Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996
 A Map for the Civic-Minded, by Don Langham

Remembering the Past, Mobilizing for the Future

The Internet, for many of us a model for the future of cyberspace, is a product of the kind of pro-active planning Miller has in mind for the NII. Most of us take for granted the fact that on the Internet anyone with a computer connection can communicate with anyone else on the network, or that we can send data across the globe or across campus for the same cost to the sender, regardless of the amount of data sent. These features are what make publications like CMC Magazine, the thousands of Usenet news groups, the thousands more listservs, IRC, MUDs and MOOs, and the ever expanding number of World Wide Web information sites a practical possibility. If we take them for granted, as though they are a "natural" part of the cyberspace landscape, Miller would remind us that these features were deliberately implemented by the National Science Foundation. Far from being a "natural" part of computing, there is no guarantee that the cyberspace of tomorrow will continue to encourage and support the rich experimentation and creativity we have seen on the Internet.

To his credit, Miller does not expect the government to protect the public good unless citizens demand a say in telecommunication policy. Indeed, Miller urges computer and information professionals to use their understanding of what is at stake with the NII to help mobilize people "on the grassroots as well as the national level to organize themselves and to demand that their voice be heard." In the final chapter of Civilizing Cyberspace he suggests some specific goals those of us interested in democratizing the NII's policy-making process should work toward, including: the establishment of a national "NII user group" that will, among other things, conduct lobbying efforts in Washington on behalf of grassroots organizations, the establishment of more community networks or Free-Nets® to introduce citizens to the potential of network computing, and the gathering of data about how the NII is working in people's lives so that we can -- evaluate and fine tune its development.

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