Stacy writes: “Romance, work, ideas… This is what I look for in a
neighborhood.” Again, sounds good. So do I. But — is there a risk here
that the new, digital technologies will allow each of us to electronically
customize, so to speak, a like-minded community. That we’ll succeed in
avoiding the irritating necessity of dealing with people unlike ourselves?
Admittedly, part of me find this possibility appealing. I don’t yearn to
“communicate” with the neo-fascist thugs who moved in a few doors down and
who daily parade their attitude down the street like a dog with a spiked
collar. Nor do I seek out Ed, the good-natured backhoe operator, beloved of
all the children, who lives down the way and who patiently explained to me
the other day why gays are an offense to god and should be exterminated, en
masse. But deal with them I do, because I must, and the daily grinding of
differences, I like to think, dulls the edges, forces a certain
accommodation. Electronic communities, I fear, will keep the ideological
edges honed.

So what’s my answer? What to do? Let me dispense with one potential area of
misunderstanding very quickly: I have no patience — none — with the
“surveillance-positive legislators” currently promising to save us from
ourselves by enacting some form of “protective” legislation. On this
matter, Howard and I are in complete agreement. What we’re seeing, I fear,
is a return of the Puritan elder (Senator Exon in the role of Increase
Mather) who, by combining the role of minister and magistrate, perverts
both. The survival (or gradual marginalization) of electronic communities,
should be a matter of private choice, not legislative fiat.

That said, let me complicate things a bit; what (if anything) do we do when
the electronic “communities of interest” Howard refers to include (in
numbers that matter), the boys up at Hayden Lake, Idaho? Or the Klan? Or
the Cosa Nostra? Having just returned from a 6 week trip through the rural
Northwest with my family, this is a matter of some interest to me. Reading
excerpts from the Turner Diaries in the New York Times is one thing;
rubbing tattooed elbows with the folks who read (and believe) it, is quite
another. It makes Kevin Kelly’s airy notion of an electronic,
decentralized, out-of-control polity a good deal less appealing. It’s an
issue I don’t have an answer to; the only thing I know for sure is that
Exon doesn’t either.

Return to the Dialog