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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #75       Copyright 1998 Bridge Communications         July 30, 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
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          Following up
          Is Genetic Engineering `Natural'?
          The Internet and Competition
          Multitasking Ourselves to Death
          Brief Notes
    *** Correspondence
          Vaclav Havel and Computer Language (Charles Bell)
          Don't Malign Complexity (Alex Rice)
          Marilyn Monroe and Our Virtuality (Bryce Muir)
    *** Announcements and Resources
          An Environmental and Health Newsletter
    *** Who Said That?
    *** About this newsletter

    What Readers Are Saying about NETFUTURE

    I've spent many years trying to get a slow-moving, tradition-bound institution to appreciate some of the possibilities of technology in adult education, and as a result, my first reaction to NETFUTURE was one of mingled alarm and anger. These feelings changed as I read more of your work and began to appreciate the logic of your concerns. Since then I've come to regard NETFUTURE as a kind of ethical touchstone. It has helped me reflect on the consequences of the educational programs I create and also on the effects of technology on the quality of my own life.

    (For the identity of the speaker,
    see "Who Said That?" below.)

    *** Editor's Note

    Again this year I'll be taking August off. The next issue of NETFUTURE, due out after Labor Day, will include another installment of Langdon Winner's Tech Knowledge Revue.

    It's becoming fairly clear that, by about the turn of the year, I'll need to find financial support for NETFUTURE if the newsletter is to continue. Among the alternatives: (1) I could ask for voluntary donations, although I have no idea what level of income that would bring. (2) I could seek grant money from somewhere. (If you are a knowledgeable grant-seeker and might be interested in working with NETFUTURE, let me hear from you.) (3) The newsletter could affiliate with a compatible organization on mutually beneficial terms. (4) I could increase my speaking commitments, conceivably raising enough funds that way to underwrite the newsletter.

    That fourth option is already part of what makes NETFUTURE possible. If you are in a position to help arrange a speaking engagement, by all means get in touch. I'm also open to other ideas.

    Have a technology-redeeming summer!


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    *** Quotes and Provocations

    Following up

    ** In NF #46 ("Child, Teacher, World: Three Elements of Education") I told the story of a boy and his father who, walking along a trail in the mountains, came upon a rattlesnake. The two of them savored this creature's beautiful and fearsome qualities and then went on their way. Later, the boy remarked that "this has been the best day of my life" -- a reaction you will not likely hear in response to the most exotic wildlife on a video screen.

    Now a friend of mine, Stephen Edelglass, has sent me a letter containing this paragraph:

    On Monday I took my grandson on a hike to the top of West Mountain. This is the mountain just west of Bear Mountain. It is a long ridge with many rocky ledges providing dramatic views of the Hudson to the North and South, and of the Ramapos to the West. We saw lots of wildlife: vultures and hawks soaring below us, a doe that watched us as we watched her, and a very large snake that formed a hood when it lifted its head and faced us. (The hood disappeared when the snake put its head down and moved along the ground.) But most dramatic was the rattlesnake a few feet from us that Ian noticed when we got up from our lunch. It was the largest rattler I have ever seen, somewhere between three and four feet long, three inches in diameter, and nine or ten rattles. We watched, both of us thrilled, for a long time. After we climbed back down, and while walking along the valley trail, Ian said to me, "This has been the best day of my life!" I was dumbfounded at hearing exactly the words of Barry Angell's son that you quoted in your book.
    ** In NF #70 ("Why is the Moon Getting Farther Away?") I talked about feeding birds from my hand. Then I asked, "What would it cost us to wire, say, every third-grade class to a few birds? Just chickadee feed".

    As it happens, I've just received a promotional copy of Birds & Blooms magazine (Collector's Edition #15) with a delightful little story about how John Leeser introduces fifth graders to the joys of bird feeding. I wish you could see the pictures: a girl holds a camera with telephoto lens up to her eye while a chickadee, clutching the bottom rim of the lens, peers in; another girl reads a birder's guide with a chickadee perched atop the book; and a boy strains his eyes upward as a downy woodpecker attacks a glob of suet placed on his knit cap.

