Will people "seek a variety of settings and experiences if given the
chance" as Bill suggests? Will they "connect electronically," then "chat
to a neighbor over the back fence while watering the garden?" Look around.
When’s the last time you saw anyone chat to a neighbor over the back fence
while watering the garden. Talk about your neo-traditionalist nostalgia for
the nineteenth century small town!

Living in pre-revolution Czechoslovakia in the late 70’s, I witnessed a
high-speed version of what happened in this country over a generation. In
1977, in the village I lived in, there were no televisions and precious
few phones. People talked over fences (and work benches and kitchen
tables), entertained and slandered one another, griped and gossiped
continually, and, on days off, sat around big fires till the small hours of
the morning drinking wine and singing each others’ songs. By 1980, the
custom of communal fires had ended and whatever gossiping remained was
heard on the "novy televizor" instead of over the back fence. Paradise
lost? Hardly. *Something* lost? You bet. Did the community renounce its old
ways and move indoors of its own free will? Not really. Did individuals
maintain a balance between the physical and virtual worlds in order "to
support the many different sorts of human interactions and modes of
community participation that now [made] up the complicated fabric of
[their] lives?" to quote Bill. I doubt it. While the computer *is* a step
up from the numbing passivity of the tube, I’m convinced that its effect,
ultimately, will be similar: we’ll trade one screen for another, one
(essentially passive) illusion, for a more sophisticated, interactive one.
We’ll spend more time (as I am now) sitting on our asses, alone in our own
box.

For every individual like Bill or Stacy or Howard, strong enough and savvy
enough to achieve a real balance (and maintain it over time), there will be
a thousand who will uncritically buy into the digital hype and choose the
path of least resistance; instead of chatting over the fence while watering
the garden, they’ll chat and make dates and tour Oregon and raise tomatoes
in cyberspace, where they won’t have to worry about offending someone they
hardly know, being rejected, getting lost, or getting their hands dirty.

Am I suggesting that I know better than the poor, ignorant masses, and am
therefore entitled, Exon-like, to decide for them? No. What I *am* doing is
offering a counter-argument to the almost exclusively positive slant on
the new technologies we’ve been given thus far. As the recent Windows 95
mania suggests, the cultural (and corporate) momentum in the other
direction is formidable. Along with a few others, I’m trying to fashion a
speed bump on the digital highway.

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