive,
       educationally enriching activities have proven a risible fantasy.  All
       the best-selling games involve the players in ceaseless episodes of
       mayhem and slaughter.
    Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe contradicts Winner's thesis in an
    article headlined, "The Games People Really Play: The Top 10 Video Games
    Are Probably Not What You Think.  And the Players Don't Match the
    Stereotype, Either".  In the article, Bray reports:
       Computer games, the people who play them, and how they play them are
       not what they used to be.  There are still plenty of adolescent
       triggermen honing their killing skills with games of Quake.  But the
       computer game industry is a lot more complicated these days and a lot
       more influential.  According to a study done this year for the
       Interactive Digital Software Association of Washington, D.C., about 60
       percent of Americans regularly play computer games; that comes to
       around 165 million players in the United States alone.  Last year they
       spent $7.4 billion on the gaming habit -- about the same as was spent
       going to the movies.
       You never knew there were so many antisocial teens in America? Well,
       there aren't.  Nearly a third of the gamers are 35 or older and 13
       percent are 50 or older; 43 percent are women.  There are poor inner-
       city families with out-of-date Nintendo boxes attached to cheap Korean
       TV sets, and affluent boomers with custom-tweaked gaming computers
       featuring 21-inch monitors and four-channel surround-sound speakers.
       There are kids who can barely press the control buttons because their
       hands are so small and players who were born before digital computers
       were invented.
       The games, too, have evolved to appeal to this broader, older audience.
       Quake-type combat games are still popular, but the majority of computer
       gamers tend to favor more placid amusements, like The Sims.  And the
       world of "console games" -- those inexpensive boxes that let us play
       computer games on our TV sets -- is even more of a peaceable kingdom.
       Five of last year's top seven console games were based on the
       children's cartoon series Pokemon.  Not a single ultraviolent game made
       it into the top 10.  (Dec. 10, 2000)
    According to the IDSA that Bray cites, the top-selling game genres in 1999
       Strategy/RPG (24%)
       Action (24%)
       Sports (15%)
       Racing (13%)
    Food for thought.
    Jeff Dieffenbach
    Response to Jeff Dieffenbach
    From:  Langdon Winner (winner@rpi.edu)
    My thanks to Jeff Dieffenbach for sending along the views of Hiawatha
    Bray.  But it's still not clear whether the glass is half empty or half
    full -- of blood.  While  no expert on the content of computer games, I
    have watched over the shoulders of what's probably a representative sample
    of middle class pre-teen and teen-aged boys.  While the "Sims" were
    popular for a while, most of what I've observed recently is hunting and
    killing of humans and various kinds of threatening creatures.  What are
    called "Strategy" games often involve just as much slaughter as those in
    the "Action" category, games that together amount to half the yearly
    By the time a child graduates from high school, he/she has likely watched
    tens of thousands of killings on television and in the movies.  To this
    notorious fact about American culture, one must add that many kids now
    vicariously participate in thousands of shootings and other varieties of
    pixelized murder.
    My point in the essay, however, had less to do with violence than with
    expressions of disrespect for the world and its creatures.  In that
    spirit, I hereby offer a fifty dollar reward for the first evidence of a
    best-selling "Action" or "Strategy" game that comes close to enacting the
    following scenario:  "Hello.  I see you're somewhat different from me.
    Who are you?  Can we put down our weapons and talk?  Tell me what's
    important, what's cherished in your world.  I'll be happy to listen and
    respond in kind."
    Langdon Winner
    Negativity Is Better Than False Positivity
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Myron 'Pete' Krimm (petebea@ipa.net)
    In NetFuture #115 you stated "In many ways I feel I have failed with
    NetFuture.  William Hackett's letter in this issue, complaining about the
    lack of positivity in the newsletter, has some validity, despite my
    defensive response."
    We are all constantly deluged with false positivity from politicians and
    the constant pressure to buy, buy, buy.  Most people just don't seem to
    think.  They listen to the hype presented to them and if it "sounds"
    logical they swallow it hook, line and sinker.  Few people analyze exactly
    what is being presented to them in order to determine what is missing.
    We need the negativeness of NetFuture.  It convinces me of at least one
    thing; you're not trying to sell us something.  Please keep up the good
    Pete Krimm
    The Dangers of Undue Modesty
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Kevin Kelly (kevin@wired.com)
    Great issue. Langdon's insightful piece nicely compliments yours.
    You wrote: " When we can achieve just about anything, we become
    responsible for just about everything."
