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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #76       Copyright 1998 Bridge Communications    September 15, 1998
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Quotes and Provocations
       I'll See You in Court
       Is E-trash Necessary for a Good Education?
       Can We Sing through Email?
       America Screws Up
    Tech Knowledge Revue (Langdon Winner)
       The Real Millennium Bug
       In Search of Reality (Gary Davis)
       Mixed Reactions to Participative Knowing (Stephen Keith Sagarin)
       Multitasking, or Attention Deficit Disorder? (John Thienes)
       On the Importance of Our Powers of Attention (Gavin Ferriby)
    Announcements and Resources
       Physicians and Scientists against Genetically Engineered Food
    Who Said That?
    About this newsletter
                  ** What Readers Are Saying about NETFUTURE **
             I have been reading NETFUTURE since #53, and wish to say
                 how much I now look forward to each new edition.
           I have been for some years now working in the management of
             Waldorf schools in Australia, and find your publication
                both highly confirming of the attempts many of us
               in this field are making to find truly human ways of
              working, and extremely stimulating in the quality and
                      carefulness of the published thinking.
                        (For the identity of the speaker,
                          see "Who Said That?" below.)
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    I'll See You in Court
    Given the movement toward patenting facts, databases, programs, and
    genetic code -- what I will call "informational structures" -- I've
    decided it is time for radical action.  I'm patenting that particular
    informational structure known as the syllogism.  Oh, I know:  syllogisms
    have been kicking around in the public domain for a couple of millennia,
    thanks to Aristotle.  But I don't mean the syllogism in general.  What I'm
    patenting is a special and truly innovative class of syllogism.  It runs
    like this (Hofstadterites and self-reference fans take note):
       All new informational structures are patentable.
       X is a new informational structure.
       Therefore X is patentable.
    You will note my cleverness, which lies in this:  from now on, anyone who
    seeks, based on sound logic, to patent a new informational structure will
    be making use of my informational structure, thereby violating my
    patent.  Of course, for a reasonable fee I will let you patent your good
    ideas.  (And if you come up with an information filter that can sift
    sincere truth from the words of politicians, I'll gladly waive my fee in
    the public interest.)
    Is E-trash Necessary for a Good Education?
    Mention the heavy weight of trash on the Net as one of the reasons for not
    shipping young students off to cyberspace for their education, and you're
    guaranteed to hear the retort:  "How can kids learn to discriminate good
    things from bad, or sense from nonsense, if we don't expose them to the
    junk as well as to the high-quality stuff?"
    Well, to begin with, when you're looking for reasons to spend hundreds of
    billions of dollars on wiring every classroom to the Net, you'll probably
    want to put the fact that "it's a great way to expose kids to garbage"
    somewhere near the bottom of the list.  Nor is the textbook committee
    likely to require a certain minimum percentage of junk in each textbook,
    so that students can learn to recognize it.  Nor will the violin teacher
    have his student play lousy music for the sake of the exposure.
    Actually, students have no problem producing lousy music, lousy reasoning,
    lousy judgment, quite on their own.  It doesn't require much instruction.
    What's needed educationally is an ever more profound grasp of the good,
    the true, and the beautiful.  Given such a grasp, you can recognize junk,
    but it doesn't work the other way around in quite the same way.
    Can We Sing through Email?
    It's common in discussions of computer-mediated communication to mention
    the absence of various "non-verbal cues".  But there's one aspect of this
    non-verbal communication I've not seen discussed.  David Abram describes
    it this way:
       If ... one comes upon two human friends unexpectedly meeting for the
       first time in many months, and one chances to hear their initial words
       of surprise, greeting, and pleasure, one may readily notice, if one
       pays close enough attention, a tonal, melodic layer of communication
       beneath the explicit denotative meaning of the words -- a rippling rise
       and fall of the voices in a sort of musical duet, rather like two birds
       singing to each other.  Each voice, each side of the duet, mimes a bit
       of the other's melody while adding its own inflection and style, and
       then is echoed by the other in turn -- the two singing bodies thus
       tuning and attuning to one another, rediscovering a common register,
       remembering each other.  It requires only a slight shift in
       focus to realize that this melodic singing is carrying the bulk of
       communication in this encounter, and that the explicit meanings of the
       actual words ride on the surface of this depth like waves on the
       surface of the sea.  (The Spell of the Sensuous, New York:
       Random House, 1996, pp. 80-1)
    I would love to see that depth of awareness brought to bear upon
    computer-mediated communication.  In fact, NETFUTURE was founded partly in
    the hope of stimulating sensitive inquiry of this sort.  (An article in
    the inaugural issue was entitled, "The Phenomenology of Computing".)  But
    neither I nor anyone I know has been able to make much of a contribution.
