The Nature of Global Villages, Universe Cities and Communities of Learning in the Information Society
Paper for keynote presentation at the 2001 International Forum on Townscape Design, Fukuoka, Japan.
(published in two parts, in the online journal: Switch)
1. Global-Local Context and Issues
What is really going on? Information Highways, Digital Cities, Tele-Work, Tele- Villages, Tele-Commuting, Smart Communities, Lone Eagles..... These are catch-phrases; narrowly defined categorizations that often lack appropriate understanding and contextualization of a much more broadly encompassing and effecting social transformation. We are simply, becoming an increasingly communicative and technologically mediated society.
The fabric of our cities and towns is being rewoven by the digital networking and tele- mediation of global society. This Information Revolution is real. It is a force of powerful social transformation, the effects of which are barely comprehended yet. The transformative power of electrification, flight and of the automobile on our lives over the past century only hint at the impacts and implications that the new communications technologies and services will have on the political, cultural, social, economic and physical makeup of our communities.
Telecommunications infrastructure and services, purely by their nature and implementation at this early stage of their development and integration into society, do not assure urban or rural communities of an improved future. The issues and considerations that surround our increasingly technological and digitally communicative local-global society are complex. Some people are venturing into this new environment, developing "virtual real estate"; treating information as data; a commodity to be bought and sold. Others harbor growing fears and confusion, overwhelmed by an increasing lack of meaning and feelings of unconnectedness.
The future of our communities and societies depends upon our understanding the ecology of this transformation. Such an understanding and intent may be the basis for a real Information Revolution; a revolution rooted in social betterment.
Ecology is the study of the complex interactions between living and non-living, inter- dependent dynamic systems. It describes the fragile balance in which such systems inter-relate and through which they co-evolve.
No seriously intelligent person can dispute what we now know about ecology. The complexity of the chaotically dynamic processes that encompass our lives, imposes a dire need for us to reconsider economic relationships and social values. Some economists are now attempting to understand and to propose a new sense of values; new economic theories, based upon our knowledge of ecological processes. With the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Entropy as its underpinnings, this new thinking is beginning to have real and immediate effect among 'green' environmental workers. It has had little broad recognition or effect outside of this interest group, however. Much of humanity, attempting mainly to survive, does not have the resources or the time to consider such 'stuff'; and many of the rest of us, unfortunately, have a very limited grasp of our human relationship to nature.
The proponents of 'ecological economics' seem not to comprehend the big picture yet, either. While their theories are 'right on the money' regarding the 'green' matter-energy environment, they have hardly considered the 'information environment' in their attempts to better manage this household.
The study and practice of ecology must take into full account the energy-information flux to, from, and on the Earth. Information, thus considered, poses difficult questions as to its potentially increasing physical and social influence, and as to a determination of its value within the broader economic sphere. An economy-ecology of information is as critical to life as that of watersheds, air quality, forests or migrating populations. Understandably, there is little support for research that might tend to undermine the existing economic order.
1.1.1 Nature and Human Being
The generalized terms 'nature' and 'natural' are infused with accepted meaning and depth of beliefs. They are also the source of essential questioning and controversy that underlies the most fundamental developments in human evolution and its impacts on all that surrounds and nurtures us.
What is nature? Are there limits to nature? Are human beings separate from nature? Are our inventions and technologies natural? And, what is the nature of growth and progress?
Conservation, regeneration, stewardship, and learning are the foundation upon which to build strategies for sustainability. To not consume more resources than can be replaced in a relatively equal period of time is a fundamental precept.
Sustainability is at best, a simplistically understood concept. It may be a moot issue if we are to believe in the social and terrestrial effects of entropy, turbulence and complexity. Sustainability is a goal being set as we recognize our evolutionary fragility. It may in fact, not be achievable.
All sustainability is local.
1.1.3 Information Ecology
All too often, in considering our environment, we think of the Earth: soil, water, air, living things, etc.; a material, tangible environment. But these material systems are bound together in a flow of sustaining energy and information: the Earth-Sun-Universe connection. It is this thermodynamic life force, this radiant electromagnetic environment, and its impacts on the body and mind, to which a sense of ecology must be acknowledged.
