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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                Technology and Human Responsibility for the Future
    Issue #33      Copyright 1996 O'Reilly & Associates      November 19, 1996
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    *** Editor's notes
          You Are the Network
          Networks of Convenience
    *** Beyond ecophobia (David Sobel)
          How to teach children a love of the environment
    *** About this newsletter

    *** Editor's notes

    You Are the Network

    Personal networking always carried a hint of exploitation -- of "using" people -- but it was never quite like this. IBM and MIT's Media Lab have developed the prototype for a "personal area network" in which the people you touch are quite literally made into your network. The idea is that you walk around with a computer-on-a-card in your pocket, and it continually emits signals that travel through your body, communicating with everything and everyone you graze up against. You can give out your business card with each handshake. And your watch, pager, and hand-held computer can talk to each other.

    So the "flesh meet" as a supposed alternative to online experience suddenly becomes problematic, and the hardware "handshake" finally becomes just another handshake. Presumably you can communicate through other bodily routes as well -- the potential for redeeming certain classical communication failures by converting them into information-rich encounters is impressive -- but no further details are currently on offer.

    According to the November 18 USA Today, in which the story appeared, personal networking technology is safe: "the power generated is one-billionth of an amp and the frequency is similar to that of an AM radio."

    But the real high point of this story lies in its concluding line. Reporters, of course, are supposed to find out why things matter, so the author of the USA Today report dutifully put the question to IBM engineer Tom Zimmerman. His answer? "It provides convenience, which everyone needs."

    Now there's in-depth technology reporting for you.

    (Thanks to John Thienes for passing along the news item.)

    Networks of Convenience

    In his essay, "Marshall McLuhan: The Medium's Messenger," Mark Dery comments that "what makes McLuhan's global village a village is not so much the interactivity enabled by its virtual commons as the sense of profound involvement that supposedly flows from our electronic interconnectedness." He goes on to ask whether McLuhan was right in thinking that "the electric implosion...compels commitment and participation":
    TV's role in galvanizing opposition to the Vietnam war or, more recently, in mobilizing humanitarian aid for starving Somalis would seem to bear this out. Then again, the curious inertia of an international community awash,