    Perhaps that itself is significant.  As we sit immobile, staring into the
    tunnel of our monitors, do we train ourselves in the reduction of our
    awareness toward one-dimensionality and abstraction?  Do we establish the
    habit of closing ourselves off from our environment (internal as well as
    external)?  Certainly the range of what we need to notice is frightfully
    narrow.  It might be useful to compare our typical "online consciousness"
    with the kind of multi-faceted awareness a trained outdoorsman must
    America Screws Up
    It seems we have no choice but to endure yet another promotional stunt
    designed to lure more kids online.  This one's called "America Links Up",
    and since it's all too obvious that the Net isn't an especially healthy
    place for kids, the new promotion tries to show how the online experience
    can be safe and educational.
    Sponsors range from Walt Disney and Time Warner to the U.S. Department of
    Education, from Microsoft to the National PTA, and from the Urban League
    to America Online.  Everything comes to a head with a national townhall
    meeting on Sep. 15, but meanwhile you can go to the website
    (www.americalinksup.org) and read the "Tips for Kids", with advice like
       Tip #2:  If I see or receive something online that looks weird or bad
       or that makes me feel uncomfortable, I won't respond, I'll leave that
       area right away and tell my parents.
    (Do the "America Links Up" sponsors live on Mars, or what?)
    Actually, it's worth citing the other four tips here, since they suggest a
    single, overriding truth.
       Tip #1:  I won't give out my name, age, school, address, phone number,
       picture or any other information about myself or my family without
       getting permission.
       Tip #3:  I won't get together with anyone I meet online without getting
       my parents' permission first.  I know people sometimes aren't who they
       say they are online.
       Tip #4:  I won't open or accept e-mails, files, links, URLs or other
       things online from people I don't really know or trust.
       Tip #5:  I won't give out my password to anyone but my parents or
       guardian, not even to my best friend.
    In other words:  the world we're inviting these kids into is by nature a
    strongly anonymous and depersonalized place.
    "America Links Up" offers a closely related set of tips for parents.  But
    the most striking thing about the site is all the common sense advice it
    does not give.  Therefore I offer these TIPS FOR "AMERICA LINKS UP"
       Tip #1:  We won't encourage children to spend time online at the
       expense of their immersion in the world around them, their time spent
       playing with other children, or their formative experiences with caring
       adults and mentors.
       Tip #2:  We won't ask children to become adults before their time --
       adults who can detach themselves from their own feelings of discomfort
       and react "objectively and reasonably" to those feelings.
       Tip #3:  We will steer children away from the onslaught of ads on the
       Net, since our aim is to see children educated rather than conditioned.
       Tip #4:  Given the unhealthily sedentary existence from which many
       children already suffer in the era of television, we will try to reduce
       the overall time they sit in front of screens.
       Tip #5:  We won't push children unnecessarily or prematurely into
       environments where we must ask them to be wary of shadowy, unseen human
       beings who are vaguely suggested to be capable of dark and
       unmentionable crimes.
       Tip #6:  Come to think of it, maybe we'll just urge kids to stay
       offline until they're at least into junior high school.
    Goto table of contents
                             THE REAL MILLENNIUM BUG
                                  Langdon Winner
                                                          TECH KNOWLEDGE REVUE
                                                       1.2   September 9, 1998
    The approach of the new century offers an occasion to ponder the condition
    of humanity and of the planet that sustains us.  How many of the world's
    nearly six billion people live well or in circumstances that are even
    marginally agreeable?  How many still suffer poverty, war, disease,
    illiteracy, and the other scourges of our species?  Will the policies of
    global civilization merely magnify well-known ecological, economic, and
    social ills?  Or will the next century find ingenious remedies?