    You have only to look at these pictures to see that these kids' lives are being changed in a healthy direction. Which is more than I can say about the following item....

    ** In that same NETFUTURE article I mentioned the boy who, when taken to an aquarium, asked, "Is this virtual reality or real reality?" Then in NF #74 ("Complex, Emergent, Self-organizing Nonsense") I reported my discovery of the Boston Virtual FishTank -- a new public aquarium whose fish, powered by computer graphics, are spared such problems as water pollution and delinquent caretakers.

    Now NETFUTURE reader Steve Baumgarten alerts me to a Japanese product being sold for display in hotels, restaurants, and corporate lobbies. It's a small aquarium consisting of a thin water tank with a video monitor behind it. Using laser disks and high-definition video technology, the system displays images of fish on the monitor. The water (with bubbles percolating through it) gives a 3-D effect. As Reuters put it,

    Busy people who love to keep colorful fish but often forget to feed them or clean out their containers can now find the answer to their pet problem.
    If fish aren't your thing, you'll soon be able to try a "dogbot". Sony engineers have developed
    a robotic dog, complete with 64-bit central processing unit, 8 megabytes of memory, and a supersensitive camera "eye" that enables it to obey motion commands -- if you stick your hand out, Dogbot will sit. The robot is reconfigurable, so that the owner can swap out limbs or even the head, and each module is "intelligent" -- equipped with its own motor and control chip. (Edupage, from Business Week, July 20, 1998)
    The head of the research lab expects the dogbot to find a market among children sometime around the year 2000.

    ** In an article about high-tech agricultural products ("Garbling the Seeds of the Future", NF #74) I cited the difficulty we will have in keeping genetically engineered and conventional crops separate. Now I've heard that an organic farmer in England has sued a neighboring farmer, arguing that his neighbor's engineered crop will cross-pollinate with his own, ruining his organic certification. The judge threw the case out, apparently arguing that a degree of contamination is unavoidable and therefore must be accepted. (I don't have a source for this story, other than that it is said to have appeared in the Guardian. If you have further information, I'd like to hear it.)

    Is Genetic Engineering `Natural'?

    In response to a N.Y. Times article on genetically engineered foods, Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, wrote a letter to the editor. He objected to the claim by critics that "what they do is `natural' while modern biology is not". After all,
    Archaeologists have documented twelve thousand years of agriculture throughout which farmers have genetically altered crops by selecting certain seeds from one harvest and using them to plant the next, a process that has led to enormous changes in the crops we grow and the food we eat. It is only in the past thirty years that we have become able to do it through biotechnology at high levels of predictability, precision and safety.
    One often hears this line of thought. The first problem with it is that it invites us to remain uncritical about technical developments during those 12,000 years. In this sense, the argument simply assumes what it sets out to prove, which is that we have every reason to remain uncritical about modern technical developments.

    The alternative is to realize that all manipulation of living organisms has implications for human health, for the balance of the world, and for the organisms themselves. Anyone undertaking the manipulation shoulders grave responsibilities, and we should not assume without detailed investigation that these responsibilities have always been well exercised in the past.

    The second problem lies in Feldbaum's gross refusal to make the obvious distinctions. In traditional breeding, the integrity of the organisms themselves, their functional wholeness, placed limits upon what could be done -- limits you could fairly call "natural". To take a contemporary example: you could not cross a strawberry with a cold-water fish in order to obtain strawberries with "anti-freeze" genes.

    The problem now is that we can break through these limits, but we have not replaced the safeguard they represented. Such a safeguard can only come from our own intimate, respectful understanding of the organism as a whole and its interactions with its environment. But this sort of holistic knowledge is exactly what the genetic engineers are not much interested in.