Information can be considered in a number of ways. Mechanistically, information has qualities much like mass or energy. It is transmitted and received with some force or action. Information channels may be compared to the nerves and bones in living systems. They are the web of social communications. The flow of information determines the course of dynamic social evolution. According to this view, information may be treated as a useful natural resource; a commodity that can be transported, bought and sold, and regulated.
Information, however, must also be considered as patterns of perception, relationships and differences. In coming to terms with an ecology of the information environment, with an ecology of the force, the message and the medium of this most natural resource, accounting for such dynamic cognitive-sensory processes must be integral to any comprehensive formulation.
Information ecology extends our basic understandings of ecology to the physical, social and economic transformations being wrought by the rapid developments in information technology, networking, and by our becoming an increasingly tele-networked 'society of mind'.
The Information Revolution, as a technologically driven revolution, will likely result in increased social systematization, bureaucracy and waste. The more energy consuming, and less ecologically interdependent, the more fragile technological progress becomes; and ultimately more disruptive in its potential (inevitable) failure.
In this age, increasingly shaped by communications and technology, humanity is becoming acutely sensitive to its frail security. The rationalism of science continues to accelerate the conflict between global mind and local body. Energy and information are now our major exchangeable natural resources. They constitute the primary components of the value system in a newly emerging economic structure.
There is no denying the miraculous evolutionary history of our belief systems, but our current political economies, fictions of ideology, have become an unmanageable misunderstanding of life, sustaining resources and values. Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, etc. are political contrivances; catch-phrases that deny a comprehensive knowledge of the value of human life and work in a complex and dynamic universe. They are, more directly, sophisticated systems for social control. Intellectual impositions on society-as-system, they do not adequately account for turbulence, random effects or failure. These systems are, in fact, the antithesis of true freedom and democracy; social concepts and goals that ought to carry a profound responsibility for us to be more creatively intelligent and humane.
Society is experiencing accelerated, consumer-driven, post-industrial, technological communications development. Often labeled the Information Revolution, this ongoing process has been largely supported by a military-industrial power base, and driven by a selfishly motivated , catch-up minded technocratic elite. Though not an overt conspiracy, the results of this evolutionary tragedy-of-errors is that increasing populations of people around the world are confused and frightened by newly emerging tensions, class differences and imposed controls, while being torn from their historic sense of culture, and knowledge of place.
The economic and societal threats of 'globalism', and the potential for escalating and globally affecting conflicts are increasingly upon us all. We are being confronted by wars of misplaced ideologies and reactionary mal-intentions. These frightening possibilities must provoke us as never before to address the challenge of right-livelihood, and to foster regional self reliance through interdependent, co-evolving whole-systems thinking and actions, with ever greater understanding and respect for differences and difficulties.
1.2.1 Old Economy
Today, urban and rural communities are being swept up in a socio-economic transformation that is affecting the whole world. The often espoused linear progression of economic waves, from agricultural, to industrial, to information-based, is too simplistic to be an accurate assessment of human evolution. One system does not in fact, replace another. If our fundamental motivations and desires are for a healthier, more intelligent and sustainable society, then we must invest with an appropriately reconsidered understanding of economic valuation.
Agriculture is not going away; it is evolving. Industry is not going away; it is being transformed. Information is not replacing these previous cornerstones of our socio-economic foundation. It is, like water flooding our fields and turning our wheels, flowing through all aspects of society, irrigating our minds and fueling social processes, making six billion (and more) flowers bloom. Might the resulting harvest nurture and sustain us
1.2.2 Solar Economy
All aspects of our economic systems must be considered as derived from an ecologically holistic solar economy. The agricultural, the industrial, and the new information economies are incomplete systems unless incorporating the nature of value inherent in the over-arching Sun- Earth relationship. Continuing to deny this is counter-intelligent and counter-productive, and further supports the description of economics as "the dismal science". To better understand and implement a solar economy, is to be on the path toward ecological enlightenment.