    Alas, as the symbolic stroke of midnight speeds toward us, the opportunity
    to rethink the situation of humankind and renew our sense of purpose is
    rapidly being frittered away.  When people hear about the year 2000 these
    days, the first thing that springs to mind is the computer glitch that
    threatens to disrupt computer systems and send our institutions careening
    toward chaos.  Because programmers in earlier decades economized on space
    by cleverly dropping two digits, we are now obsessed with the problem and
    the costly challenge of minimizing its possible damage.
    Yes, the Y2K troubles are real.  But there's a pungent irony here.  Our
    society has become so slavish in its dependence upon digital equipment
    that it seems unwilling to face squarely the health of the planet and
    humanity's future.  To my way of thinking, this is the real millennium
    "bug," the urgent "Year 2000 Problem" that our systems planners, corporate
    elites, and political leaders have overlooked in recent years.
    One indicator underscores how grave this deficiency has become.  At a time
    in which most societies around the world have committed themselves to
    technology as the one true path to improvement, the common understanding
    of what "technology" means and what it includes is now rapidly shrinking.
    Not too long ago "technology" referred to the whole range of tools,
    techniques and systems people use to achieve practical ends.  This
    definition arose during the nineteenth century, replacing earlier, more
    limited definitions.  While the concept was overly broad, it was far
    richer than the one gaining prominence today, the notion that "technology"
    is just information technology, nothing else.  Other kinds of instruments,
    methods, technical arrangements, and devices are grouped under more
    specialized rubrics.  Social issues, both promising developments and
    gnawing problems, that involve the broader range of technical means, are
    fading as matters for public attention and debate.
    This warped view of technical matters first gained prominence on Wall
    Street, where the category "technology stocks" has taken on a particular
    significance.  The technology stocks are, of course, shares in computing,
    digital communications, Internet services, and the like.  When one hears
    that "technology" is soaring or sinking on the stock exchange, one knows
    that we're talking about Microsoft, Dell Computer, Lucent Technologies,
    Netscape, Seagate, Sun Microsystems, America Online, Cisco Systems, and
    the like.  In this context, the term no longer refers to automobiles,
    airlines, chemicals, agriculture, or anything of the sort.  The word
    "information" has been dropped as a modifier, leaving "technology" as a
    pure, seemingly self-evident label.
    This innocuous linguistic convenience for busy stock traders has now
    spread, infecting contemporary journalism and everyday speech, signaling a
    narrowing of awareness and care.  Oddly enough, this constriction of focus
    happens at a time in which, to all appearances, there is an explosion in
    sources of news coverage on "technology," hundreds of magazines,
    newspapers, paperback books, television programs, and on-line sources
    filled with stories about people's involvement with technical things.  For
    serious technology watchers, this would seem to be a godsend.  But if one
    looks closely at the content of this burgeoning news coverage, the vast
    bulk of it is limited solely to the computer industry and the Net.  What
    first appears to be a wealth of useful information conceals a profound
    poverty of outlook.
    Within today's "technology" beat, the press typically follows stories of
    just two kinds.  First are reports on the activities of business firms in
    the computer and communications field -- the latest deals, mergers,
    acquisitions, new product introductions, and strategies of corporate
    movers and shakers.  News of this sort used to be confined to the pages of
    Business Week, Fortune, and the financial section of your
    local newspaper.  But under the rubric of "technology" the machinations of
    CEOs, managers, and lawyers in the information corporations have now been
    elevated to a status and glamor not unlike that attached to sports heroes
    and rock stars.  Will Bill Gates stave off the Justice Department?  Will
    Steven Jobs stay on at Apple?  Will the leaders of Bell Atlantic and GTE
    bring off their corporate marriage?  Apparently, the reading public has an
    endless appetite for stories of this kind.
    Also favored in this approach are reports about digital hemlines -- late-
    breaking fashion trends in the design, marketing, and consumption of
    computer hardware and software.  Which new gadgets does Silicon Valley
    have in store for us this season?  How much computing power will I need to
    run the next-generation programs?  Should I buy the latest Windows
    upgrade?  What colorful services and diversions can be found on the World
    Wide Web?  People who follow rapidly changing info-styles now find a great
    torrent of chatter about such matters in both print and pixel.