    Feldbaum betrays his own lack of interest when he lauds the "high levels of predictability, precision and safety" in biotechnolgy. Yes, the engineers often have a pretty good idea about which new proteins will arise from the introduction of new genes -- and this is often all they care about. But understanding what will happen when those proteins enter the ecology of the organism as a whole is, by all sober accounts, so far from being understood in any rigorous way, or even approached, as to make Feldbaum's claim of precision a ghastly joke. (See "Next: Pigs That Fly?" in NF #72, and "The Trouble with Genetic Engineering" in NF #31.)

    Our ignorance about the integral functioning of organisms is matched only by our ignorance about the integral functioning of ecosystems. But we do know something about the cascade of unpredicted effects when we introduce a non-native species, or remove a native one, or disturb a watershed, or subject a region to the noise of jet airplanes. We crudely poke at the same, boundless tangle of interrelationships when we introduce transgenic organisms. As Andrew Kimbrell puts it:

    Here you are creating millions of novel organisms, organisms that the Earth has never seen, and then releasing them into the environment. They are exactly analogous to exotic organisms like kudzu vine or those responsible for chestnut blight or Dutch elm disease. Any time you introduce an exotic organism into a new environment you are throwing the ecological dice .... Many of us have spent much of our working lives addressing the terrible ecological problems created by chemical pollution. [But] chemical pollution, however horrible, does dilute over time, and it can often be contained. However, once you release an organism into the environment it cannot be recalled or contained. It will not dilute but rather will reproduce, disseminate, and mutate. It is unstoppable. (Turning Away from Technology, edited by Stephanie Mills, Sierra Club Books, 1997, p. 79)
    A case in point: Corn genetically engineered to produce the B.t. toxin interacts with other organisms beside the target pests. A study reported in Environmental Entomology (vol. 27, no. 2, Apr. 1998, pp. 480-87) found that beneficial predators (green lacewing larvae) feeding on insects that eat the corn plants suffer higher mortality rates. This means that the transgenic corn could help to undermine "integrated pest management", which makes use of beneficial insects and has had widespread success with many crops. In addition, there is the likelihood of rapid development of resistance among pests exposed to large tracts of transgenic, B.t. corn.

    The Internet and Competition

    One wonders how long certain misbegotten platitudes regarding the Internet will retain their status as conventional wisdom. One of these has to do with how the Net fundamentally alters competitive relations. As a PR Newswire headline recently put it:
    Internet, the Great Equalizer, Levels the Playing Field for U.S. Small Businesses.
    John Graham, president of a marketing services and consulting firm, elaborates:
    The Internet has leveled every playing field. Because of the Internet, every individual has the potential for becoming a publisher, operating a business or communicating worldwide. This staggering concept is only beginning to penetrate our understanding....

    Today, anyone can interact or do business with anyone, anywhere. The Internet gives both individuals and companies unlimited opportunities to do business universally. (Houston Business Journal, May 4, 1998)

    There is a major confusion here. The Internet may be encouraging a globalization of business, but this is not the same thing as leveling the playing field. The telephone and postal systems already gave everyone "equal access" to global markets, but such technical and theoretical access tells us little about the commercial, social, historical, legal, political, and cultural matrix the entrepreneur must negotiate in order to achieve success.

    This fact was recently underscored when three online brokerage houses -- DLJDirect, E*Trade Securities, and Waterhouse Securities -- agreed to pay America Online $25 million each for links in the AOL financial services area. According to J. William Gurley in a recent "Above the Crowd Dispatch", the deal (which is good for two years) has "profoundly shaken" many Internet retailers. As they are now discovering,

    It's sad but unquestionably true that the physical distribution network of yesterday has been replaced by a new virtual distribution system that is as expensive and difficult to navigate as its predecessor. Opening a commerce-enabled Web site without a portal partner is similar to opening a retail store in the desert. Sure, it's cheap, but does anybody stop there?
    One wonders how all those shaken retailers thought that thousands of online businesses were simultaneously going to connect with the new, "universal" marketplace. Does putting the telephone book's yellow pages online magically enable the consumer to avoid the selection process and attend to all businesses in the world at once?

