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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #121                                                   July 27, 2001
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
                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
       Why I Have Disconnected from Email
    Tech Knowledge Revue (Langdon Winner)
       Whatever Happened to the Electronic Cottage?
       More on a Tripartite Society (Frank Thomas Smith)
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    Thank you for your patience during this long break between issues of
    NetFuture.  I needed the break — longer than originally planned — for a
    number of reasons, and at least one important decision came clear during
    this period of reflection:  I disconnected from email for the indefinite
    future.  More on that below.  First, a few pointers of interest:
    ** (The O'Reilly & Associates web server is suffering severe overload
       problems as of a day or so ago, so you may have erratic results
       accessing the NetFuture and Nature Institute sites, where the two
       online papers listed below are located.  The hope is that the problem
       will be cleared up within a couple of days.)
    ** The July/August issue of Sierra magazine contains a feature article,
       "Sowing Technology", by my Nature Institute colleague, Craig Holdrege,
       and me.  Part of a special issue on biotechnology, the piece deals
       with farming, especially in relation to genetic engineering.
    ** The text of a talk I gave at the conference on Technology and
       Globalization at Hunter College, New York City, February 24-25, is
       available at
       The talk is entitled "Why Not Globalization?" and argues that a
       worthwhile globalization can occur only through the strengthening of
       local communities.
    ** A second article is also available:  "Life Beyond Genes: Reflections on
       the Human Genome Project", by Holdrege and the molecular biologist,
       Johannes Wirz.  See
    ** I'll be delivering a plenary address at the Fourth International
       Conference on Cognitive Technology (CT2001) in Warwick, U.K, on
       Wednesday morning, August 8.  The conference, this year entitled
       "Instruments of Mind", runs from the 6th through the 9th.  I think the
       official title of my paper is "The History of Technology You've Never
       Heard", which is accurate enough, but my current preferred alternative
       is "The Deceiving Virtues of Technology" (where "virtues" and
       "deceiving" are both the operative words).  You'll find the
       complete program and other details at
       http://www.cogtech.org/CT2001/index.htm.  Other invited speakers
       include Andy Clark and Martin Campbell-Kelly.  If you're in the U.K.,
       do stop by and say hello — it's better than email!
    As for NetFuture, there will be another, briefer hiatus following this
    issue and then, starting in early September, I expect to pick up the pace
    and start throwing some stuff at you that I hope you will find challenging
    — as I'm sure you will find Langdon Winner's column in this issue.
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Why I Have Disconnected from Email
    I suppose it's a strange thing for the editor of an online newsletter to
    disconnect from email.  Well, not quite "disconnect"; I will still have my
    email account and I, or an assistant, will have to conduct obvious
    NetFuture business such as passing manuscripts back and forth, receiving
    letters to the editor, and processing financial contributions — maybe
    5% of my overall email burden.  (This is to leave aside the 80% or more of
    my mail that is spam — is there no end to this worsening plague?).
    But correspondents will receive an automated message saying that if they
    need substantial interaction with me, we will have to conduct it via phone
    or postal service.
    Long-time readers will know that I've agonized and vacillated over this
    issue for years.  Shutting off this avenue of contact feels too much like
    turning a cold face toward all those readers and supporters of the
    newsletter whose only "sin" is that they would like to get in touch —
    readers who have energized my activity over these years and contributed so
    much to my understanding.  How could I possibly leave messages sitting
    unanswered in my mailbox, some of which are, and nearly all of which
    should be, the attempt of one human being to speak to another?
    But now, through extremity, my spine has finally stiffened, and you will
    find me almost combative on the issue.  Actually, the stiffening is more
    than metaphorical.  Nerve pain in my neck, worsened by work at the
    computer, brought me face to face with the prospect of disability.  It is
    true that the neck problem also derives from my inadequate handling of the
    stress and pressures of my overall work life, a challenge that needs to be
    addressed "from the inside out".  But even there, it became clear to me
    that one of the best ways to reduce the pressures and make them more
    manageable was to remove the main burden of email from my life.  I say
    "burden" only in the sense that some of the activities we may want to
    pursue most can become burdensome if we don't maintain proper balance in
    our lives.  The burden, in other words, is a feature of the way I manage
    my own life; I have no quarrel at all with those who have approached me
    through the perfectly acceptable medium of email.
