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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #78      A Publication of The Nature Institute      October 15, 1998
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Editor's Note
       Some Changes
    Who's Killing Higher Education? (Or is It Suicide?) (Stephen L. Talbott)
       Notes of an Outsider
       Don't Be Hysterical about Privacy (Kevin Kelly)
    Words Past and Present
    About this newsletter
                        ** From the NETFUTURE Archives **
         "I've [asked] people to imagine themselves in 1957 or so, trying
        to discuss the social consequences and significance of the nascent
          U.S. Interstate Highway System.  If they got all enamored and
        enthusiastic about life on the highway itself, they'd completely,
         *utterly* miss the real story.  Which was not about what it was
          like to *drive* on an Interstate Highway, but about the myriad
            ways in which Interstate Highways dramatically (and often
       detrimentally) altered American society off-road." (Richard Sclove)
                             (For an updated context,
                        see "Words Past and Present" below.)
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    Some Changes
    NETFUTURE finally has a home.  I have occasionally mentioned my desire to
    affiliate the newsletter with a worthy organization, and now I have found
    one that feels good and right beyond my greatest hopes.  It's called The
    Nature Institute, a nonprofit research organization established just this
    year and headquartered a mile down the road from my home in Ghent, New
    York.  A couple of months ago, and quite unexpectedly, NETFUTURE and I
    were invited to join the Institute.  I agreed immediately.
    The vision for The Nature Institute was primarily Craig Holdrege's, with
    strong support from his wife, Henrike.  Many of you will recall Craig as
    the author of Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor
    of Context (reviewed in NF #31) and also as the author of "Pharming
    the Cow" in NF #43.  A biologist (as is Henrike), he carries a passion
    for what he calls "whole-organism biology".  You will find a wonderful
    example of his work in a paper entitled "Seeing the Animal Whole: The
    Example of Horse and Lion", printed in Goethe's Way of Science,
    edited by David Seamon and Arthur Zajonc (SUNY Press, 1998).
    My favorite story about Craig derives from an internationally well-known
    biologist.  After the publication of Craig's book -- and after learning
    that Craig is a teacher of high-school biology -- this scientist
    exclaimed:  "It's wonderful that you're a high school teacher!  It shows
    that you haven't been corrupted yet!"  Not irrelevant to the feature
    article below.
    Currently Craig is the only paid (part-time) research associate at the
    Institute.  Early fund-raising has been promising, and there are ambitious
    plans for the future.  My own role is to pursue technology studies
    (leading to a book on the philosophy of technology), continue my public
    speaking, and produce NETFUTURE.  The hope is to draw in a number of other
    researchers from around the country over the next few years.
    I will introduce The Nature Institute further in coming issues, describing
    its mission and activities.  I should make clear, though, that my work
    with NETFUTURE will have to remain self-supporting for the foreseeable
    future.  You'll hear more about this shortly.
    You can reach Craig at craig@natureinstitute.org.
    It seems a good time to make another change.  While I've enjoyed putting
    together the regular feature, "What People are Saying about NETFUTURE", I
    suppose enough is enough, and by this time there might be a more valuable
    use for that small space.  In this issue I begin a "From the NETFUTURE
    Archives" feature, drawing on past issues of the newsletter.  The first
    NETFUTURE appeared in late 1995, and it may prove stimulating to pull out
    brief snippets of the older material for a fresh look.
    Incidentally, don't forget that you can look at all the archived material,
    aided by the online topical index.  We've covered a lot of ground over
    these three years!  You'll find the index, along with various other
    resources, at http://netfuture.org.
    Goto table of contents
                                Stephen L. Talbott
    A growing consensus holds that new information technologies foretell the
    end of higher education as we have known it.  I suspect this is true.  Its
    truth, however, is not that the technologies are positively
    revolutionizing education.  Rather, what we are watching is more like the
    end -- the final perfection and dead-end extreme -- of the old regime's
    For a long while now we have slowly been reconceiving education as the
    transfer of information from one database or brain to another.  Access to
    information is the universal slogan, and by "information" we demonstrate
    with countless phrases every day that we mean something routinely
    transferable between containers.
    What we haven't realized is that this fact-shoveling model of education
    renders both teachers and schools superfluous.  It's true that many
    colleges and universities have struggled mightily to convert themselves
    into more efficient vehicles for information delivery.  But they can
    hardly hope to compete successfully with the computer in this game.
    The old institutions, however, are not the only things placed at risk by
    the computer's fulfillment of the reigning model of education.