1.2.3 New Economy
The "new economy" is not the "digital economy". It is the recognition and internetworking of many diverse and interdependent economies. The "digital economy" is a vitally restructuring part of a "new economy". The digital internetworking of economic flows and exchanges is going to permeate much of the way the world works and how human societies distribute resources, assign value and acknowledge the complex ecological balance between competition and cooperation. Properly considered, ecological economics takes full account of value: use value, exchange value, and inherent value.
If the "new economy" is in fact, moving towards recognition of knowledge as a newly valued economic resource and social objective, then the unique qualities of our very humanity require us to acknowledge the symbiotic relationships between matter, energy and information, as the foundation for the reorganization of our local-global economic systems.
Materials processing and tool making has been an inherent part of human development from its beginnings, and has taken many forms in response to evolving needs, understandings and creative imagination. We are sensing and communicating creatures, driven by unknown forces and limited by our physical presence. Over time, we human beings have developed tools, sensory aids, to reach beyond ourselves and to re-create the world in our own image; from impressions in clay to cave paintings, from the stylus to the pencil to the telegraph, from computers to cyborgs to ....
1.3.1 Technological Evolution
Technological evolution, from electronic to photonic and bio-genetic processing systems will continue to significantly alter our foreseeable political, economic and cultural futures.
Being is not digital. We are becoming complex and dynamic societies of more; not either-or, if-than, or on-off. Societies will be more specialized and more generalized; more centralized and more distributed; more competitive and more cooperative; more efficient and more wasteful; more open and more closed; and everything in between.
The Gutenberg Revolution, to which our present day Information Revolution is often compared, was followed by a very long period of warfare and social turbulence in Europe. Might there be a comparable possibility today
There is a real potential for increasing regional conflicts, warfare and resulting ecological destruction around the world, as the free flow of ideas and information are confronted by powerful, vested-interest belief systems and regimes of control. The only counteraction to such an inevitability of circumstance is the promotion and exemplification of ecological intelligence, and of a culturally and environmentally based economic value system. The networked society has an obligation to serve and foster a new ecology of mind and action. It may be overstatement, but not to do so, is to potentially be guilty of war crimes against society and nature.
1.3.2 Last Mile First Mile
Most telecommunications service providers currently refer to the home, office, neighborhoods and communities as the "Last Mile". They indicate that providing "Last Mile" enhanced connectivity, especially in rural areas, is not economically viable. They have their economic models backwards. The greatest source of value in most peoples lives is local, derived from self, family and community. In a globally networked and communicative society, local environments have the opportunity to generate new economic resources, value and benefits. The local realm must be considered the "First Mile".
The commonly applied term, "Last Mile" represents a supply-side driven concept. It is a top-down, national and corporate, technical and engineering perspective on telecommunications infrastructure deployment. It is based on legacy hierarchical thinking, intent and actions.
The "First Mile" is based on a demand-side driven understanding. It describes a local geographic orientation for telecommunications infrastructure and services deployment, with a democratic social and economic perspective, that focuses on the difference these systems and services will make in the quality of peoples' lives. The "First Mile" is rooted in realizations about the newly emerging 'hyper-archical' nature of networked local-global relationships and actions; with the provocative intent that the Information Revolution must ultimately be a "people's revolution".
1.3.3 Broadband: Wired and Wireless
Broadband is one of many current technological developments that promise and assure us of a life that is "more, faster, and better." It is the highly anticipated and desired next phase of telecommunications infrastructure and services development. Questions abound as to the best and most cost-effective means of delivery. Will it be wired or wireless; fiber or satellites; DSL or cable modems; and when will we get it?
Deployment is now expected to move more slowly than originally projected by companies and some nations. Recent investments and large up-front capitalization have proven to be more at risk, and expectations of competition from emerging ventures seems to be giving way to consolidation by a few large near-monopoly providers who are also in control of content . Government regulators, reaping large rewards from the sale of public spectrum, are slow to step in, hoping that free market forces will reign.
Korea has the highest penetration and use of broadband (DSL), spurred by new competition.
Canada ranks second in broadband adoption, spurred by government-corporate partnering and the CANARIE fiber consortium.
Japan is having a boom in adoption of mobile wireless, voice and data systems (Dokomo).