    Balance is the decisive thing.  Even if I had no neck problem at all, I
    still would disconnect from email.  As I've mentioned before, every
    healthy community needs to breathe both inward and outward, between the
    cultivation of its own life on the one hand, and intercourse with the
    wider society on the other.  Similarly, every individual must hold a
    balance between focused pursuit of his own work and openness to whatever
    may come from without.
    But there is no denying it:  in our society today, the centrifugal,
    interrupting, distracting tendencies have gotten out of control, jerking
    us around with almost demonic violence.  The way television's intrusion
    has re-shaped household schedules around programs, fragments of programs,
    and advertisements; the way we are tempted to click through the endless
    and chaotic doorways presented to us on the web; the vastly greater ease
    with which one person can approach another through email — an
    approach we can initiate with less weight of significance or personal
    presence than before — in these and many other symptoms you will
    recognize the contemporary forces that would throw us off our own
    foundations.  What chance do we have to breathe harmoniously between a
    centered, reflective devotion to our own ever-deepening work (upon which
    society depends), and thoughtful response to the needs approaching us from
    the outside (without which we as individuals wither and become selfish)?
    I admit to some remaining twinges of discomfort over my decision.  I have,
    after all, made a few very good friends over the Net, and there are,
    additionally, many casual contacts that nevertheless seem freighted with
    the kind of significance one cannot easily dismiss.  I am unilaterally
    forcing some of these people into a different, perhaps less "convenient"
    means of communication, and this feels a little arbitrary.
    But if our frenetic and decentered culture invites us to abandon
    ourselves, we need to recognize that the most critical and fateful
    abandonment of self typically arises from the abandonment of those nearest
    us, beginning with our own families.  (I am not proud of my record in this
    regard.)  Conversely, to abandon oneself is to abandon society, except
    insofar as society is a collection of sleepwalkers and mechanisms that run
    by themselves, without need of self-recollected individuals who can take
    its concerns conscientiously in hand.
    So I guess my decision can be seen as a vote for self-recollection.  I am
    happy to make it a public vote as long you do not take me to be suggesting
    what your appropriate means of self-recollection might be.  Coming to
    ourselves so that we are useful to others — if there is any process that is
    a matter of individual insight and choice, surely this is it!  It is a
    matter of rousing yourself to discover who you are.  A lot of the
    pathology of the modern society has to do with displacing this
    responsibility of the wakeful self onto social machinery, which we allow
    to carry us where it will.
    For me, it just happens that I came to the point where I needed to stand
    firm within myself and say, in one particular regard, "Stop!"  I am sure
    you will understand.
    (Go ahead, make my day:  Send me an email!  Actually, humor aside, I'll
    always be delighted for you to do that, and will try to see that any
    business you have gets taken care of.  As a bonus, you'll get to see my
    spiffy new automatic-response message.)
    Related articles:
    ** "Seeking Balance" in NF #42:
    ** "Why Not Globalization" in The Nature Institute's publication, In
       Context #5:
    Goto table of contents
                                  Langdon Winner
                                                          TECH KNOWLEDGE REVUE
                                                           3.2   July 27, 2001
    Twenty years ago as personal computers were first entering everyday life
    and prospects for computer networking were fresh topics of speculation,
    many observers predicted that the new tools would encourage the creation
    of more favorable relationships between work, home and community.  Those
    equipped with PCs would be able to establish "electronic cottages,"
    enabling them to keep existing jobs, but do much of their work at home.
    People could start small, information-based businesses in urban, suburban
    or rural locations, eliminating long commutes.  Parents would have more
    hours of the day to spend with their children, couples more time together.
    Both workers and their families would have greater opportunity to be
    involved in activities of neighborhood and local community.