    Eventually, we will realize that students, too, are superfluous.  It's
    much more efficient to transfer information from one database to another
    than from a database to a mind.
    The logic of this has already been glimpsed in the workplace, where the
    remarkable phrase, "just-in-time learning", is taking ferocious hold as
    only the latest business jargon can.  The idea is that you need no longer
    worry about the general resources your employees bring to the job; all
    operations are managed by sending exactly the right information to exactly
    the right terminal at exactly the right time.  Everything is taken care of
    automatically, with the employee functioning smoothly as little more than
    an assistive cog in the mechanisms of information transfer.
    If you want a model for effective information delivery, here's where it
    is, not in the classroom -- not even in the wired classroom.
    Actually, some people are already explicitly urging this model as the
    basis for an education of the future.  Lewis Perelman, author of School's
    Out, lauds those businesses that have replaced "preparation-oriented
    education" with just-in-time learning:
       They saw, correctly, that the systems they were constructing were doing
       to knowledge what the just-in-time delivery processes the Japanese
       called kanban had done to material resources and goods in
       manufacturing. /1/
    Perelman's "kanbrain", the instrument for so-called hyperlearning, amounts
    pretty much to an (unnecessarily biological) name for the technical
    networks of information exchange.  The network is what gets "educated",
    not people.
    When Business Embraces the Academy
    Information delivery has always been intimately associated with well-
    defined, effective procedures -- algorithms.  That is, information is
    designed more for manipulation and doing than for understanding, and this
    helps to explain the convergence of business and education today.  A spate
    of recent news items illustrates the trend:
    ** A survey reported in Computerworld suggested that forty percent of
    large corporations plan to negotiate training deals with colleges and
    universities this year.  The idea is to encourage the creation of
    academic programs tailored for the needs of particular
    businesses. /2/
    ** High-tech companies such as Cisco Systems, 3Com, Oracle, and IBM are
    going into the teacher-training business, helping teachers with the latest
    technologies.  But more than training is involved:
       Rather than selling products and services to schools ... companies are
       now developing curricula for schools and giving them the equipment to
       aid the learning process.  And while most four-year colleges are
       reluctant to offer credit for vendor-developed courses, that may be
       changing -- students at the University of San Francisco can take a
       Cisco course in networking and a database course from Oracle, both for
       credit. /3/
    ** The number of corporate "universities" -- comprehensive training
    institutions run by corporations -- has increased from 400 to 1600 in the
    last ten years.  A few of these have formal degree-granting powers, and
    many have cooperative relationships with colleges and universities.  But
    now these corporate institutions, under growing pressure to become self-
    supporting, are bringing their "branded" education into competition with
    mainline higher education. /4/
    ** Los Angeles businessman Alfred Mann has donated $100 million each to
    the University of Southern California and the University of California at
    Los Angeles.  His main objective, according to the Economist, is
    "to build biomedical institutes that will act as bridges between industry
    and the ivory tower".  UCLA accepted the gift only after a decade of
    hesitation -- a decade whose changes certainly did not make the acceptance
    more difficult.  As for Mr. Mann, he
       is a tough-minded fellow who has detailed plans for his institutes.
       They will be large, each employing more than 100 people, including
       graduate students.  They will license their ideas to a range of
       companies (not just Mr. Mann's) for commercial exploitation.  And they
       will use their patents to generate a steady stream of income for their
       host universities. /5/
    All this worries a growing contingent of educators, who fear the
    corporation's "crushing solicitude".  (The phrase is William F. Buckley's
    which he applied many years ago to the ministrations of centralized
    government.)  I share this fear, but it seems to me that the more
    fundamental issue often goes unnoted:  our changing notions about what
    education is make it inevitable that business and industry should step
    into the picture aggressively.  If you want efficient delivery of
    effective facts and procedures, then business -- already attuned to such
    computationally rigorous training -- will far outperform the university.
    In other words, having increasingly accepted their role as training
    grounds for business -- which is what the information-transfer model of
    education implies -- universities are now finding that business is better
    situated to train its own employees than schools are.  At best the
    universities will simply hire themselves out to corporations.
    Buying an Education More Cheaply
    But I seriously wonder about the long-term survival of the university in
    any form.  How long before the students rebel?  If someone handed me
    $25,000 a year for four years and said "Go get yourself an education",
    could I possibly choose to blow it all at a university?  Unthinkable.