In the U.S., only 8% of the population, concentrated in urban areas, currently use primarily DSL or cable modem services.
Broadband systems include:
DSL (various flavors)
Ethernet / Coaxial Cable (10-40 Mb)
DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite); and LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Satellites
Terrestrial Wireless (3G; 802.11, other)
Free Space (IR) Lasers
Interior Wireless (various standards and solutions)
Airborne Communications Platforms (aircraft, blimps, balloons)
LMDS: local multipoint distribution service; fixed broadband wireless (20+ Ghz)
MMDS: multichannel, multipoint distribution service (2-3 Ghz)
As the flow of information makes political boundaries obsolete and nation-states less relevant, we are becoming simultaneously more global and more tribal. Our natural common fears are of becoming homogenous; of becoming ecologically fragile mono-cultures. Difference is therefore critical. Wise societies respect and value differences. It is less than ironic that Charles Babbage called his early computing system the "differential engine", and that the pioneering cybernetic theorist, Gregory Bateson, defined information as "the difference which makes a difference."
1.4.1 Re-organization and Convergence
As already stated, all areas of social and economic infrastructure are being reorganized by the flow of information. Major changes in utilities, institutions and ways of livelihood will in turn, further drive the flow of information deeper into all other roots and branches of society, by fueling capital investments and returns. A new ecological reorganization and convergent balancing of top-down and bottom-up, competition and cooperation, centralized and distributed, public and private, and global and local systems will significantly affect all aspects of society.
The internetworking of local-global society may promote greater democracy, by integrating both distributed and centralized information resources, conversation, decisionmaking, action and response. Contrary to currently dominant thinking, newly networked forms of social reorganization, and greater convergence of public and private sectors at the local sphere of influence, may have powerful "trickle up" effects on national and global organizational structures and initiatives.
1.4.2 Digital Divides: Have Nots and Want Nots
The 'Digital Divide' is a moving target. It is an evolutionary outgrowth of complex economic, educational, racial and ethnic, cultural and political differences and resulting inequities thereof. Though belief in large scale effective solutions may be naÔve at best, and potentially dangerous in some cases, the problem never-the-less begs our caring attention and shared efforts.
Timely attention and initiatives are now being applied globally to the economic, political and social disparities of access and opportunity in our internetworked society. The rift between the haves and have-nots is highly complex and potentially treacherous when considered globally. Concern over potential impacts of the 'digital divide', and optimism about the potential benefits of bridging the chasm, are fueling increased actions. Alliances of governments, foundations, corporations and civic groups are partnering to leverage resources and assure success, through programs bringing computers, telecommunications infrastructure and access, education, job opportunities, social services and community information to underserved rural and urban populations.
The Digital Divide may in fact get wider and more troublesome as rapid technological development, related economic changes, conflicts between belief systems, escalating population growth, inadequate natural resources distribution, environmental tensions and catastrophes, and resulting disparities of social status and desires, increasingly speed seemingly out of control past our most well intentioned mitigating initiatives. Though the disparities in computer and Internet access and use between gender, racial and ethnic populations in some countries are lessening, new gaps are arising or may be expected to. As broadband infrastructure and services deployment rapidly develops over the coming years, new demographic patterns and associated affects will likely become evident between those with and without broadband access. Some speculations about broadband related inequities and impacts, foresee ever greater strains upon the nuclear family (as each member has personal systems and individualized programming delivery and interests).
There is also an increasing potential for an anti-technology, anti-corporate media backlash. A growing sector of society may "opt out", as ongoing consumer and market driven technological change and wasteful information overload does not fulfill the promise of "improved quality of life for all"; bringing instead, greater fragmentation of community and family; increasing noise to signal in our lives; and evermore confusing complexity and speed.
There is no going back, however. One important answer to these challenging issues, is to create networked "communities of learning"; the necessary long first step along the path of becoming a "knowledge based society". To meet this objective, leadership will have to promote a "grand convergence" between technology and ecology. The implications of doing so may be extremely controversial, and inherently run counter to our current economic vested interests, near-sighted individual desires and ecologically unhealthy ways of life. The grand challenge is in determining how we get from here to there in least harmful ways?