    An early proponent of this utopia was futurist Alvin Toffler.  In his
    book, The Third Wave (1980), Toffler explained, "The electronic cottage
    raises once more on a mass scale the possibility of husbands and wives,
    and perhaps even children, working together as a unit."  Toffler predicted
    a decline in the need to commute to work, an increase in the ability to
    change jobs without having to move one's home to a new location.  He
    foresaw "greater community stability" and a "renaissance among voluntary
    organizations like churches, women's groups, lodges, clubs, athletic and
    youth organizations."
    It was a lovely vision — better working conditions, less stress, less
    time spent in traffic jams, more leisure, more attention to life's higher
    values.  More recent writings on work and cyberspace have often reaffirmed
    hopes of this kind.  William Mitchell's book, City of Bits: Space, Place
    and the Infobahn (1995), surveys a wide range of ways in which lifespace
    and the infosphere were likely to be interwoven in creative new patterns.
    "The new urban design task," he writes, "is not one of configuring
    buildings, streets, and public places to meet the needs and aspirations
    of the civitas, but one of writing computer code and deploying software
    objects to create virtual places and electronic interconnections between
    Mitchell insists, however, that even though "electronically propelled bits
    will progressively reduce our reliance on bodily presence and material
    exchange ... there is no reason to think that this novel condition will
    make us indifferent to our immediate surroundings or suddenly eliminate
    our desire for face-to-face contact in congenial settings."  Towns and
    cities, he argues, "will probably find opportunities to restructure
    themselves — to regroup housing, workplaces, and service facilities
    into reinvigorated small-scale neighborhoods (both urban and rural)."
    Hence, there is likely to be a marvelous rebirth of community life. "A
    community's capacity to connect globally," he exclaims "can yield renewed
    opportunity for its citizens — freed from the need to seek employment
    and services in distant urban centers — to know their neighbors and
    participate in local affairs."
    Living More Lightly on the Land
    To some extent, here and there, we see a vision of this kind taking shape.
    In the Hudson Valley where I live, some of the more promising developments
    in recent years are ones in which individuals and small firms have found
    ways to make a living in electronic cottage mode.  Some have found ways to
    telecommute to jobs in New York City or New Jersey, coming physically to
    the office only one or two days a week.  Others have started software
    firms, consulting firms, or small businesses in media, advertising, and
    the like in villages along the shores of the Hudson River.
    In my own case, even a slow modem connection to email and the web enables
    me to work at home some of the time during the week and to be there when
    my two boys get off the bus.  I've cut my commuting time by about a
    quarter.  Of course, the luxury of this response may soon be curtailed.
    Universities and colleges are getting wind of the fact that faculty are
    telecommuting and are therefore less available than they used to be.
    Boston University recently announced that it was considering a requirement
    that all professors be in their offices by 10 a.m. four days a week.  You
    can imagine the howls of pain that have gone up within the networks of
    In the Hudson Valley the extension of the "new economy" into the towns and
    villages points to a brightening of economic prospects in the region.
    There are substantial numbers of people who like to work hard but also
    prefer a bit of green around and enjoy the unhurried pleasures of country
    and village life.  Indeed, those who are resisting the reindustrialization
    of the Valley — that is, ham-fisted reindustrialization in the
    classic, heavy-industry model, through the building of huge, coal-burning
    electricity and cement plants favored by small-minded politicians and
    business leaders — suggest small-scale, information-based, creative
    enterprises as the best future for the region.
    In public gatherings recently, I have argued exactly this position.  Why
    destroy the attractiveness of the landscape and its quality of life by
    building forty-story, fume-belching smoke stacks?  Don't current economic
    and technical trends point toward an altogether different economic and
    social mix?  Why are we so resolutely marching back to the nineteenth
    Obviously, it is better to burn digital bits than coal and oil.  It's
    better to reduce the environmental and social costs associated not only
    with polluting industries, but with excessive automobile and airplane
    travel as well.  It is possible, but not by any means inevitable, that we
    will renew the built forms of the American landscape — its cities,
    suburbs and rural communities.  We could use material resources far more
    efficiently than we do at present, and relieve the potentially lethal
    drain on the world's natural systems.  Information technology provides
    some wonderful possibilities for living well while also living more
    lightly on the earth.  This is an interesting challenge for design, policy
    and social vision.
