Shaping the Inevitable for the Local Good

My argument thus far--that the Net, in connecting everyone, furthers our isolation by abstracting us from place and virtualizing human relations--will have no effect on the pace of technological development. Recall [David] Porush's Law: "Participating in the newest communications technologies becomes compulsory if you want to remain part of the culture." Now I shall posit Steve's First Corollary to Porush's Law: "If you want to enhance the culture, steer your participation in the net toward ways that better integrate you and others into your local geophysical communities." (Steve's Second Corollary: "Be wary of the seductions tendered by the immersive virtualists.") Given the inevitability of the net, the most fruitful path is to participate in it in ways that benefit our localities.
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As critical as Doheny-Farina is of the forces shaping the Internet, and as skeptical as he is about the claims of both doomsayers and Internet utopianists, what emerges is a work of hope premised not on some return to a past that is gone or the refusal to participate in a coming technology, but in the willingness to, in the title of Chapter 13, "Fight the Good Fight."

It will have to be a fight because as Doheny-Farina shows in his exploration of some existing community networks, their mere existence doesn't guarantee success, or not the kind imagined by the promise of the technology. For example, in considering the The Ontario Provincial Election Project for June 8, 1995, elections, he notes, "By the week before the election, the debate discussion group had attracted slightly more than eight hudred postings. But fully one-third of those postings were made by only four individuals--none of whom were candidates" (150). Not a surprising pattern of behavior for those who've been on email lists for any length of time. Also not surprising, but disocuraging, is candidate reticence. In the recent presidential elections in the United States, both candidates feigned dialogues in meet the people" forums and "electronic town halls" where party loyalists invited sympathetic voters to ask softball questions. Even in community networks, then, there exists the simulacrum of democracy in action. So it is not a simple matter, argues Doheny-Farina, of build it and they will come.

For community networks to thrive, they have to be built and funded (no easy thing either, he notes, with numerous examples of how successful networks had to struggle), maintained, and they have to create an ethic of participation based on the nature--overlapping envclaves--of contemporary community life.

It takes hard work and commitment, the kind of work and commitment that can only be found in a connection to a physical place, a geographic reality, where what happens to one's neighbor matters. As such, the final chapter 13, and the appendix of resources, moves from an analysis to a citizens' guide and call to action. Therein lies this book's ultimate optomism about our futures--with work we can reclaim our neighborhoods and what it means to live in a local community.

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