Yes, yes. I know! We make our technologies (and our buildings) then our
technologies make us, etc.. And let’s not get into the tired old academic
chicken-and-egg argument about which comes first — invention or desire. We
all understand that it’s a recursive cycle — and like so many recursive
cycles, it can take off in some pretty weird, unpredictable, and sometimes
dangerously out-of-control directions once it gets rolling.

The fact is, though, that bigtime technological genies rarely crawl back
into their bottles, and it’s pretty pointless to hope that they will. It
didn’t happen with the wheel it didn’t happen with the plow, it didn’t
happen with the steam engine or the airplane or toilet paper, and it’s
certainly not going to happen with silicon chips, software, and digital
telecommunications. What’s really disingenuous, at this stage, is to
pretend otherwise.

Did I say that we should, therefore, just let new technological
possibilities join the array of older ones, stand back, and watch people
happily pick and choose? I don’t recall so, and I’m certainly not in the
habit of taking that line. (I’ll cheerfully leave that one to the
Contract-with-America crowd!) But I don’t have any patience, either, with
the standard post-whatever slogan that choice is just a myth; this becomes
an easy excuse for inaction and plays right into the hands of the most
conservative defenders of the status quo.

The question is really whether the now-inevitable ubiquity of digital
telecommunication will add or subtract meaningful and worthwhile
opportunities in our lives — whether it will be liberating or restrictive.
I hope for the former (since there’s lots to loathe, despise, and struggle
against in our current urban environments) and Mark apparently fears the
latter. But I don’t think that the outcome is given. (I refuse to accept
that it is, anyway.) So it seems to me far better to pursue that hope
actively and inventively (and, yes, warily) than to stand by wringing our
hands about the coerciveness of the dominant culture.

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