    Why should I pay a school $100,000 for a vocational education when I can
    almost certainly find a business or agency or laboratory or nonprofit
    organization willing to hire me for nothing, assign me some useful chores,
    and give me an opportunity to start learning my desired vocation?  Even if
    I had to pay something to the business at first, it would be well worth
    it.  Long before I would have graduated from school, I'd be earning an
    income in my chosen field.
    The options are unlimited.  Nothing prevents me from obtaining the best
    textbooks the world has to offer.  Nothing prevents me from approaching a
    first-class researcher or business manager or teacher with the
    proposition, "Will you give me an hour per week for a year in exchange for
    a couple of thousand dollars?"  (In such a highly motivated context, the
    mentoring will likely prove more valuable, more humane, and more intense
    than several college courses put together.)  And, in general, nothing
    prevents me from going wherever the "action" is in my field and plunging
    in with the aid of some of that $100,000.
    The irrelevance of our educational institutions today has been summarized
    by Albert Borgmann:
       We assume that the increasing length of average education reflects
       rising requirements of training for typical technological work.  But
       this summary view fails to inquire whether education in this country,
       for instance, is also of increasing quality; nor, if that were the
       case, does it ask whether typical labor allows for the exercise of
       greater knowledge and training.  The answer to both questions is
       probably negative.  To avoid the consequent embarrassment of finding
       that much of our education is irrelevant to labor, length of education
       has been put to new purposes which are really foreign to its nature.
       Since desirable work is scarce, education is used as an obstacle course
       which is lengthened as such work becomes scarcer.  Educational
       requirements are used as a device to screen applicants.  And finally,
       educational credentials serve to solidify the privileges of professions
       and the stratification of society. /6/
    The Credentialed Society
    The most damning testimony against higher education today may be that
    students have not rebelled; they are evidently incapable of it.  Two
    things prevent such rebellion.  One is the inability of high school
    graduates to take their own education in hand.  We do not teach them to
    become self-learners.  I am continually amazed at the number of adults who
    assume that, if they are to learn anything new, they must "take a class".
    The second obstacle, pointed out in Borgmann's analysis, is the fact that,
    for extraneous social reasons, we insist on the academic degree.  It is
    one of the revealing facts about the Information Age that it is the
    supreme Age of Credentials.  Not just credentials as such (against which
    I have no complaint), but wooden credentials -- degrees, certificates,
    diplomas, and licenses based solely on "measurable outcomes", such as
    credit hours and standardized test grades, with scarcely any reference
    whatever to the actual inner accomplishment and capability of the
    certificate bearer.
    Being married to a registered nurse, I have been able to note the
    unfortunate inferiority complex within that wonderfully humane profession.
    (I think "doctor-envy" might be a good name for it, but my wife threatened
    to protest in a scorching letter to the editor if I wrote that.)  In order
    to raise the standard of respectability for nurses, the governing bodies
    try to define an ever more proprietary training that can be seen as the
    nursing profession's own.  They pile on credit-hour requirements in
    vacuous subjects (you haven't seen gobblydegook until you've tried to read
    three consecutive sentences in the typical "nursing theory" book).  And
    they continually raise the barrier for "outsiders" who might have traveled
    by a slightly unconventional route.
    So it is that a nurse who has worked in a particular field for fifteen
    years and may be one of the best healers around, can find himself blocked
    from advancement, while someone else whose sensibilities were sufficiently
    dulled to endure endless hours of post-graduate make-work marches straight
    ahead.  And a nurse trained in Switzerland has no hope of practicing in
    this country without going back to school for a couple of years to
    duplicate his education.
    Of course, the same syndrome afflicts virtually every profession.  (Was it
    Mencken who said, "Every profession is a conspiracy against the public"?)
    Just think of the educational establishment, with its obstacles for non-
    credentialed outsiders, and its protection of incompetent insiders.  In
    general, the closed professional circle, protecting itself through
    artificial requirements, is one of the pressing social problems of our
    The credential problem threatens quickly to become even more acute.  The
    European Commission is now trying to create a smartcard-based European
    Accreditation System.  According to Joe Cullen, who is working on the
    project, the idea is to "set up permanent and accessible skill
    accreditation mechanisms that will allow individuals to validate their
    knowledge however it has been acquired."