    Commitment to this approach seems all but universal.  The "Technology
    Alert" from the Wall Street Journal that arrives in my email each
    day is never about anything other than computer and communications firms.
    If one turns to the on-line version of the New York Times and
    clicks on "technology," dozens of articles about the computer biz and
    digital hemlines begin scrolling by.   Much the same holds for the
    hundreds of newspapers and magazines that print the latest gossip from the
    Internet grapevine.  Day by day, the dull uniformity of it all raises the
    question:  Why bother reading this dross at all?  Here, for example, are
    some recent items from the Times' predictable stream:
    *  "Oracle Announces Online Challenge to Microsoft"
    *  "Web Erotica Aims for Female Customers"
    *  "Braindump on the Blue Badge: A Guide to Microspeak"
    *  "Flat Screens: Good But Costly"
    *  "Videoconferencing Stage Fright"
    *  "PC's for the High End Crowd"
    *  "Putting A Virtual Doggy in Your Window"
    *  "Hurricane Watchers Clog Web Sites"
    *  "Gossip Sites Target Music and Film Business"
    Of course, the mood and outlook of such stories in the Times and
    elsewhere is strictly "upside," often totally euphoric, Viagra for the
    mind.  In both the giddy writing and glitzy neo-neon illustrations, the
    model for "technology" journalism in this mode is, of course, Wired
    magazine.   The recent sale of that publication to Conde Nast, publishers
    of Vogue, confirmed what many of us had suspected all along, that
    the magazine was less a serious discussion of the transition to a digital
    society than a never ending barrage of excited promotions for ephemeral
    electronic products and the personalities who hawk them.  Now that
    Wired is owned by those adept at selling cosmetics and couture, its
    role is at last thoroughly transparent.  What's remarkable is that so many
    supposedly respectable publications have decided to mimic the tawdry
    self-indulgence that has become the hallmark of cyber journalism.
    An obvious shortcoming of this odd focus for reporting and thinking is the
    vast spectrum of interesting and important topics it systematically
    neglects.  If one is interested in solar electricity, for example, the
    second fastest-growing energy source in the world, one can read for years
    and never find it in today's "technology" coverage.  Although the
    biotechnically driven "second Green Revolution" will likely affect
    billions of people in years to come, its arrival goes all but unnoticed.
    If one is interested in the rapidly evolving techniques of flexible
    production in global factories and offices, don't bother looking in the
    local newspaper or its on-line edition; from all indications, "technology"
    doesn't include such things anymore.   How about the ecological disasters
    caused by "advances" in the technologies of fishing and acquaculture?
    What?  Where?  When?  Why wasn't I informed?
    An illustration of a significant piece of news that has gone all but
    unnoticed amidst the hoopla of American "technology" coverage is the
    raging controversy about the introduction of genetically modified food in
    Great Britain.  One study by British scientists, reported recently by BBC
    and the Guardian, found that rats fed genetically engineered
    potatoes suffered stunted growth and weakened immune systems.  Whether or
    not the study turns out to be reliable, concerns about it and about
    genetically modified food have sparked citizen protest and disputes among
    the political parties in Parliament.  While you can be sure that the
    emerging biotechnology firms around the world are closely watching this
    flap and its possible ramifications, the American reading public is kept
    in the dark, nourished by hundreds of Olestra-rich puff pieces about
    Internet fun and frolic.
    Perhaps aware of the growing vapidity of today's techno-news reporting,
    some prominent publications have recently decided they need a larger
    theme, a Big Picture within which to frame their topics.  The startlingly
    brash, unprecedented, and illuminating context many of them appear to have
    settled upon is "Innovation."  Yes, folks, here it comes!  Out of the
    research labs, into the hands of entrepreneurs, from there to the global
    marketplace, and into your lives -- technology!  What matters in this
    perspective is simply an appreciation of the dynamic flow and process.