    Silicon Valley Reality
    When pollsters ask Americans what kind of world they'd like to live in,
    they say they want coherent family life, friendly communities, a clean
    environment, less stressful working conditions, less time and effort spent
    getting from place to place.  Occasionally they have gotten some of these
    things, but the overall picture is far from promising.  Abundant evidence
    suggests that other ways, far less agreeable ways, of blending info-space
    and geographical space are emerging at present and seem likely to prevail
    in the future, unless there is a drastic turn of events.
    This less agreeable future is evident in some of our best known high-tech
    centers, especially in the widely acknowledged capital of "the new
    economy," Silicon Valley.  The economic boom of the 1990s has vastly
    extended the reach of the electronics, information, communications, and
    associated firms that have headquarters or major facilities in the Valley.
    What used to be called the "San Francisco Bay Area" is now often called
    "the Silicon Valley Super Region," encompassing fifteen counties to the
    North, South and East of its original location on the San Francisco
    Peninsula.  It continues to spread like wildfire.
    As housing has grown increasingly scarce and prices have soared, even
    well-to-do employees in high-tech industries have been forced to seek
    housing at great distance from where they work.  Even towns in
    California's Central Valley like Tracy, Stockton, Los Banos, Modesto and
    (for god's sake) Fresno far to the south are now prime places for land-
    rush developments fueled by Silicon Valley wealth.  It is not uncommon for
    people who live in such places to drive on clogged highways two and a half
    or even three hours to work — one way.
    The already crowded landscape of the Bay Area is crammed with new tract
    homes, apartment complexes, commercial strip developments, megamalls, and
    the notorious "McMansions," — large, elaborate homes (often done in
    garish taste) jammed together on small pieces of property.  As this
    chaotic sprawl spills out of Silicon Valley into surrounding areas, some
    of the most beautiful land in California is transformed into what urban
    critic James Howard Kunstler has called "The Geography of Nowhere."
    Human Costs
    The jumbled housing and traffic congestion are mirrored in the lives of
    the people who've settled there.  Although tens of thousands have moved to
    the area seeking wealth and the good life in a lovely part of the country,
    actual living conditions are increasingly frantic.
    A typical story is that of David Bafford, a construction manager in
    Silicon Valley who until recently commuted two hours each way.  As he told
    a New York Times reporter, "I figured out I spent 2,048 hours
    working last year .... I spent 1,100 hours commuting ... [and] 608 with my
    family.  I spent twice as much time driving as with my kids."
    Psychologists report that they see a growing number of people who are
    burnouts on schedules of this kind, with symptoms of stress that include
    increased alcohol and drug abuse, sleep disorders, automobile accidents,
    and road rage.  As clinical psychologist David Schroeder said of people
    who have moved to the periphery of the region, "It's a treadmill.  Some
    families can tolerate it, some can't."
    Faced with grueling commutes over mountainous roads to the east of Silicon
    Valley, new demands have arisen in support of that great innovation in
    1940s American highway planning — wider roads.  It's an undying
    faith: just build another lane or two and things will be fine.
    The social costs borne by the neighborhoods, towns and cities affected by
    these pressures is considerable as well.  Because the connection between
    people's homes and their places of work is so arduous, the fabric of
    community life is stressed and tattered.  As the Los Angeles Times
    headlined it when reporting a survey of employment, housing, and commuting
    patterns in both southern and northern California, "Housing Strain
    Unravels Community Ties."
    Especially hard hit are lower and middle income people in service jobs who
    can no longer afford to live anywhere near their places of work.
    "...teachers, and secretaries, professors and paramedics, cops and
    carpenters — the middle income glue of any community are finding
    themselves squeezed out."