    Another way of saying this is: "We are as gods and might as well get good
    at it."
    I'm interested in becoming a good god, stepping up to the challenge and
    responsibility of godhood, without denying or trying to wiggle out of the
    fact that we are as gods. If we would acknowledge our god-like powers --
    making somethings out of nothings, birthing things that surprise us,
    creating forces that will create themselves -- and not back away from
    these talents, then I think we could learn to be responsible for them. If
    we pretend we are mere modest humans, our unacknowledged powers will
    undermine us.
    Kevin Kelly     kevin@wired.com     Editor-At-Large, Wired magazine
    149 Amapola Ave, Pacifica, CA   94044  USA       www.well.com/user/kk
    +1-650-355-3660 home   +1-650-359-9701 fax
    Technology for People with Disabilities
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Josh Krieger (josh@zafu.com)
    You wrote in this last issue of NetFuture:
       Where in our society do we find the engagement with technology
       made into a matter of deeply felt personal and social responsibility?
       I suspect I miss a great deal for lack of diligent looking, if not also
       for a jaundiced eye.  I would be happy to hear your own testimonies in
       the matter.
    While I don't profess to be a great example of this, I have been
    struggling for a while to unite my work as a computer programmer with a
    path of social responsibility.  No easy answers, of course, but I do feel
    that the particular work I've been doing over the last four years to
    improve access to the internet for people with disabilities is a movement
    in the right direction (see the web site I wrote called Bobby:
    www.cast.org/bobby).  It's one of the few areas of technology that I think
    clearly seems to help people and even here I often have my concerns.
    Improved computer access for the blind, deaf, and physically disabled
    allows many people to start jobs and begin to support themselves in ways
    that were not possible before.  I have seen how this actually makes a
    difference in people's lives.  For those of us whose training is in the
    computer field, there are a variety of areas where we can work in socially
    responsible ways without having to contribute to more high-tech
    consumerism.  Maybe you should bring some attention to these areas in your
    column rather than focusing so much on the hijinks of MIT's Media Lab.
    Please continue what you are doing.  I do disagree with the letter writer
    that you are too negative.  You are but a half-a-pound counterweight to a
    five-hundred million ton machine.  Why doesn't the letter writer blast the
    New York Times, Scientific American, etc. for being blindly positive of
    technological innovation.
    Josh Krieger
    One Positive Solution: Home Schooling
    Response to:  "Confronting the Culture of Disrespect" (NF-115)
    From:  Rick Powers (rick.powers@juno.com)
    Just a note:  it's great to have elegant synchronicity in your newsletter.
    The well-placed concern about respect and kindness in the younger
    generation, especially in the school system, connected to the desire for
    positive solutions, leads to the answer:  home schooling, a place where
    respect, kindness, and all other moral values can be directly addressed,
    by methods and materials -- ancient and modern -- which are best suited
    for such an education.
    The medium becomes the message when parents sacrifice part of themselves
    in order to take time, sit down with their children, look them in the eye
    and say, "This is what life is all about."
    Rick Powers
    It's Time to Articulate a Vision
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Tom Mahon (tmahon@ncal.verio.com)
    I know this feeling, having written about these issues for nearly ten
    years myself.
    There is a relatively small group of people today who see problems with
    the widespread, uncritical adoration of digital technology, people
    concerned about the price we and our children will pay for the rush into a
    digital-centric world, leaving behind the rich, full-bodied, textural,
    sensual analog world.
    Many, perhaps most, don't see this as an issue.  So we're left wondering:
    are they missing something, or are we?
    The best I can suggest for the road ahead is this:  digital technology is
    here and it ain't goin' away.  Rather than "suffer it" and struggle to
    adapt to it, we need an ethic that gives some shape and direction to it.
    Our increasingly technology-driven society is a ship without a rudder,
    with no vision of how all this ingenuity can leverage our humanity.  The
    issue isn't to endure this stuff, but use it to bring out the best in us.
    To paraphrase Hamlet:  the fault lies not in our tools but in ourselves.
    In the history of technology, we've sought to leverage our muscles (lever,
    wheel, pulley); our senses (telescope, microscope, radio and television);
    our brains (the microprocessor).  Now what tools do we need to leverage
    our souls?
