Exchange Two.
In Which Josh Has Written to Nick,
and Nick Responds

[ Go back to Virtual Vermont Page ] [ Go to Exchange One. ]

On Tue, 25 Feb 1997, Joshua Farber wrote:

> I have a question for you. Does it seem to you that Steven
> Doheny-Farina is writing from a position of nostalgia - i.e. does SDF seem
> to think that we can RECOVER the ideal geographically-based culture
> through using the internet to circumvent the highly mediated life which we
> now live? Or is he suggesting, as I think Talbott is, that the potential of
> mediating interpersonal technologies is (at its best) to enrich the
> face-to-face community which we have historically had? In other words,
> are we talking recovery or evolution of the idea of community as an ideal?


He makes a much more nuanced argument than one premised on nostalgia. He locates many of his stories and anecdotes in specific geographical places faithfully evoked, and so it may seem he is nostalgiac. But he recognizes the complexities of communities and how little--even his small community in upstate New York, for example--they are like Mayberry R.F.D. Indeed he charges that television, movies, memory, and critics-of-our-times distort what communities are actually like. I find convincing his argument that since there really are no public spaces for consideration of public issues (except on special and rare occasion, such as Town Meeting Day here in Vermont), that community is made from overlapping special interests--parents with kids who take the bus, businesses on Main Street, retired home-owners who need access to a van, the homeless population trying to find shelter under bridge embankments--that seek support or must solve conflicts when their issue is at hand.

He cites Etzioni and quotes Wendell Berry for definitions about community; much of his argument about the need to resist global markets, the gravitation to centralized computer access and content providers, the irony of finding our individuality in products produced and sold for mass consumption echoes stuff I've read in Berry. I think Postman is nostalgiac, though he tries not to be. I don't think Doheny-Farina is.

Your observation is dead-on. Doheny-Farina is arguing for making computer networking technology available to people for discussing and acting upon and researching local issues. He goes further to argue that for this to truly succeed, some method of access for everyone, even those who do not have a home, becomes necessary. That's an idealistic position, but I don't think it's nostalgiac; it is as you say more evolutionary. Every community has used physical markers to caste (type caste-ing?) members--whether the markers be education as revealed by speech; dress; state of repair (or disrepair) of apartments, homes, and cars; where one lives; who one associtates with; skin color; gender; ethnicity, and so on. If on the Internet "no one knows you're a dog" then perhaps on a local community Net, no one has to know right away that you're poor.

See Robin Morris's review of Wired Women. It both alludes to the same dog cartoon from the New Yorker and begins with a wonderful anecdote that shows email list members acting downright neighborly.

> One of the things that bothered me most about Postman, I remember, is that
> he seemed to me to be talking straight recovery - a fairly "high-culture"
> standpoint - and thus the reson I like Talbott is that he seems to think
> that if we capture the benefits of these new technologies we can become
> even more communal as a species (in small local-based groups, of
> course)...although most of his book reminds us how far removed from each
> other we have already become, he does not think that we cannot still
> evolve productively.

This is exactly why I think Doheny-Farina argues we need to fight the good fight.

> -j

> joshua farber
> Marlboro College
> Marlboro, VT 05344


> any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
> (clarke's 3rd law of technology)

Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344

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