    The fallacy here also shows itself in the belief that "the Net gives political organizations and activist groups a powerful advantage". Advantage over whom -- the thousands of other groups on the Net who also have an advantage? Unsurprisingly, this sort of claim has arisen most insistently among the pioneering online organizations in each field. The few early adopters of technology may have an advantage over their unconnected peers; in the end, however, they're all just playing the same game, except that the pressure for fast reaction, novelty, and ceaseless technical upgrading is now raised several notches.

    You could call the fallacy at work in all this the "formalist's fallacy". One thing the Net does do is to extend the range of formal connection possibilities. But our ability to capitalize on formal possibility is limited by our powers of attention, and it is not at all clear that the individual human being today can attend to more people or discussions or political issues or news than he could yesterday. We can, as always, trade depth of attention for a more superficial breadth -- something the Net seems to encourage. And we can let software select what we will attend to. But as for our powers of attention themselves, there is every evidence that the electronic media are doing more to distract and diminish them than to strengthen them. (See following item.)

    Multitasking Ourselves to Death

    The N.Y. Times (July 23, 1998) ran a story about the "travails of multitasking", which began with this personal sketch:
    It's hard for Michael Redd to say just when doing one thing at a time became so deeply dissatisfying. His ratings with customers have certainly soared since he started responding to their email as soon as it chimes in, no matter if he is on the phone or eating lunch or poring over a spreadsheet on some other screen.

    But his fondness for multitasking is not limited to the workplace. Mr. Redd ... is happiest when his attention is most divided, like on a recent weekend afternoon when he watched a movie on television while talking to his sister and writing on his laptop. During commercial breaks, he flipped through his CD jukebox with a remote control, searching for a song whose name he had forgotten.

    "I need to be able to do many things at once all the time", Mr. Redd said. "This may sound strange, but it makes me feel better."

    And the article ended with this:
    For Jai Mani, an eleven-year-old in Manhattan ... the urge to multitask is like "a craving for food". When he gets home from rollerblading camp, he wants to do three things. "Instead of listening to music for thirty minutes, watching TV for thirty minutes and checking your email for thirty minutes, you can do them all at the same time", said Jai, who has been known to watch television and keep an eye on his computer game in the high-gloss reflection of the piano while having a lesson. "It's just easier that way."
    We also hear about a database designer who "insists he can scan Internet groups `subconsciously' while he talks to friends on the phone". An academic opines that "you can't expand time, so what you try to do is deepen time by doing more things in the same period". Meanwhile, the article's author, Amy Harmon, observes that
    The tasks we find ourselves attending to, however, briefly, are often determined by what pops up on our screen.
    As expected, the idea also surfaces that young people raised on MTV may be better than the rest of us at filtering and processing huge amounts of information from different sources. In fact, a bank executive is quoted as saying we had better feed this insatiable capacity or else we will "stifle" these go-getters. He considers their new capacities a "real sea change".


    Many multitaskers describe a sense of well-being that comes from the variety of tasks they are performing and the control they feel they exercise over which one comes first.
    Having used only multitasking computers since I first set my hands on a keyboard in 1980, I, too, know this particular satisfaction. It is only during the past few years that I have, with any seriousness, asked myself what sort of toll I pay for an "interrupt-driven" style of consciousness. I don't think I have yet gotten to the heart of the matter, but I am quite sure that the crucial issues are generally overlooked.

    If there is a single theme of NETFUTURE, it is the need for us to maintain a wakeful relation to technology. Assaults upon our attention are decisively important because our consciously directed attention is the only point at which we are fully awake. Attending to something is what it means to be awake to it. And we can only attend in this sense to one thing at a time.

    It is true that we can do many things at once. We can talk, drive a car, breathe, and digest food all at the same time. But our waking attention is single and indivisible. We may be able to switch it rapidly from one thing to another, but at any given instant it is consumed by one thing alone. (There are many ways you can verify this. One is to look at an ambiguous figure, such as a line drawing of a cube. You will find that you cannot see both orientations of the cube at the same time, despite the fact that both are "there" waiting for you to attend to them.)

