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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #37      Copyright 1997 O'Reilly & Associates        January 8, 1997
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          Dreams of a Global Village
          The Mystical Properties of Zero
          Radio Cyberdays
          Do Computers Kill People?
    *** Things That Bite Back: Tenner on Productivity (Stephen L. Talbott)
          That computer is costing you way more than you think
    *** About this newsletter

    *** Quotes and Provocations

    Dreams of a Global Village

    Way back in Wired 1.5 (November, 1993), Alvin Toffler (who is always referred to as "the futurist Alvin Toffler") complained that the U.S. should be dropping faxes and camcorders into Yugoslavia instead of food. In the simple-minded manner of popular futurists, this left unaddressed the question whether more rather than less killing would occur in ethnic enclaves where every "foreigner" could be suspected of recording history.

    But maybe the futurist Alvin Toffler was just a few years behind the curve. Next time around, let's try dropping Internet computers along with certificates granting free access to the obedient playmates of the Virtual Dreams site. That might do it. There'd be little time for distractions like killing your neighbors. And, just to exercise those futurist genes, we can look forward a bit further to full-immersion virtual reality. Presumably our air drops will then play their role in finally implementing a Global Feelage.

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    The Mystical Properties of Zero

    Professor Prabhakar Ragde, a NETFUTURE reader and mathematician in the computer science department at the University of Waterloo, offers a nice twist on the Year 2000 problem (NF #35), which he says
    may be the first mass disillusionment faced by those who up until that point have accepted the blind optimism of those who promote technology. A lot of "ordinary people" are going to be inconvenienced. Add this to the expected millennial madness -- apocalyptic prophets, a surge in New Age spiritualism, and the urge to introspection that the sight of a "0" seems to invoke in us -- and you have the potential for a considerable shift in public attitudes towards technology.
    An interesting thought. I would only add that any lasting shift--which I will hope for along with Professor Ragde--must be born of a deep, introspective recognition that we've been asleep in our relation to technology. Perhaps indeed the Year 2000 problem can help to trigger such a recognition in those who are already inclining to pay attention.

    Beyond that, however, I fear the poten