    I spent Christmas in Paris with my family, and one day took my sons to the
    nearby town of Chartres.  The great 12th Century cathedral there
    represents state-of-the-art technology of its time -- structural
    engineering, not electronic or genetic engineering.  Nevertheless, it was
    engineering in pursuit of a vision of what life meant and where the
    community fit in the scheme of things.  We don't have that anymore.  I'm
    not suggesting a return to the High Middle Ages.  But those old-timers
    understood that technology at its best can make real what is best within
    It's not enough anymore to be critical of where we find ourselves.  It is
    time now to begin to articulate a vision of what could be.  Remembering
    George Bernard Shaw's line:  Some see the world as it is and ask why;
    others see what might be and ask why not.
    With best regards,
    Tom Mahon
    The Positives and Negatives of Technology
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Thomas Leavitt (thomasleavitt@hotmail.com)
    You shouldn't feel you've failed.  While I often don't read your
    newsletter all the way through, the articles I've read have been thought
    provoking, even when I disagreed with them.  And they've changed the way I
    think, or at least deepened my ability to critically react to what I see
    and read.
    I do agree with your fundamental point that our culture far too often
    adopts an uncritically technologistic approach to addressing problems ...
    far too often, we start trying to "fix" a problem with a technological
    solution, without asking basic questions about why it exists and what type
    of preventative action can be taken to ameliorate it ... or whether the
    problem itself, is merely a symptom of a larger issue.
    This newsletter is a good example .... Langdon Winner's critique of the
    "creative destruction" motif gave me pause, long enough to realize that I
    had uncritically accepted the validity of the assumptions underlying this
    concept.  In practice, I think his article is hyperbolic and the
    connection between the two phenomena he mentions is tenuous, but I now
    will look a lot more critically at any article displaying unbridled
    enthusiasm for the concept.
    I think a lot of us in the tech industry, over the past few months, have
    become vastly more skeptical and self-critical .... I now see that there
    is a much greater distance than I ever thought possible between a
    theoretically elegant idea or concept, and its practical usefulness (not
    to mention viability as a product or business).
    The weight of the future lies heavily upon me, as it should lay upon
    anyone who has even an inkling of the potential benefits and
    destructiveness that the upcoming convergence of biological, mechanical,
    silicon and nano-technologies will make possible.
    It is not a stretch, in my view, to say that we have the potential to
    harness god like powers of creation and destruction, and grant them to
    individuals to do with as they please.
    At the same time, with so many of these technologies, we know so very very
    little about the systems we are playing with ... let alone our own selves.
    So much of what we do know is still empirical science -- monkeying with
    the gears and observing the effects, without understanding the mechanism
    by which the changes are being made, or much less, the principle behind
    which the system operates.
    I think Western science is particularly weak in addressing and thinking
    about complex systems ... this is a lack we need to remedy very quickly,
    in my mind, or suffer horrible consequences.
    Nothing will contain a renegade bit of self-replicating nano-tech, except
    the equivalent of an eco-system around it that reacts to and contains it
    on it's own.
    Much shorter term, I think we may be creating a mess for ourselves with
    genetic engineering.  Industrial Age manufacturing processes and the huge
    and indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals, left us with a legacy of
    cancer, brownfields and toxic waste sites.  Fifty years from now, we may
    look back on these days and wonder what in the world we were thinking ...
    messing with the genetic code of humans and other creatures, even though
    we are almost completely ignorant about it and our knowledge of human
    biology is still very limited.
    At the same time, I am fundamentally convinced that market economics is
    the most effective means with which to govern a complex society, and that
    technological innovation, in the long run, and in general, is a good and
    positive thing that has yielded and will continue to yield significant
    improvements in human lives.
    A non-trivial example of that is that, without my glasses (and now, the
    LASIK surgery I had), I would be unable to read and write, and barely able
    to navigate across a room -- would be basically completely helpless ... my
    eyesight was so bad that when I tried to read without my glasses, I had to
    hold the page an inch from my face and the effort gave me eyestrain.  The
    LASIK freed me from the fear of losing my glasses or contacts while doing
    intense physical activity .... the minute I stood up from the operating
    table and was able to see, unaided for the first time since elementary
    school was one of the high points of my entire life.