    The person who watches television while talking on the phone is missing a good part of the program and a good part of the conversation. Everything may be taken in sensorially, but only one thing at a time is attended to. What is happening when you manage to "do both things at once" is that you listen for a moment to the conversation and then, redirecting your attention, you pull from memory the last few phrases heard from the television. And while you are attending to your memories, you are no longer listening to your conversation partner or the television. You may alternate in this way with more or less success, but never without sacrificing the creative potentials of a profound and sustained attention.

    So why does all this matter? Because the point where we exercise our attention is the point where we manifest our highest capacities. It is the only point where we can gain mastery over technology (or anything else) and the only point where we can deepen understanding. Moreover, if we are not masters of our own attention, we are tools of our surroundings and of our own subconscious.

    You can assess your powers of attention easily enough. Simply see how long you can hold your attention upon a single topic -- say, a common physical object -- exploring its form and function, its materials and manufacture, its history, and so on. You will not be unusual if, despite your most intense efforts, your mind wanders within the first thirty seconds. Which means your own mind is out of control. If you want a thorough lesson in humility, try the exercise for ten minutes. Unless you are an extremely rare individual, you (like I) will be forced to admit that your sovereign wakefulness is discouragingly dim. In other words, not much of our governing mental activity is something we do, as opposed to something that happens to us.

    To shift your attention rapidly from one thing to another, as prompted by your environment -- an insistent questioning tone in your caller's voice, or a bit of spectacular violence on the television screen -- this is not the epitome of "executive efficiency", despite claims to the contrary. It is more like the abandonment of yourself -- and therefore also of the other person (in this case, the telephone caller).

    I am not saying that the many things we "do" beside paying attention are worthless. It's a good thing the pianist does not have to attend to the movement of his fingers while he is interpreting a sonata. But we need to recognize that the things we do not attend to gain a certain automatic character. They are redeemed as fully human only when they are caught up in a higher attention and made to serve it, as when the pianist's technique serves his current striving for expression. Remove that higher attention, and what is left -- whether it is the movement of fingers on a piano keyboard or on a computer keyboard -- is probably not worth anyone's time.

    I realize that these issues are not likely to grip the public's imagination. But this, I guess, is very much as it should be. The important issues today must not grip us, because the vital thing is that we should rouse ourselves to grip them. This requires an initiative on our part -- a self-mastery and a strengthening of our powers of willful attention -- so that we can wrestle with matters of our own choosing despite the continual coercions coming from without.

    If, on the other hand, our attention becomes wholly entrained by the mechanisms we have set in motion around us -- for example, by "what pops up on the screen" -- then we will have disappeared into those mechanisms. This will be true despite our exhilarated feelings of being "in control" as we shift our attention with executive authority from one interrupt to another within an overall context we have become incapable of questioning.

    Brief Notes

    A few items culled from the recent press:

    ** Glenn Pascall, writing in the Seattle Times (July 5, 1998), picks up on one of the most significant ironies of modern business:

    Many Fortune 500 companies that have the worst records of worker exploitation -- treating human beings as variable and expendable inputs to the production process -- are enthusiastic buyers of human-potential inputs provided by consultants.
    What is wrong with this picture: "We care about you because we've found that caring about you improves our bottom line"?

    ** Genetic engineers could, if they wished, put the taste of vanilla into almost any food crop simply by inserting the right gene. Maria Zimmerman, an official with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, says

    We looked into this carefully. If we start making fake vanilla we will destroy the lives of thousands of farmers in Madagascar. We would ruin the island's economy. So we aren't moving forward with that. (N.Y. Times online, July 20, 1998)
    In "Is Genetic Engineering `Natural'?" (see above) I mentioned two levels of ecological concern where genetic engineers scarcely have a clue: the "ecology" of the individual organism, and the ecology of the larger biosphere. Zimmerman's comment about vanilla reminds us of a third, social sphere of concern. It may only be as a result of the inevitable disturbances in this sphere that we finally brake the blind momentum of the engineers (if we ever do).