    Never mind the social contexts, broader consequences, or policy choices at
    hand.  Behold the surprisingly colorful people engaged in cutting-edge
    university and corporate research (and you thought they were just cold and
    grey!).   Follow those far-sighted venture capitalists as they seed the
    landscape with promising  start-up companies.  Be the first on your block
    to catch a glimpse of all the gadgets and new media that will shape the
    offices, homes and schools of the future.
    Given the long history of campaigns to promote technologies of one kind or
    another in this century, it's amusing that anybody would find this
    emphasis on "innovation" the least bit novel.  In one guise or another,
    this idea has been the bread and butter of industrialists, advertisers and
    reporters for eighty years.  Ideas and images celebrating innovation were
    already current in visions of modernity of the 1920s when automobiles and
    electrical appliances (rather then Palm Pilots) were all the rage.  From
    its very first issue, Henry Luce's Fortune magazine (1930) regaled
    readers with high-tone stories and photographs depicting links between
    emerging technology, business initiatives, and social transformation.
    Then as now, the arrow of causation always pointed in one direction.  As
    the motto of the International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933 boldly
    proclaimed, "Science Finds -- Industry Applies -- Man Conforms."
    As we receive our daily dose of this threadbare mythology, updated for the
    age of cyberspace, the problem is not merely that the scope of reporting
    on technology and human affairs is dwindling.  Resourceful readers can
    always search out diverse, substantive sources of news and information
    about all kinds of technology-related events.  The far more urgent problem
    lies in the fact that, at a crucial moment in human history, public
    discourse about matters of consequence has been reduced in its outlook,
    trivialized in its grasp.  Since people's awareness of what matters is
    strongly influenced by what news sources highlight as current and
    noteworthy, the shrinking perspective of technology journalism is a
    serious loss.
    Among the issues that cry out for attention as a new era dawns is the
    widening gap of inequality that characterizes the world's population.  Our
    much heralded global economy has been very good at producing a handful of
    billionaires and millionaires.  But for roughly a third of the Earth's
    people, especially children in the less developed countries, grinding
    poverty is an everyday reality, a situation already evident even before
    the economic crises of the past year.  Can it be that we find the
    suffering of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings insignificant
    when compared to the puzzle of finding a Y2K fix?
    While we're at it, why not tackle some of the "bugs" that threaten the
    environment we will hand to our children?  How about fixing the
    technologies that spew millions of tons of CO2 into the air each day,
    exacerbating global warming?  How about replacing the systems that pour
    toxic chemicals into the air, water and land, slowly poisoning human
    populations and other species?  Let's eliminate the errors in our tax laws
    that encourage energy waste and other ecologically destructive practices.
    And let's fix the development bug that destroys good farmland and
    devastates the world's forests.  These are among the steps that would be
    taken by those hopeful about Earth's future.
    I'm told that if all goes well, if enough time, money, and effort are
    invested, our computers will actually remember that a new millennium has
    arrived.  Alas, we humans may forget to update our spiritual clocks,
    ignoring a momentous turning point and the challenge it presents.
    Tech Knowledge Revue is produced at the Chatham Center for Advanced Study,
    P.O. Box 215, North Chatham, NY 12132.  Langdon Winner can be reached
    at:  winner@rpi.edu and at his Web page:  http://www.rpi.edu/~winner .
    Copyright Langdon Winner 1998.  Distributed as part of NetFuture:
    http://netfuture.org.  You may redistribute this article for noncommercial
    purposes, with this notice attached.
    Goto table of contents
    In Search of Reality
    Response to:  "Following up" (NF-75)
    From:  Gary Davis (gdavis@facstaff.wisc.edu)
       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.
    Quite a few years ago, I had an experience consistent with your surmise.
    The San Diego Wild Animal Park is a large collection of exotic wildlife
    living in artificially natural conditions.  I joined a group of visitors
    on an open observation train that runs around the perimeter, separating
    the park from the native chaparral.  (This was the case several years ago.
    The park may have changed.)  During our journey around the park, the guide
    pointed out examples of many exotic species.  Like the other visitors I
    found them interesting enough, though few of us craned our necks much.