    Thus, schools cannot attract and retain teachers, social services suffer,
    and the sense that there are diverse, friendly, coherent neighborhoods
    gradually evaporates.  The Times story points out that although the
    state's economy is booming, "it has also displaced people and businesses
    across the state, disrupting more lives in more far-flung regions than
    ever before."
    Staying in Touch
    One might have expected that twenty years after Toffler's euphoria about
    electronic cottages and six years after Mitchell's lovely picture of the
    City of Bits, people would have responded creatively to the pressures and
    problems of the high-tech land rush.  Surely they must have found ways to
    overcome long-recognized problems like traffic jams and suburban sprawl.
    Surely by this time we should have created electronically-based
    institutions and practices that restore balance to the lives of
    individuals, families and communities.  Isn't this exactly what utopian
    projections of "being digital" have always promised?
    What solutions has the new electronics contributed?
    Evidence on this score is beginning to emerge from studies of Silicon
    Valley culture conducted by a group of anthropologists.  Jan Lueck-English
    and his colleagues have paid special attention to people who employ
    complex ecologies of electronic devices — cell phones, beepers,
    laptops, personal digital assistants, voice mail, personal Web pages
    — in ways that approach close to total digital saturation.  The
    research involved "450 interviews with people on work/home/community
    interface."  The anthropologists are now doing "intensive observation-
    based" follow-up studies of families and work in the Valley.
    Preliminary findings reveal a world in which work has become everything,
    with electronic devices the glue that holds it all together.  The people
    interviewed report that they are always on call.  Through phone, beepers,
    email and the like, their time is totally interruptible.  In the office,
    in their cars, and in their houses, the demands of work come pouring in.
    Work is so pervasive that conventional boundaries between work and home
    have all but collapsed.
    "The colonization of home time by work is only the most obvious impact."
    Lueck-English observes.  "As we talked to people at work and home we
    discovered that only certain kinds of work come home.  Because the
    information saturated work environment is infinitely interruptible,
    activities that require concentration — especially writing, reading
    and reflection — get shipped home where it is vainly hoped that
    uninterrupted time can be cultivated."
    Researchers have found that norms originally associated with technology
    and business organization — connectivity, multi-tasking, networking,
    and just-in-time scheduling, for example — have now been embraced as
    deeply held personal and family values.  People routinely talk about
    themselves and what they are doing through the use of technological
    metaphors and the jargon of high-tech business.  Central events of the day
    involve the transmission of updated plans and schedules from one spouse to
    another or paging one's children who are miles away to make sure they are
    safe and in sync.  Indeed, the children of these families lead intricately
    managed lives, spending their time mainly in the care of teachers,
    coaches, hired care providers and personalized transit systems that carry
    them from school to music lessons, sports events and other after-school
    activities until their parents arrive late in the evening.
    Effects on Families and Communities
    Under these conditions, the distinctive values of family life are being
    transformed as well.  A common demand of family members on each other is
    that they leave their cell phones on and check their email and message
    machines frequently.  A gnawing dilemma in the lives of the people the
    anthropologists are studying is how to maintain maximum access to others
    while controlling the access they have to you.  His informants tell Leuck-
    English that this has become a central issue in family life.
    Managing one's all-encompassing work time requires that one find ways to
    manage interruptions from family members.  As one woman explained, "I get
    stressed when David doesn't have his (cell) phone on.  You know we have
    them for a reason, and I'll be trying to call him and I find out that he
    has the damn thing turned off."