       Central to this vision is the use of new technologies such as personal
       smart cards that will allow citizens to record their training and
       experience on portable, computer-readable curriculum vitae.  Another
       set of applications involve the use of remote, electronic assessment
       and testing systems that can allow individuals to obtain qualifications
       and credentials that in turn can be recorded on their personal skills
       card, perhaps via existing frameworks such as the European network of
       chambers of commerce, or even at home. /7/
    The goal is admirable.  But, as with so many cases of computer-enabled
    "flexibility", the flexibility easily turns out to be a higher-order
    rigidity with a vengeance.  You can expect to see the final, irrevocable
    triumph of the numerically scored, standardized test.
    Toward Greater Standardization
    An element of standardization is inescapable in all social interaction.
    Lacking it, we would be helpless to connect with each other.  Language
    itself represents a kind of standardization.  But so long as language and
    society are healthy, there is a creative tension and balance between the
    standard (lexical) meanings of words and the speaker's individualized
    meanings.  (It turns out that you can't say anything meaningful at all
    without this individualized element, but that is a larger topic.)  In this
    play of tension and invention all change, all human growth, all new
    understanding, is incubated.
    In the business of establishing credentials today, where is the
    recognition of a principle to set against standardization, to prevent its
    becoming tyrannical?  A one-sided pursuit of standardization (which,
    incidentally, coheres wonderfully well with the pursuit of information as
    shovelable fact) means neither more nor less than the obliteration of
    everything individual.  In a valuable set of reflections upon educational
    standardization, Phil Agre casts the issue in terms of diversity:
       We need to recognize ... that the ease of transferring courses between
       schools -- effectively assembling one's college education a la carte
       from among the offerings of a large number of potentially quite
       different programs -- may come at a significant price in intellectual
       diversity.  If the internal modularity of degree programs must be
       coordinated centrally, or at least negotiated among numerous
       independent universities, then the result will be less flexibility and
       greater uniformity.  Power over fine details of the curriculum will
       inevitably shift in the direction of accrediting organizations,
       university administrators, and other professional coordinators.
       Faculty may effectively lose the ability to write their own syllabi. /8/
    Agre urges us to "preserve the institutional conditions for a diversity of
    intellectual approaches".  I will suggest what this might mean shortly.
    Meanwhile, to summarize:
    The central focus of information technology upon the reliable, precise,
    and quantifiable transmission of well-defined bits from one place to
    another, and the emphasis upon algorithmic procedures for manipulating
    this information, accord perfectly with
    *  the "shoveling facts" style of education;
    *  the increasingly cosy relationship between education and businesses,
       whose primary concern has more to do with operational effectiveness
       than with depth of understanding; and
    *  the rigid "credentialization" and standardization of society, which, in
       turn, amount to a denial of the life of the individual.
    But, in the end, this model of education leaves little room for schools
    or, ultimately, students.
    Everyone disowns fact-shoveling education.  And yet the computer and its
    databases, into which we pour information, have emerged utterly triumphant
    as the reigning metaphors for learning.  The metaphors that powerfully
    grip us are more indicative of what's going on than our much too frequent
    Becoming Qualified
    I know of a school in Europe -- it happens to be a seminary -- where there
    is no fixed term of study.  The sense of calling is high, the demands upon
    students are remarkably heavy, and students graduate whenever they are
    "ready".  This averages out to something like three or four years, but,
    depending on prior experience and qualification, may be as little as two
    years -- or, not infrequently, never at all.  I have heard, perhaps
    apocryphally, of one student who was still trying after seven years.
    I do not understand how a human-centered institution of higher education
    -- one not conceived as an assembly-line or information-transfer system --
    could operate without at least some of this flexible, individual-centered
    character.  If, as I indicated above, standardization tends to obliterate
    everything individual, the principle we need to set against
    standardization in order to hold the balance is recognition of the
    individual.  Every individual follows a unique path through this
    world, and the teacher's failure to enter upon that path with the student
    is a failure to teach.  This failure also makes any profound assessment of
    the student's performance impossible.
    Inevitably, though, the objection is voiced that an individual,
    qualitative assessment of students is not even desirable, since it
    eventuates in merely subjective and often biased judgments.  After all,
    who has not heard of doctoral students suffering irremediable loss at the
    hands of willfully antagonistic thesis advisers?
    Nothing is more symptomatic of our age than this objection, with its
    implicit argument for unmitigated standardization.  It would eliminate
    from consideration everything not measurable, which is to say, everything
    qualitative, which is to say, everything giving individual character to
    the human being.