    ** Phil Agre fears that, because of wholesale privacy fears, the Internet will "sink into the same swamp as 900 telephone numbers". The most commonly proposed solution, he says, will not work:

    The whole idea of self-regulation never made much sense; it presupposes that the great majority of firms are motivated to join a trade association, and that this trade association's staff members are motivated to overcome their inherent conflict of interest by penalizing their own employers by enforcing codes of conduct when privacy violations occur. This scenario was already implausible in the old economy with its dominance by large, stable firms. It is even less plausible in the new digital economy, where new technology permits small firms to create impressive Web storefronts for no capital and companies come and go at the flick of a switch.
    You'll find the rest of Agre's brief but powerful commentary at http://commons.somewhere.com/rre/1998/self-regulation.for.inte.html

    ** According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Apr. 24, 1998, online),

    If you're a professor and you mention Microsoft programming tools in a scholarly presentation -- in fact, even if you just use the tools -- Microsoft will send you a check for $200.
    This has raised more than a few eyebrows. According to Bill Moninger, a scientist who has taught courses on technology and ethics, any speaker who fails to add, "I just got $200 for saying that" is acting unethically. But George Whitson, a computer science professor, took the $200 and ran. After all, he says, this is "more open and honest" than many other perks that businesses offer receptive professors.
    "Does anyone seriously think", he asks, "that a researcher would compromise his integrity for $200".
    Graciously, the author of the Chronicle piece, Lisa Guernsey, left the question rhetorical. But even rhetorical questions can have their effect: a late check of the "Academic Cooperative" website indicates that Microsoft has discretely withdrawn its offer.

    (Thanks to John Cusick for the Seattle Times article.)


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    *** Correspondence

    Vaclav Havel and Computer Language

    Response to: "How Technology Dumbs Down Language" (NF-73)
    From: Charles Bell

    As to the convergence of human and computer modes of speech, do you know that Vaclav Havel wrote a play about this in the days when Vaclav Havel wrote plays? (That was back in the bad old communist days when Havel was often in jail and thus had time to think.) I think the play was called `Potaidapee'. At any rate that was the name of the artificial language that his barely fictional state wished to impose on its functionaries. Potaidapee was clear, precise, devoid of ambiguities, subtleties and presumably of the kind of imagination that can lead to revolutions. Quite a useful language, and not only for communists.

    On the other hand, if we consider only business and technical communications (which will surely comprise the bulk of international correspondence on the Net of the future), then `machine language' would be a distinct improvement over most of the current product in these genres. (This is not a joke. If you have seen how businesspeople and technicians usually write, you will know what I mean. Clear, succinct and unambiguous prose is wanted, is needed, and is rarely achieved. Let the managers feed their letters into the machine. But the poets should still write their haiku by hand.)


    Don't Malign Complexity

    Response to: "Complex, Emergent, Self-organizing Nonsense" (NF-74)
    From: Alex Rice (alrice@swcp.com)


    I have been a long-time subscriber and have just read your essay "Complex, Emergent, Self-organizing Nonsense". Although it's food for thought, as always, you are really not doing justice to the study of Complexity.

    Why the example of virtual fish? Yes, flocking behavior is interesting but why use that specific example to characterize the entire field? And what relevance has kids shooting kids at school? Either you are making cognitive leaps I simply cannot follow, or you are one of those post-modern thinkers. You can keep your post-modernism, thank-you.

    Regarding complexity and it's relevance for programmers, I highly recommend John Holland's new book (1).

    Holland has been working with digital computers since day one. If anyone is qualified to comment on emergence and complexity, as it pertains to digital computers, it is John Holland.

    I would not dismiss gestalt psychology either. It's a perfectly legitimate field of study. IMHO most computer programmers could greatly benefit by studying cognitive psychology, including metaphor and categorization. I think a lot of programmers would discover that what they know as Object-Oriented programming and Design-Patterns are actually domain that linguists and psychologists have been studying for a long time. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that one chapter in Holland's book is about metaphor and creativity.