    Thomas Leavitt
    NetFuture May Prove a Victim of Its Own Success
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  James Souttar (ancient@urizen.com)
    I think you are being unduly hard on yourself.  In a period that has until
    recently been dominated by uncritical hyperbole about information
    technology, NetFuture has consistently offered a thoughtful, well reasoned
    critique.  To that extent it has been, and needed to be, negative.  But at
    the same time, it has also presented us with a wide range of constructive
    As times change, it may be the positives emphasized in NetFuture that are
    of abiding importance.  Here in Europe, there seems to be a growing sense
    that -- like the rest of the revolutions of the twentieth century -- the
    "Information Revolution" has been a failure.  As e-businesses collapse,
    the inevitable victims of a "New Economy" that now seems like a false
    economy, the recriminations are beginning in earnest.  The media, who are
    never entirely comfortable playing an upbeat tune, can already be heard
    sharpening their pens for a frenzy of schadenfreude as a second disastrous
    Christmas season for "e-tailers" triggers yet more high-profile failures.
    In the inevitable blamefest that looks set to follow, it's unlikely that
    any of the real issues are likely to emerge.  Those who resented the
    precocious success of the dot.coms will exult in their downfall -- in much
    the same way as others exulted in the downfall of the yuppies at the end
    of a previous economic cycle.  Corporations that sunk millions of dollars
    into lossmaking e-business activities will look for scape-goats, and those
    who were recently happy to echo the `wired' rhetoric will busily distance
    themselves from ideas which could now damage their careers.
    Such, no doubt, is the way of the world.  But this time it threatens to
    leave a real vacuum of ideas, of hopes, of motivation -- which, if we're
    not careful, could turn the forthcoming recession into a full blown
    depression.  It's here that the insightful meditations of NetFuture will
    come into their own.  Many of us have already been challenged to think in
    new, enlarged ways about what we do -- and how we do it.  And some of
    these ideas can be seen echoing in unlikely places -- John Seely Brown and
    Paul Duguid's recent book The Social Life of Information is a good
    case in point.
    So, far from being a failure, the critical aspects of NetFuture may -- if
    anything -- prove to be a victim of their own success.  But when every
    popular journalist is deriding the stupidities of the Information Society,
    we will still be looking to NetFuture to nourish us with its humanity, its
    good sense and its hope for the future.
    An Effort to Teach Children about Technology
    Response to:  "Technology and Human Responsibility" (NF-115)
    From:  Miguel F. Aznar (aznar@knowledgecontext.org)
    I have been reading NetFuture with quiet appreciation, but your Quotes and
    Provocations in #115 moved me.  You said that:
       "...It is hard to find any corresponding preoccupation with the
       difficulty of exercising those rights and freedoms well ... But I can't
       help wondering, at the conclusion of this fifth year of NetFuture's
       existence, how one could make the theme of "technology and human
       responsibility" (NetFuture's subtitle) real to a wider public ... Where
       in our society "do" we find the engagement with technology made into a
       matter of deeply felt personal and social responsibility?"
    One way to reach a wider public is through schools.  Teaching "technology
    and human responsibility" must be built on a foundation of understanding
    technology, and this means much more than the advertising veneer of all
    the "neat things we can do with the gadgets."  Understanding and
    evaluating technology can be done if one pursues the questions:
       1. What is technology?
       2. Where does it come from?
       3. How does it work?
       4. Why does it change?
       5. How does it change us?
       6. How do we change it?
       7. Why do we use it?
       8. What are its costs and benefits?
       9. How should it be evaluated?
    These essential questions are basic enough for a 6th grader to understand,
    but the implications can be subtle and complex enough for any adult.
    Start children with this contextual approach to technology and they will
    grow to ponder and act on the issues that NetFuture raises.  This approach
    does not take a stand on whether computers or any other technology are
    good or bad.  It does provide an approach to coming to ones own
    Since 1998, a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit corporation called
    KnowledgeContext has taught middle school students to ask these questions
    and provided some of the answers.  The "computer kids" love it because
    their toys are placed in a context that spans the first stone tools and
    the only-imaginable future.  Students on the wrong side of the Digital
    Divide are surprised and reassured that they already use technology in
    many forms each day and that there are roles for changing technology other
    than being a technical developer (at which they feel they cannot compete).
    What can NetFuture and its community do?  You can make sure that the
    concepts you consider most important are reflected or supported in the
    curriculum that teachers download (without cost) from
    www.KnowledgeContext.org.  If the curriculum does exactly what you think
    needs doing, then let teachers know about it and encourage parents to
    examine it so they can contact their children's teachers.
    This is not a quick fix.  This is building for the future so that new
    technology is neither accepted blindly nor rejected emotionally.  The
    patterns these essential questions bring out endure even as technological
    change accelerates.  It is a foundation.
    Miguel F. Aznar
    Executive Director
    (831) 426-4546
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                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #116 :: January 11, 2001
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