What will the future look like, and which side of the Digital Divide will you be on?
Will you continue to purchase the next technical upgrade to your computer, mobile device, software application, faster bandwidth connection and online service every two years for the foreseeable future?
Will you be able to keep up with the demands of increasingly technologically dependent job markets and work places, while continuing to take online classes to reinvent your resume?
Will you invest in the dynamically internetworked and turbulent global stock market, and feel secure that you will stay a winner in the ever-newer economy?
Will you fashionably wear the latest in 'smart clothing, and will you install 'smart' appliances and sensors in your home, alternative fuel vehicle and children's pets?
Will you agree to get neural implants someday?
Will you keep up with the techno-jargon and politically-correct catch phrases of the times, becoming one of the photonically enlightened, or will you fall into the quantum quagmire?
1.4.3 Surveillance, Security and Privacy
Control is antithetical to an information based society. Information flows like water around any barrier. The Information society must be an "Open Society" composed of open systems. Information ecology is qualitatively based upon truth, intelligence and creativity. Deception, ignorance and confusion are the waste products in the information environment. Trust and responsibility are the cornerstones of community.
In coming years we will witness great turbulence, and we will make many mistakes as we come to terms with the inherent realities of information flow and knowledge building throughout the world. Information warfare will proliferate, terrorizing the popular mind. Creativity, imagination and the power of the human spirit is the only antidote. In this environment, healthy communities will have extended the application of the medical profession's oath: "do no harm."
1.4.4 Artificial Artful Intelligence
Within the broad framework of information theory, the arts are recognized for their communicative efficiency and transcendence. The processes of creativity, though elusive, have lead mankind through historical mazes of uncertainty. In an information based society, creative development may assume an economic value comparable to that of the military in an industrialized society. Having learned to recognize the complex ecological interdependence of living systems and the environment, creative individuals and artistic ventures now have an all- important opportunity to take full advantage of the great independence and freedom inherent in their calling, to take a more active personal responsibility to be proponents of a true sense of ecology; a cultural ecology.
Art has now become an almost indefinable term. It is the irony of the Information Age, that reflecting the crisis of meaning in our lives, the arts are being relegated to the marketplace of mass-appeal superficiality; having become popularly synonymous with entertainment, fashion and commercial product. At the same time, the richness and diversity of indigenous cultures around the world, is increasingly being valued for its scarcity and novelty, while being exterminated and replaced by the greed of progress and 'new world orders'.
If we take the incentive of applying our creative talents towards an ecologically considered future, we must be comprehensive. Society is in need of clear, intelligent, inspired visions. Such nonmaterial information resources constitute the true wealth and aspirations of a culturally secure community. As technological development shapes our concepts of the future, those artists working with new tools and processes, need to weigh the eco-cultural worth of their endeavors, against their merely being narrow-minded advocates of media based consumerism.
To call oneself 'artist', is either a grand conceit, or a bold decision to assume greater individual creative freedom. That freedom ought to carry with it, a responsibility for honesty and transformatively influencing intelligence. Artists, having chosen a freedom of aesthetic and intellectual vision and pursuit, are almost always at odds or in conflict with the prevailing social norm. This is precisely the artist's value. The artist is in a way, the personification of society's means of checks and balances; the promoter of individuality and nonconformity, amid the ever threatening systematization of an information-based world. Many artists and cultural institutions are working with deep, sincere integrity and dedication. Their perseverance and efforts must be encouraged.
1.5 Networks and Communities
Networks are not hierarchical. They are hyper-archical. The nature of networks is to be distributed, not centralized. Information networks are radically restructuring social organizations as they are applied to everyday life. Communities are being redefined, not simply as geographic locations, but based upon shared interests, values and objectives; now referred to as "virtual communities." Networks are evolving and affecting communications, commerce and beliefs beyond national and municipal control, and they are provoking us to consider and enable new forms and means of governance. Work and educational environments are in flux. They are also evoking a tension that will require our reassessment of the complex and delicate co-evolution between individuals and society. What ever happened to the promise of increasing leisure time?