    About half way around, the guide mentioned that a native white deer could
    be seen in the brush outside the park.  Almost everyone in the train
    jumped up to get a better view of this prodigy and stood gawking for some
    time as we left the deer behind.  I can't claim that I was having the best
    day of my life, but I was quite struck by the power of a realer real
    reality over a more artificial real reality.
    Thanks for NETFUTURE, by the way.  Go ahead and ask for money!  I'll
    Gary Davis
    Mixed Reactions to Participative Knowing
    Response to:  "Why is the Moon Getting Farther Away?" (NF-70)
    From:  Stephen Keith Sagarin (sks31@columbia.edu)
    Dear Steve,
    I recently included "Why is the Moon ... ?" as required reading with a
    class in the history of education in the United States at Teachers
    College, Columbia University.  I thought you might be interested in some
    particulars and responses.  Your piece was one of four readings assigned
    for the day.  The others were a selection on the history of the use of
    radio, film and television in education from Larry Cuban's book
    Teachers and Machines; the first chapter of Seymour Papert's
    Mindstorms; and John Davy's review of Papert's book, "Mindstorms in
    the Lamplight".
    The class consists of twenty Ed.D. students in school administration, part
    of the INQUIRY program run by Tom Sobol, former Commissioner of Education
    for New York State.  The program allows students to continue working full
    time while pursuing their degrees on weekends and in the summer.  Most of
    them are public school superintendents and principals from all over the
    Responses ranged from "pie in the sky" (that world -- of communicating
    with animals -- is long gone and we have to deal with what's here now) to
    "the best thing we've read this summer".  Some were eager to explore the
    possibilities of participatory knowing, while others seemed simply unable
    to conceive it or to acknowledge its value.
    In general, those who found it most useful focused on a brief bit in which
    you indicate the value of participatory knowing for human relationships; I
    believe the phrase you use is something like "with sympathy and intimacy".
    All of my students are from urban or suburban schools, and all feel the
    social mission more strongly than the natural.  This is not to draw a line
    between the two, but to indicate a difference in emphasis.
    I also felt the need to point out that, while the transformation necessary
    to accomplish active participation in knowing the world is a gradual
    process, it needn't take vast amounts of time away from more conventional
    studies to begin work in this direction.
    Thanks again for the use of the piece.
    (Stephen Sagarin is a Ph.D. candidate in History and Education at Columbia
    University. His dissertation will be a history of Waldorf and Steiner
    schools in the U.S.)
    Multitasking, or Attention Deficit Disorder?
    Response to:  "Multitasking Ourselves to Death" (NF-75)
    From:  John Thienes (john_thienes@mentorg.com)
    It strikes me as amusing that multitasking should be so highly regarded.
    Indeed, I have seen job advertisements for programmers where the ability
    to "multitask" is sought after as eagerly as is facility with a number of
    programming languages and operating systems.  And the story of young Jai
    Mani, "multitasking" at television, computer games, and piano lessons,
    brings this whole business to a point.  In some venues Master Jai would be
    promptly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and thus become the
    recipient of no end of angst from his parents, frustration from his
    teachers, and study by psychiatric specialists instead of journalistic
    I ask:  How are we to distinguish between multitasking and ADD behavior in
    our bosses or children when the outward manifestations are patently the
    same?  When are we expected to celebrate their lack of attention to
    detail, and when should we console them as pitiable victims?
    I hope that those who cherish singleness of heart and singleness of eye
    are able to find others of like precious faith in the midst of what
    appears to be madness.  Perhaps you will appreciate this quote attributed
    to Soren Kierkegaard:  Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.
    John Thienes               "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam"
    Mentor Graphics Corp.
    (503) 685-1847
    On the Importance of Our Powers of Attention
    Response to:  "Multitasking Ourselves to Death" (NF-75)
    From:  Gavin Ferriby (ferriby@bitwise.net)
    Mr. Talbott:
    Your recent writing on multi-tasking and attention (NF #75) sent me back
    to re-reading a brief and remarkable essay by Simone Weil, "Reflections on
    the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God."
    Weil writes that "prayer consists of attention .... The quality of the
    attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer."  If we
    concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry (for
    example), "we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that
    hour in another more mysterious dimension."  Our concentration "has
    brought light into the soul.  The result will one day be discovered in
    This concentration is mysteriously redemptive: "every time we really
    concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves."  Of course,
    multi-tasking persons are completely opaque to the possibility of true
    good and actual evil, so bent are they on their own power of control: homo
    incurvatus in se. (My interpolation!)
