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  •                                  NETFUTURE
    
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    
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    Issue #109     A Publication of The Nature Institute        August 3, 2000
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              Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
    
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    
    NetFuture is a reader-supported publication.
    
    
    CONTENTS
    ---------
    
    Quotes and Provocations
       Of Vision Quests, Gender, and Boredom
       Image Ascendent, or Descendent?
    
    Tech Knowledge Revue (Langdon Winner)
       Hot Property in Leedsville: The Mumford House Up for Sale
    
    DEPARTMENTS
    
    Correspondence
       Golden Genes Article Proves Too Much (Peter Shapiro)
    
    About this newsletter
    
    
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                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    
    
    Of Vision Quests, Gender, and Boredom
    -------------------------------------
    
    In her recently released Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the
    Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech, Paulina Borsook takes up,
    among other things, the John Perry Barlow / George Gilder view of
    "cyberspace and hightechlandia" as the place "where the buffalo roam and
    dogs run free":
    
       Never mind that many people working in high tech are most likely grunt
       programmers doing stuff like maintaining inventory-tracking modules for
       construction-management accounting software, or working at ghastly huge
       man-in-the-gray-easy-care-twills places such as Ross Perot's own data
       processing feudal kingdom, Perot Systems, or at former defense-
       aerospace contractors such as Lockheed-Martin.  Manning their computers
       like Kiowa braves on vision quests, most high tech droids ain't.
    
    In an idle moment I tried to jot down some of the most basic reasons I
    could come up with for the public's infatuation with digital technologies
    despite the kind of daily reality Borsook points to.  There's nothing
    original about my list (and you will doubtless want to add to it).  But
    it's useful to take a moment every so often and glance over the large
    picture.  So here's what I have so far:
    
    ** Mystery:  people don't understand what's inside the box.
    
    ** Eliza effect:  the technology seems intelligent.
    
    ** Reverse-Eliza effect:  we often find ourselves struggling helplessly
       with these machines, so obviously we're dumber than they are.
    
    ** The illusion of precise control (and who doesn't want to be in
       control?).  Closely related to this:  the sense of power and capability
       associated with carrying all these sleek, miniaturized gadgets around.
    
    ** Fashion:  with every newspaper and magazine now having a consumer-goods
       "news" section promoting digital gadgets, the fashion quotient of this
       stuff has become irresistible.
    
    ** Sense of progress and destiny in the inevitable march from one
       generation of technology to the next, more sophisticated generation.
       How can these devices keep getting better if there isn't a fundamental
       evolutionary imperative at work?
    
    ** Distraction and escape.
    
    ** Computers are "solutions" --