Following are some primary categorizations of "First Mile" networks. Each requires its own appropriate wired or wireless technical solution, and spectrum/bandwidth allocation. Each must also be planned and implemented with specific geophysical, economic, policy and social considerations.
The Community (urban-rural): Regional Networks, Municipal Networks, Community Networks, Neighborhood Networks, Emergency Networks.
The Enterprise: Corporate Networks, University Networks, School, Library and Medical Networks, Special Networks.
The Home: Appliances, Sensors and Controls, Info-tainment Systems, Desktop Tele- Computing.
The Individual: Mobile Devices and PCS, Wearables, Implants.
1.5.1 Smart Communities (Smart about What?)
The goals of integrating and involving our communities with tele-technologies should not be to provide a technical fix for the complex issues facing our future. They ought to help us get a little smarter; smarter about our social, cultural, and economic futures. Smarter communities will be the foundation of a healthier, sustainable society.
With advocacy from federal and state government, "Smart Growth" initiatives are now being promoted in most US metropolitan areas, with particular emphasis focused upon mitigating the impacts of 'sprawl' and untenable development. In more and more communities, stakeholder planning initiatives are taking first steps to address complex realities such as: politically challenging demographic changes; increasingly harmful transportation impacts; critically contentious watershed resources allocation and distribution; air pollution looming evermore densely visible above the horizon; agricultural fields being consumed by sprawling subdivisions; and education that is not keeping pace with rapidly changing workplace needs. Most of these well intentioned, but largely reactive and partly vested-interest motivated planning processes have barely begun to consider the impacts and implications of continuing technological development, local-global internetworking of society, and the 'digital economy'.
Well designed public-private regional networks could make existing "Smart Growth" planning processes more participatory; help to more effectively consider and deploy new broadband infrastructure and online services in the regions; facilitate policy and investment strategies; and provide a better means to assess the impacts and opportunities brought about by changes over time. Networked mapping and modeling tools, offer the capability to provide an increasingly detailed geographic picture of the economic and social patterns and dynamics, and the associated impacts and implications of telecommunications deployment, business and job creation, educational enhancement, community development and policy. Civic partnerships can help to assure data and analysis credibility, accuracy and completeness, as well as safeguarding certain sensitive data. The realization of "Smart Communities" and "Smart Growth" must be actively integrated. It is time to truly demonstrate what we intend to be smart about.
The following list of Best Practices are representative of the objectives, techniques, processes and successful constructs of Smart Communities. Taken as general principles, they allow for uniquely local variation of implementation. Taking a whole systems approach, these Best Practices promote consideration of telecommunications within the context of a better educated, creative, healthy, economically vital, ecologically sustainable, democratic society. The truth is in the details, though. How will your community's telecommunications planning and implementation efforts practically compare with the following listed Best Practices?
Recognize and support key leaders, champions and visionaries, while actively involving diverse groups as creators, users and beneficiaries of tele-networked communities.
Formulate and grow working regional cooperation, collaboration and partnerships, while promoting the balance of healthy competition and choice.
Agree to share telecommunications infrastructure, technical standards, services, policies and understandings among regional partners, demonstrating open systems approach.
Develop dynamic, democratic organization and management processes to facilitate phased, long range telecommunications planning, investment and implementation.
Establish and regularly review phased project technical and social goals and objectives.
Link schools, government, libraries, healthcare and other public institutions with business and civic networks, sharing costs and applications development.
Invent new public-private partnering solutions and opportunities to build internetworked systems and services as contributors to community economic development.
Integrate tele-networking with transportation, energy, water, natural resources and comprehensive community planning.
Increase local efficiencies and productivity through networked information access, application and exchange.
Promote community conversation, conservation and lifelong learning.
1.5.2 Community Networks
Community Networks first emerged in the late 1970's, as an outgrowth of the period's alternative computing initiatives in the San Francisco Bay area, excitement about the new ARPANet, and concurrent development of the first personal computers. Most community networks, as we now know them, emerged since the early 1990s, as personal computers proliferated, as the Internet and the Web reached into the public sphere, and as it became clear that to benefit, localities would have to become involved in shaping their corner of our tele- networked society.
