Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 5 / May 1, 1995 / Page 15


From Sun Apr 16 02:55:43 1995
From: Shayne Weyker 
Date: Sun, 16 Apr 1995 02:55:39 -0400

Having read your review of _Being Digital_ and based on my experiences
with his ideas in _Wired_ and Brand's _The Media Lab_, Nicholas
Negroponte's thinking doesn't seem to have evolved much in the politics,
content, and who-gets-access departments. A guy I know who worked at the
Media Lab at one point was squeezed out because the kind of work he was
interested in doing didn't involve creating demos. The Media Lab's "demo
or die" philosophy is a function of Negroponte's vision, which is in turn
somewhat a product of his original formal training as an architect. Nick,
says my acquaintance, is excited by the idea of building stuff (in this
case information technology applications rather than buildings). 

This fascination with building things has been true for a long time and
his biggest concern with politics (going back to his debacle in France
mentioned in _Media Lab_ and his crusade against analog HDTV) is the
frustration that governments get in the way of this cool new stuff being
built and/or they mandate that inferior obsolete stuff be built for
political reasons. Importantly, he doesn't seem very interested in
breaking these down into good and bad political reasons (though the French
and HDTV cases may well be textbook examples of the latter).

I think it very important that we keep distributional justice issues
firmly in front of us at we stumble into the Digital Era. We are beginning
to see the first instances of the full-court press by the white-collar
technophile consumers and visionaries who want the very best equipment and
networks available to at least some people as soon as possible.  

This is not to dismiss the valuable contributions by many in the net
community to the fight for universal access in the NII, nor to throw mud
at our visionaries who happen to be interested in other questions. Rather
it is to point out that there are many libertarians and others out there
(like Brad Hicks who attacked CPSR over its support of universal service
in v6n102 of Computer Underground Digest) who are actively hostile to
universal access and will use their voice to try to downgrade this as a
priority relative to other concerns they care more about (things like free
speech, privacy, and the rapid implementation of the technology). 

Their efforts will largely reinforce the efforts of the telcos, cable
companies, and content providers who have been and will continue to fight
tooth and nail using lawyers, lobbyists, and PR campaigns to maximize
their profits by getting governments to water-down costly universal access

The fight for informational equality is a going to be a very tough one.
One whose outcome will have great impact on the lives of millions of
people. My fear is that having too much of our attention focused on what
the new technology is going to do for individuals and not enough on what
it's going to do for our communities and society will only make that fight

Shayne Weyker

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