    Certainly educators can lose their objectivity; they can yield to
    biases of one sort or another.  But in no domain do we solve this by
    denaturing human relationships so that the opportunity for bias and
    subjective error does not arise.  We can overcome our subjective
    limitations only by ... overcoming them, only by seeing more truly, more
    We can, and should, try to build some checks and balances into the
    arrangement (there is a place for standardization) but to eliminate the
    decisive role of profound and healing insight because it may fall short
    is like eliminating the institution of the family because there will
    inevitably be instances of child abuse.  It is to say, in effect, "Let's
    cease our striving toward higher things, since to be human is to err".
    And it is to lose sight of the fact that an unduly zealous drive toward
    "objectivity" and standardization is a drive to erase ourselves.  We are
    not, after all, objects.
    A teacher can genuinely assess a student's achievement -- but only by
    meeting the student, by traveling along the path with him.  This is likely
    to prove wrenching, and there is great risk:  the experience may transform
    the teacher fully as much as the student.  The difficulty in it is the
    difficulty in confronting another human spirit, and it's all too easy to
    pull back in fear.  Without a doubt, it's simpler to disengage from the
    individual and resort to the comfortingly definitive testimony of the
    standardized test.
    All this bears on the transfer of credits between institutions.  We do not
    have to impose diversity-killing standardization to enable student
    movement between institutions.  If teachers know what it means to have a
    grasp of their own subject matter, and if they must eventually determine
    their students' adequacy before conferring a credit or a degree, why can't
    they just determine their students' adequacy?  Why do they need the
    reassurance of a certain number of standardized credit hours on a
    transcript?  Is it that, like convicts putting in prison time, students
    must "pay their dues"?
    Obviously, a record of "dues" paid will prove helpful.  For one thing, a
    teacher's knowledge of a student can fully develop only over the entire
    course of study, so on what basis does the student get admitted in the
    first place?  But the point is that personal knowledge, as well as
    standard measures, must be applied so far as possible from the very
    beginning.  This introduces a balancing principle of flexibility,
    preventing a standardized system from simply crushing students.
    Nothing to Teach
    But there is one final piece of the puzzle of higher education.  If the
    university is sinking into irrelevance, and if the student is disappearing
    from view, so, too, the subject matter of education is evaporating,
    leaving only the informational dregs of what once were living subjects.
    If, as I said above, we've been reconceiving education as the transfer of
    information from one database or brain to another, this is because what
    passes for knowledge has more and more been reduced to the kind of
    decontextualized fact fit for such transfer.
    The world we ought to be engaging has disappeared behind a tissue of
    brittle, yes-or-no abstractions.  Just as we have ignored the student in
    favor of an array of measurements, so also we have turned our faces away
    from the world itself, as qualitatively given -- the world that might,
    unnervingly, speak to us.  From the scientist's instrumentation to the
    sociologist's surveys, we have perfected the means for ignoring the
    immediate, expressive presence of the people and the natural phenomena
    around us, and therefore we have no meaningful context in which to anchor
    our swelling cascades of data.
    This, of course, is a huge assertion -- as huge as the entire range of
    academic subjects.  I can hardly justify it here -- although much of the
    ongoing content of NETFUTURE bears on it and I will have much more to say
    in the future.  All I have room for in conclusion is the barest sketch of
    one observer's crazy dream about the higher education of the future.
    I envision an education where students gather around a teacher because
    they find his life to be a pathway to new understanding.  The teacher in
    turn will take responsibility for helping the students along their own
    paths to the realization of their deepest capacities.
    Teachers may come together, along with their students, to form
    institutions of learning, but the curriculum of these institutions will be
    determined by the teachers themselves, out of their direct experience with
    students, rather than by remote administrators.  From kindergarten to
    graduate school, the state will have no authority over the curriculum at
    all; this will eliminate the absurdity whereby the state says, "We will
    defend to the death your freedom of speech, but we will control, through
    education, your ability to speak".
    Neither will the state directly fund schools.  It will only guarantee a
    system that gives students access and choice.
    Accrediting and certifying agencies will be as diverse as the extant
    educational movements.  Just as the teacher cannot be spared
    responsibility for reasonable assessment of the student, neither can the
    student and parent be spared responsibility for inquiring into the
    character of any movement whose schools they are considering.  As a
    parallel, our society is finding it increasingly necessary to allow
    competing forms of medicine -- each with its own accrediting bodies -- to
    flourish side by side, while giving every informed citizen the right to
    seek his own health as he chooses.
    Actually, there are a few encouraging signs.  Alternative educational
    arrangements are thriving on all sides, from the internship program at the
    organic farm in my community, to the various "new age" institutes offering
    self-help seminars, to traveling troubadour-like teachers who move between
    groups of students around the country, to more traditional schools where
    the meeting between teacher and student remains the throbbing heart of the
    educational transaction.