    In such settings the enervation of local civic culture is increasingly
    obvious.  Results from a national research project, "The Social Capital
    Community Benchmark Survey," released this spring, indicated that
    inhabitants of Silicon Valley were far less likely than Americans in forty
    other communities to visit with relatives, join clubs, take a turn as
    civic leaders, or show up for public meetings.  Commenting on these
    findings, James Koch, director of the Center for Science, Technology and
    Society at Santa Clara University, told the San Jose Mercury News,
    "We have tremendous prowess when it comes to innovation and
    commercialization of technologies.  That's often attributed to the robust
    networks that exist in this region.  But we are remarkably weak in social
    ties .... We are like a very well-trained athlete who can do one thing
    especially well.  But we haven't cultivated this larger capacity for civic
    In sum, what social scientists who study the Valley are finding makes the
    organizational "rat race" of yesteryear look like a leisurely walk in the
    park.  People are living with varieties of stress and social fragmentation
    that seem increasingly characteristic of what our "new economy" brings in
    tow.  From my own travels of the past year, it seems that such conditions
    are becoming the norm in other high-tech regions as well — Austin,
    Seattle, Beaverton and Atlanta, among others.  "The Geography of Nowhere"
    is mirrored in the rapid development of a corresponding "Network of
    It's important to face squarely the kinds of real disorder and social
    dislocation we often see in places that exemplify the promise of a
    technology-saturated future.  What is it about these cities and suburbs
    that just isn't working very well?
    Unfortunately, gaining a clear view of these realities is often precluded
    by the lovely images that have long surrounded information technology.  As
    well-educated, creative folks ponder the relationships between Net, Work
    and Space, there is a tendency to drift toward beguiling fantasies —
    fantasies of the sort propagated in today's research theme parks:
    Negroponte-land, Martin Minksy-land, Media Lab-land, and other places of
    exquisite intellectual vacation.  At amusement centers of this kind one
    sees grandiose, well-funded, corporate-led projects that, yes, involve
    making the fabrics of work, everyday life and infospace that their
    participants hope will shape the future evolution of the electronic
    Here are some descriptions of current Media Lab research projects from the
    November 2000 catalog:
       The purpose of this set of projects is to develop techniques for
       learning human behavior in an office or social situation. Projects
       include learning both human control and interactive behaviors.  We want
       to build machines that understand a person's intentions by the set of
       subtle queues and patterns of his regular behavior.  This will help to
       seamlessly integrate computers into our everyday lives.
        ... we are exploring a different role for machines — namely that
       of "facilitator" for our everyday activities.  Instead of requiring
       dozens of mouse clicks, such a system would do what we want when we
       want, perhaps without ever being asked.  As a facilitator, the computer
       would be an active participant in our activities, not just an
        ... we have developed a set of interactive nametags (called "thinking
       tags") that facilitate conversation between people by telling them how
       much they have in common, or by providing new ways for them to share
       "memes" with one another.
    If you are looking for an operational definition of the term "self-
    indulgent," you need look no further.  And the governing idea behind this
    work is wonderfully simple:  what we need is ever greater saturation of
    working and personal life by digital technology.  It's the unvarying,
    brain-dead formula that now enchants each new generation — when in
    doubt, add electronics.
    Typical of this mindset at present are the several schemes such as General
    Motors' "OnStar" system, which links GM cars to the Internet through
    cellular communication.  Drivers can send and receive email, check their
    stock portfolios, place trades, and check the news.  This has raised
    worries about distracted drivers who are already causing accident rates to
    rise as they chat away on cell phones.
    In all likelihood, of course, the "OnStar" system will be a great hit in
    the Silicon Valley Super Region, for it will give people something new to
    do during lengthy commutes and massive traffic jams.  "Well, I'm not going
    to be home for another two hours, so I might as well dump a couple of dot-
    com stocks and move into blue chips."
    The continuing (but forlorn) assumption seems to be:  Yes, our lives are
    frazzled and incoherent, but with just a few more pieces of digital
    equipment we should be able to save time, reduce stress achieve a
    reasonable balance.  Of course, everything the historians and sociologists
    have ever written on the matter indicates that strategies of this kind are
    bound to fail.  One does not gain time, serenity or balance by buying and
    using supposedly time-saving technologies, be they household appliances or
    the new devices of the wired and (now) wireless world.  One simply
    multiplies the number and intensity of demands on one's time, attention
    and ability to care.
    Nevertheless, there is a widespread tendency to regard projects of the
    sort dreamed up at the Media Lab as bold and exciting attempts at
    "inventing the future."  Many of my students in engineering and computer
    science are more than happy to seek out projects of this kind in the
    corporate world.  "They're going to pay me all that money to be making
    these wonderful toys and I'll be 'creating the new society' at the same
    time! How can I resist?"
