Technorealism: A New Way to Think about Technology, Politics, and Culture? or A KNOW-NOTHING PARTY FOR THE '90S? Below are some comments, list of original Signers, the Conference Announcement and info about TechnoSurrealism. Please feel free to Add Your Comments.


1. Technologies are not neutral.
A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies are completely free of bias -- that because they are inanimate artifacts, they don't promote certain kinds of behaviors over others. In truth, technologies come loaded with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings. Every tool provides its users with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others. It is important for each of us to consider the biases of various technologies and to seek out those that reflect our values and aspirations.
True ... but you might take this further and examine how technologies have over time affected people of different classes. Or directly look at how technology have affected class structure itself. How is information technology likely to affect this? Good words, but just a start.

2. The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian.
The Net is an extraordinary communications tool that provides a range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and government. Yet as cyberspace becomes more populated, it increasingly resembles society at large, in all its complexity. For every empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there will also be dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather ordinary.
"malicious, perverse, and ordinary". Valid point, but where to go from here? Who decides what is "malicious or perverse"?

3. Government has an important role to play on the electronic frontier.
Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth. While governments should respect the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online. As the representative of the people and the guardian of democratic values, the state has the right and responsibility to help integrate cyberspace and conventional society.

Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Competing software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network. Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the public interest.
"no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online" Who decides this? "As the representative of the people and the guardian of democratic values, the state has the right and responsibility to help integrate cyberspace and conventional society." You are missing the point here. A congress and president who vote for the CDA have clearly shown contempt for the online community and it is questionable if they are truly "representative of the people" or just the moneyed interests that they hit up for campaign contributions.

4. Information is not knowledge.
All around us, information is moving faster and becoming cheaper to acquire, and the benefits are manifest. That said, the proliferation of data is also a serious challenge, requiring new measures of human discipline and skepticism. We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing information quickly with the more daunting task of converting it into knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we should never use them as a substitute for our own basic cognitive skills of awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.
Good point. Is advertising a form of pollution?

5. Wiring the schools will not save them.
The problems with America's public schools -- disparate funding, social promotion, bloated class size, crumbling infrastructure, lack of standards -- have almost nothing to do with technology. Consequently, no amount of technology will lead to the educational revolution prophesied by President Clinton and others. The art of teaching cannot be replicated by computers, the Net, or by "distance learning." These tools can, of course, augment an already high-quality educational experience. But to rely on them as any sort of panacea would be a costly mistake.
True, but where is the balance? Need to get into specifics ... will mandating filtering software for schools and libraries help or hinder the educational process? This is also a very USA centric view. The issue of education requires a deep understanding of cultures and some consensus of even what the goal of education even is.

6. Information wants to be protected.
It's true that cyberspace and other recent developments are challenging our copyright laws and frameworks for protecting intellectual property. The answer, though, is not to scrap existing statutes and principles. Instead, we must update old laws and interpretations so that information receives roughly the same protection it did in the context of old media. The goal is the same: to give authors sufficient control over their work so that they have an incentive to create, while maintaining the right of the public to make fair use of that information. In neither context does information want "to be free." Rather, it needs to be protected.
Misses the point. The real question is who owns what and who has the power? Will companies that demand exclusive rights of writers help the creation and support of writing? Ownership is a big issue. "Fair use" is an important concept in the development of culture.

7. The public owns the airwaves; the public should benefit from their use.
The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters underscores the corrupt and inefficient misuse of public resources in the arena of technology. The citizenry should benefit and profit from the use of public frequencies, and should retain a portion of the spectrum for educational, cultural, and public access uses. We should demand more for private use of public property.
"We should demand more for private use of public property." Excellent point. What about adding a 30% excise tax on all TV and Radio ads?

8. Understanding technology should be an essential component of global citizenship.
In a world driven by the flow of information, the interfaces -- and the underlying code -- that make information visible are becoming enormously powerful social forces. Understanding their strengths and limitations, and even participating in the creation of better tools, should be an important part of being an involved citizen. These tools affect our lives as much as laws do, and we should subject them to a similar democratic scrutiny.
Sounds nice but misses the reality that significant part of the worlds population is in survival mode.

* * *

There are significant areas which are not covered. These mainly have to do with money and ownership of the Internet.