    On other thing: let's not let the crystal-squeezers and new-agers ruin a great field of scientific inquiry.

    Alex Rice

    [1] title:Emergence
        subtitle:From Chaos to Order
        author:John H. Holland
        publisher:Addison Wesley

    Marilyn Monroe and Our Virtuality

    Response to: "Complex, Emergent, Self-organizing Nonsense" (NF-74)
    From: Bryce Muir (pegbryce@gwi.net)

    > Of course, television, cinema, the Net -- and indeed all available media
    > -- increasingly give us countenances that are the faces of nobody we
    > need to reckon with.

    I just spent six weeks with Marilyn Monroe. At least with her images, downloaded from the web. I found that carving a likeness of her face was exceedingly difficult (while revealing her body was a piece of cake). She had so many faces. A master of makeup, acting, and the pose, her face mutated to suit the role.

    At first I saw her expressions as fundamentally vapid, as though no one was there behind the mask. Eventually I came to see Marilyn as a universal mirror. We saw our own fantasies in her. She was everybody's baby, and nobody's gal (as the Dan Bern lyric has it). This gift of transparancy helped kill her, I suspect.

    It wasn't until the last file strokes that a recognizable Marilyn came out of the maple, and, then, her face had a surprisingly Afro-American structure. Of course nobody looked at her face, which may help explain its invisible quality. Did she become an icon precisely because the real Marilyn was a blank slate? If so, how apt a goddess for a technomediated age.

    I propose, however, that such faces are precisely what we need reckon with. The hollow personas it takes our projections to identify are the universal characters that define the culture. The Bill Clintons. Charismatic vapidity may have always been the politician's gift, of course, but the media age casts a wider net for all us fish. It isn't that nobody is there in virtual reality. It's that we are all there, in our own heads.


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    *** Announcements and Resources

    An Environmental and Health Newsletter

    If you're not already familiar with Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, produced by the Environmental Research Foundation, you might want to check it out. I suspect that many NETFUTURE readers will find it useful. Peter Montague, the editor, has just completed a three-part series on mad cow disease. Among other things, it cites research reports showing that a significant percentage of "Alzheimer's" patients in this country turned out, upon posthumous examination, to have Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, a form of which is considered to be the human version of mad cow disease. One of the Food and Drug Administration's main arguments that mad cow disease has not affected humans in the U.S. is that Creutzfeld-Jakob disease remains extremely rare. But these research reports suggest there may now be tens or hundreds of thousands of cases.

    The newsletter also cites evidence (gathered by Michael Hansen, a scientist affiliated with the Consumers Union) that large numbers of "downer" cows in this country -- those that simply lie down and die -- actually have a form of mad cow disease.

    To subscribe, send the message "subscribe rachel-weekly your name" to listserv@rachel.org.

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    *** Who Said That?

    Brad Cahoon is webmaster at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education where, among other tasks, he designs and writes distance education learning programs. An active speaker and writer on issues relating to the Internet and education, he recently edited the volume, Adult Learning and the Internet in the Jossey-Bass series on "New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education". He and the book's other authors maintain a web site relating to distance education at http://www.gactr.uga.edu/internet/. You'll find a table of contents for the book at http://www.jbp.com/binfo/ndace78t.html.

    Amplifying his remarks quoted at the top of this newsletter, Cahoon says that

    In spite of the current faddishness of instructional technology, I have had to push hard for its appropriate use against the inertia of my educational bureaucracy. It is this inertia, and the resistance to both innovation and reflection it represents, that I see as the real problem -- not the use or non-use of instructional technology.

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    *** About this newsletter

    Copyright 1998 by The Nature Institute. You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. You may also redistribute individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this paragraph are attached.

    NetFuture is supported by freely given reader contributions, and could not survive without them. For details and special offers, see http://netfuture.org/support.html .

    Current and past issues of NetFuture are available on the Web:


    To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture:

    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #75 :: July 30, 1998

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