    For Weil, "attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it
    detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object; it means
    holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level
    and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which
    we are forced to make use of .... Above all, our thought should be empty,
    waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the
    object that is to penetrate it."
    "Every school exercise, thought of in this way, is like a sacrament." This
    sacrament is a communion with reality itself, with God.  "Not only does
    the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of our
    neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this substance
    .... The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and
    difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle." "Only"
    the one "who is capable of attention can do this."
    Well, I've gone on too long already, and could never do justice to the
    supple beauty of Weil's thought.  I do note the very nearly erotic
    language she uses (all that waiting and penetration!) which is a direct
    contact with the danger and beauty of Plato's Socrates in the Symposium
    and the Phaedrus.
    Your essay -- and Simone Weil's -- have convinced me even more that the
    scattering of attention which information technology seems to make so much
    more easily possible could be one of its most damaging long-term cultural
    effects.  I speculate that the only true way to combat this is to
    compellingly commend (how difficult!) genuine and difficult study:
    classical texts, Middle English poetry, Netherlandish portrait painting,
    the wonderful attentiveness of Thoreau and Emerson, the blinding
    concentrated prose of Kierkegaard or Simone Weil -- merely for example.
    If liberal arts colleges have any function, it may be to use information
    technology in such a way as to relativize it, to render it essentially
    moot to the most human of tasks, which is to live a life of creative
    attention to physical and spiritual reality itself.  This is utter
    nonsense, I realize, to those completely immersed in Anglo-American
    analytic philosophy and the problems of the overly psychologized, multi-
    tasking information marketplace!
    My two cents.  May you find joy in your studies. Thanks for your
    attention --
    Gavin Ferriby, M.L.S.
    Editor, Union List of Serials
    The Consortium of Rhode Island Academic and Research Libraries
    Brown University, Providence, RI
    Gavin_Ferriby@brown.edu  or  ferriby@bitwise.net
    As of October 1, 1998:
    Head of Technical Services
    The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in New York City
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                           ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES
    Physicians and Scientists against Genetically Engineered Food
    A Swiss-based organization calling itself "Physicians and Scientists
    against Genetically Engineered Food" is conducting a signature campaign to
    mobilize opinion in favor of a global moratorium on the release of
    genetically engineered organisms and their use in food.  Scientists in all
    fields, not just biology and medicine, are invited to participate, on the
    grounds that some of the fundamental issues at stake are clear and
    nontechnical.  Nonscientists are invited to play a role as well.
    To sign the declaration, see http://home1.swipnet.se/~w-18472/lmgreg.htm.
    Goto table of contents
                                 WHO SAID THAT?
    Michael Layden works in the administration of Waldorf schools in
    Australia, where his focus is necessarily on organizational and financial
    concerns.  But he finds the general consideration of educational values
    essential to keeping his managerial work meaningful.
    Layden has provided little additional information about himself, but he
    offers a comment that is among the favorite of all those I have ever
    received from readers:
       Oddly, though there is a great deal of common ground between the
       positions taken by yourself and other contributors to NETFUTURE, and
       those of Steiner [Waldorf] education, I find myself referring to your
       work quite often in an attempt to counter a certain unthinking Luddite
       tendency among many of my teaching colleagues.  There being a great
       deal of qualitative difference between a position of ignorant hostility
       and one of reasoned and informed challenge to new technologies.  It is
       one of my hopes that those battling for more sensible curriculum
       choices in this area will use the very high quality "insider" argument
       NETFUTURE provides in their dialogue with governmental education bodies
       and other educators.
    It particularly tickles me to find NETFUTURE used in a struggle against
    uncritical technology refusal.  I have always thought of the newsletter as
    a call for the restoration of certain lost balances, and Layden's comment
    helps to confirm that view.  It is only because society as a whole is
    currently so unbalanced that the call for balance must seem one-sided to
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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 .

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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #76 :: September 15, 1998 Goto table of contents

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