  • Will the Internet evolve along the cable TV model where rates are raised based on how much debt service the market will bear?
  • The issues of money and open competitive markets must be examined in greater detail.
  • It is naive to think that government regulation will be benign and helpful to the Internet. Government regulation has stifled innovation and freedom in most cases where it has gotten involved.
  • Assuming that technology widens the gap between rich and poor, it might be worth considering how technology could distribute it's benefits more uniformly so that a greater number of people welcome it's introduction.
  • Digerati ... How does technology affect the creation of a new group of elite's who will attempt to make decisions for the rest of us which will just be for their own financial benefit?

original Signers (in alphabetical order),

DAVID S. BENNAHUM, New York, New York
Editor, Meme
Contributing Editor, Wired, Lingua Franca, I.D., and Spin magazines

BROOKE SHELBY BIGGS, San Francisco, California
Columnist, San Francisco Bay Guardian online
Columnist, CMP's NetInsider

PAULINA BORSOOK, San Francisco, California
Author, "Cyberselfish: Technolibertarianism and the True Revenge of the Nerds" (forthcoming from Broadway books)

MARISA BOWE, New York, New York
Editor-in-Chief, Word
Former Conference Manager, ECHO

SIMSON GARFINKEL, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
Contributing Writer, Wired
Columnist, The Boston Globe

STEVEN JOHNSON, New York, New York
Author, "Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate"
Editor-In-Chief, FEED

Author, "Cyberia," "Media Virus," "Playing the Future," and "Ecstasy Club."
Columnist, New York Times Syndicate, Time Digital

ANDREW L. SHAPIRO, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Fellow, Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Contributing Editor, The Nation

DAVID SHENK, Brooklyn, New York
Author, "Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut"
Commentator, National Public Radio

STEVE SILBERMAN, San Francisco, California
Senior Culture Writer, Wired News

MARK STAHLMAN, New York, New York
Author, "The Battle for Cyberspace" (forthcoming)
Co-founder, New York New Media Association

STEFANIE SYMAN, New York, New York
Executive editor and co-founder, FEED

Conference Announcement:

Conference on Technorealism
How should we think about technology?

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society invites you to attend "Introducing Technorealism: A New Way to Think about Technology, Politics, and Culture," Thursday, March 19, 3-6 pm, in Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall, on the Harvard Law School campus. There is no fee to attend the event, and preregistration is not required.

A dozen leading technology critics -- authors of acclaimed books, and leading journalists, editors, and commentators -- will discuss their collaboration on a set of principles that challenges the conventional dichotomy between cyber-utopianism and neo-Luddism.

3:00 pm - 4:15 pm: Panel One -- What is Technorealism? An Overview, moderated by Prof. Lawrence Lessig.
4:15 pm - 4:30 pm: Refreshment break/meet the panelists.
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm: Panel Two -- Hypertext and Hyperbole: Technorealism Applied, moderated by Prof. Charles Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain.

Participants: David Bennahum (Wired, Spin), Brooke Shelby Biggs (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Paulina Borsook (author, Cyberselfish), Marisa Bowe (Word), Simson Garfinkel (Boston Globe, Wired), Steven Johnson (author, Interface Culture; Feed), Douglas Rushkoff (author, Cyberia; Time Digital), Andrew L. Shapiro (Berkman Center, The Nation), David Shenk (author, Data Smog; NPR), Steve Silberman (Wired), Mark Stahlman (New York New Media Ass'n), Stefanie Syman (Feed).

Katie Hafner, Battle Cry of the Technorealists, New York Times, March 12, 1998, p. E3
Elizabeth Weise, Tract Waves Yellow Flag on Technology, USA Today, March 12, 1998, p. 3D
Ian Christe, Digital Dream Team Calls for 'Technorealism', Wired News, March 12, 1998

comments about ...

    It had become apparent that, after two consecutive epochs wired on hyperbolic technobabble, the intelligencia needed to crash. So a small group of intellectuals bent on truth and a book contract had a brilliant... er... um... at least sobering idea: What if we were to continue the trend, and make each digital epoch more dreary than the last? What if we were to lay claim to digital reality itself, defining it in language so stilted, with ideas so mind-numbingly simplistic and obvious, so soporific that a dazed cyberpopulis, already rendered doofus from data shock, might just sign on? And in the course of cyberevents, both great and small, we may sufficiently impress Random House or perhaps St. Martin's Press?
    Propaganda - Dissent - TechnoSurrealism @disinfo

D I T H E R A T I archive, 16-20 March 1998

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