    The diversity of these undertakings, from fringe to mainstream, is exactly
    what you would expect of a truly free educational landscape.  The need is
    for the traditional educational establishment to take on more of this
    As to the computer, I imagine it will find its genuine, supportive role
    only to the degree we gain deliverance from the silly notion that it is
    educationally decisive.
    (Thanks to Jack Keith for a relevant news item.)
    1. "Interview with Lewis J. Perelman",
    Technos Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 3, Fall, 1997.  Available at
    2. Computerworld, Apr. 13, 1998.
    3. Investor's Business Daily, May
    12, 1998, as reported in Edupage.
    4. Financial Times, June 18, 1998,
    as reported in Edupage.
    5. Economist, July 11, 1998.
    6. Albert Borgmann, Technology and the
    Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago:
    University of Chicago, 1984), p. 119.
    7. For further information about the
    European Accreditation System, see http://tavinstitute.guinet.com/.
    8. Red Rock Eater News Service, June 25,
    Goto table of contents
    Don't Be Hysterical about Privacy
    Response to:  "Privacy and Prejudice" (NF-77)
    From:  Kevin Kelly (kevin@wired.com)
    > Sitting at my terminal in my basement, I can probably find out more
    > about you than you would care to divulge freely.
    I doubt it.  Your sentiment is a common hysteria.  I challenge you to
    "find out more about me that I would care to divulge freely."  I've been
    online since 1982, so there should be no lack of potential.
    Kevin Kelly     kevin@wired.com        www.hotwired.com/staff/kevin
    Wired magazine     520 3rd Street San Francisco, CA 94107  USA
    +1-415-276-5211 vox     +1-415-276-5150 fax
    Kevin Kelly --
    That's a fair challenge.  I suppose its force will only be increased by
    the fact that I myself decline to divert my energies into an attempt to
    invade someone's privacy.  But I can at least pass the challenge on to
    the readers.  Not that I would ask them to go after someone else's privacy
    either.  But I suspect they will have a few things to say, evidentially,
    about privacy on the Net.
    In any case, if there's a hysteria about, it's hardly been evident in
    NETFUTURE.  In general, I've much preferred to note how privacy worries,
    real or imagined, are secondary symptoms of more fundamental problems.
    (See, for example, "Privacy in an Age of Data" in NF #28, 29, and 30.) And
    even in the current case, I was less intent on suggesting that privacy is
    itself a first-order concern than drawing attention to the general worry
    about it and the kind of matrix from which the worry arises.
    All of which makes me as curious as you may be about what sort of
    response, if any, your challenge will produce.
    Goto table of contents
                             WORDS PAST AND PRESENT
    Dr. Richard E. Sclove was founder and, until this year, executive director
    of the Loka Institute, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization
    concerned with the social, political, and environmental repercussions of
    science and technology.  The quotation at the beginning of this newsletter
    is from the first part of a five-part interview with Sclove called "A
    Quick Guide to the Politics of Cyberspace", carried in NF #6, 7, 8, 10,
    and 15.
    If you go to http://www.loka.org/, you'll find that the Loka Institute is
    thriving.  While I've not had much occasion to mention it in NETFUTURE,
    its activism and strong emphasis on citizen participation in crucial
    decisions about technology make it a good complement to this newsletter.
    The Institute's work toward community-based research networks and
    citizens' panels for the evaluation of technology have been ground-
    breaking in this country.
    I've often wondered -- especially after interviewing such an effective
    spokesman as Sclove -- why I myself am so little drawn to traditional
    forms of activism.  Part of it is probably that I have no skills for it,
    just as I have no skills as an entrepreneur.  Part of it, too, may be my
    discomfort with those portions of the political spectrum (on left and
    right) that seem to spawn most activism.  But much of it, I fear, may just
    be a personal irresponsibility I've been managing to conceal from myself.
    Nevertheless, I hope the crux of the matter is my sense that the
    decisive issues today have at least as much to do with what we have become
    (especially in our habits of thought) as with what we do, and that
    programs of social action, while vitally urgent, are doomed to fail if the
    one-sided thinking we have perfected over the past several hundred years
    is not effectively countered.  It is this last task that I have always
    felt most compelled to take up.
    But maybe I should write to Sclove asking for advice.  I have a hunch
    he'll be willing to give it!
    Goto table of contents
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #78 :: October 15, 1998 Goto table of contents

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