December 1997

Other Notable Releases of 1997

Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age
Esther Dyson
Broadway Books, 1997
ISBN 0062514822
307 pages, indexed
$25 (US)

Reviewed by Leslie Regan Shade

Esther Dyson is president of EDventure Holdings, which publishes Release 1.0, a computer-industry monthly newsletter. As well as being a savvy computer industry analyst, Dyson is chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Co-Chair, NII Advisory Council Information Privacy & Intellectual Property Subcommittee, Publisher, Rel-EAST, and Sponsor of the PC Forum & East-West High-Tech Forum.

Unlike Release 1.0, Release 2.0 is affordable. In it, Dyson distills her years of experience into an optimistic yet realistic scenario for designing life on the Net. As she says, "The Net gets its flavor from its citizens....[it] is uniquely malleable: it lets you build communities, find ideas, share information, connect with other people" (p. 280).

It's putting people before technology, yet connecting people intimately with technology, that makes Dyson's book such a nice read. The challenge, as Dyson see it, is to establish some basic principles which can be recognized internationally, in order for commerce and culture to flourish. Reconciling and harmonizing the widely different world cultures, jurisdictional quandaries, and legalistic entities will not be easy. And, it's not just going to be governments, policy wonks, and industry that should call the shots here: citizens need to be actively involved in the policymaking process. Given that most governments haven't actively engaged citizens in this process means that a new form of activism must take place.

Dyson discusses issues regarding intellectual property, content control, privacy, security, anonymity, and applications in work, education, and in communities.

With respect to intellectual property, Dyson dissects how the economies of scale are changing because of digitization, arguing that "human attention as a commodity of economic value" (p. 162) is one of the attendant properties of the Net.

Although she's zealous about connecting K-12 schools to the Net, she argues (thankfully!) that it's the teachers that need to be consulted and trained. Regarding content control, Dyson advocates filters and discusses the various tools out there - including the very interesting work done by the Platform for Internet Content Selection.

Although she tries not to speak like an American, it's hard not to see Dyson's ideas as being very American...For instance, with respect to issues surrounding governance, she writes:

"..for everyone on the Net to agree to comply with U.S. laws.After all, the U.S. still handles more than half the world's Internet traffic, supports more than half its server,and is the home of more than half its users.The challenge for the future is to separate the decentralized American approach from American laws and cultures. The American approach, as reflected in the Framework for Global Electronic Commerce recently proposed by the White to avoid letting any one country take charge, even the United States. That is, instead of a top-down (or follow-American) approach, let's try bottom-up. 'World government' should arise as a series of multilateral agreements, among governments and among private parties, rather than as the preserve of a central authority wherever it could be located." (p. 104-5)
I'm not sure what countries like Canada, France, and Africa would think of her suggestion...but its tenor reflects Dyson's concerns: fostering egalitarian, responsible, and autonomous conduct on the Net.

Other articles of interest:

Leslie Regan Shade ( is currently a part-time professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Ottawa.

Copyright © 1997 by Leslie Regan Shade. All Rights Reserved.


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Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age by Esther Dyson

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