    But it should give us pause to observe the chaotic, unsustainable
    lifespaces found in actual, high-tech communities while comparing them to
    the utopian projections of past and present. There is a glaring disconnect
    Our Choices
    One common response to this disconnect is to nourish hopes of getting
    fabulously rich.  Faced with enveloping chaos in the relationships between
    work, family, neighborhood, and community, a great many people think:
    "Well, I'll be so rich by the time those conditions matter to me that I
    can buy my way out.  I'll be telecommuting from Aspen, Telluride or
    Jackson Hole."
    Well, all I can say is that you'd better get extremely rich.  These days a
    $1 million house in the Silicon Valley Super Region buys you four
    bedrooms, suburban sprawl, a deadly commute, stressed-out, unavailable
    neighbors, strip malls, questionable schools, uncertain water supply, a
    dysfunctional civic culture, and rolling blackouts.  None of these
    problems, by the way, shows up on this year's list of projects in places
    like the Media Lab.  No, they are working on more exquisite, futuristic
    possibilities.  "Excuse me, while I kiss the sky," as Jimi Hendrix used to
    More reasonably, we might reach two conclusions:
    First, it should be clear that the long-recognized challenge of repairing
    some of the most urgent problems in the relationship between urban and
    suburban life have not been solved by intensive infusions of information
    technology.  What might have been an occasion for fundamental
    restructuring in patterns of work, dwelling and automobility has largely
    been ignored. Instead, we've inserted layers of communication on top of
    existing material and social patterns without rethinking those patterns in
    their complexity.
    Second, there is need to reflect upon and discuss which social practices
    and relationships need to be sheltered from the pressure effects of
    global, commercial networking.  At a time in which people are frantically
    trying to get connected, we would do well to ask:  when and where does it
    make sense to remain unconnected?  While leaving intact many of the
    burdens of the industrial/automobile era, we have come perilously close to
    achieving complete slavery to email, digital work, and the wired and
    wireless apparatus that surrounds us.
    In the wake of the collapse of the dot-com bubble there are glimmerings of
    an awareness that the rush to weave together Internet and society has its
    limits and that somehow good sense must prevail.  Plan A — the plan
    that recommends ever greater inundation of life by digital technology
    — clearly isn't working very well.
    OK, then — what is our Plan B?
    We face the future with a toolbox better equipped than ever before. But
    there seems to be no hopeful vision specifying how our powerful tools
    ought to be deployed.  Which material settings and social institutions
    should architects, engineers, business people, political leaders, and
    everyday citizens seek to build in the decades ahead?  Will the present
    generation seize that question or (once again) scorn it?
    [Note: An earlier version of this talk was given in the Buell Center
    series on Net/Work/Space, Columbia University, February 23, 2001]
    Tech Knowledge Revue is produced at the Chatham Center for Advanced Study,
    339 Bashford Road, North Chatham, NY 12132.  Langdon Winner can be reached
    at:  winner@rpi.edu and at his Web page:  http://www.rpi.edu/~winner .
    Copyright Langdon Winner 2001.  Distributed as part of NetFuture:
    http://www.netfuture.org/.  You may redistribute this article for
    noncommercial purposes, with this notice attached.
    Goto table of contents
    More on a Tripartite Society
    Response to:  "Beyond Elite Globalization" (NF-120)
    From:  Frank Thomas Smith (franksmith@traslasierra.com)
    Dear Steve,
    You article "Beyond Elite Globalization: The Case for a Tripartite Society",
    is reproduced in the current issue of SouthernCross Review.  Your readers may be interested in knowing that Rudolf Steiner's book, Basic Issues of
    the Social Question, from which Nicanor Perlas drew his original
    inspiration concerning the Tripartite Society, is available as an e-book
    from SouthernCross Review. Direct link to the page is:
    Thanks for continuing to provide your own and our readers with much
    thoughtful material.
    Kind regards,
    Frank Thomas Smith
    Goto table of contents
                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #121 :: July 27, 2001
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