Many early community networks have not survived the rapid evolution of technology; social and economic reorganization; marketplace competition; non-profit volunteer burnout; and other human-scale effects of entropy. Like many of their boom-bust .com counterparts, they have important lessons to teach us. More resourceful community networks have and will continue to reinvent themselves, leveraging their technical, social or economic strengths, while addressing the evolving needs of their constituent locales.
Today, community networking ventures are working to promote a geographic sense of place amid the Internet's fostering of 'global-E-zation'. At their best, these real-world efforts are not just cookie-cutter replications of each other, though. They are site-specific and creatively pragmatic responses to existing local context. They are taking a variety of forms relative to their local circumstances, resources, needs and leadership, to include 'municipal information utilities', often led by government or energy companies; 'green field' real estate developments, wiring all with fiber to the home (FTTH) or fiber to the curb (FTTC); and joint venturing with other local media (radio and television), as broadband tele-media convergence pushes into the neighborhood and home, redefining our lives, sense of place and the nature of community. They are a critical means for mitigating the 'digital divide' disparities that will continue to trouble rural-urban society; a role beginning to be recognized by more government and private sector funding sources, as well.
Community networks are helping to provide access, education, economic aggregation, local information resources and content development, research and demonstration, networked planning, civic decision support, and computer systems recycling. They are economic incubators and techno-social testbeds, that ought to be invested in by a convergence of the large companies and government agencies that have the most to gain from the new information economy. If healthy and well conceived, they can continue to evolve to meet local needs, by fostering lifelong learning, setting examples for changing societal organization, stimulating new economic opportunities, and nurturing ecological intelligence.
1.5.3 Communities of Learning
Beginning almost a millennium ago, universities have been designed as small cities; communities of learning. As learning becomes everyone's occupation in the Information Society, internetworked small towns embody McLuhan's concept of Global Villages, and large urban centers may be called Universe-Cities.
To deny local civic institutions and partnerships from direct involvement in telecommunications infrastructure planning, decisionmaking and deployment, is to deny and undermine the potential impacts of telecommunications systems and services upon local economic and cultural development, lifelong learning, civic democracy, and ecological sustainability, the supposedly intended outcomes of a knowledge-based information society.
Communities that are contemplating, planning or implementing various approaches to their participation in this new society should not simply conduct cost-benefit analyses to determine short term return on investment and projected economic profitability. They must take the long view, and position themselves to become globally networked communities of learning. For more than any commercial or financial incentive, the real value in becoming tele- communities will be in the currently undervalued economic return from knowledge acquisition, application, creation and distribution.
Will we participate in steering contemporary society towards increasing and accelerating technological consumerism and apathetic dependency, or toward becoming a knowledge based society? The latter will require a profound investment in learning. This will undoubtedly be a most difficult position for communities to take and promote, but early experience indicates that not to do so will significantly increase the potential for future economic and social failure.
The advent of globally pervasive tele-presence will foster a real estate boom in new 'communities of desire', those places offering improved quality-of-life environments and opportunities, where people desire to live. We need to become ever more sensitive to the fragile ecology of these pioneering physical and virtual places as we begin to build Tele-Communities.
Social decentralization and technologically mediated interconnectivity will also force a reconsideration of rural and urban relationships. Today's disadvantaged rural towns and urban neighborhoods may have more in common than they differ, in the emerging landscape of social reorganization. What they lack as the result of post-industrial evolution, may be the seeds of their renewal if they have the desire to responsibly and intelligently move forward. The qualities of local scale, family and neighbor, backyard conversation, and rolled-up shirt sleeve self reliance, may help to mitigate the fragmentation, passivity and apathy brought about by centrally managed broadcast consumerism and forces of 'society as system' homogenization.
A great design and planning challenge and opportunity is at hand.
1.6 Global scale questions that impact tele-community development decisions
Is the net and its dependence on technological innovation and development, sustainable?
(According to a 1995 report by Preissler and Jaerisch, at the Society and Technology Research Group at Daimler-Benz AG, the production of one PC requires: 33,000 liters of water (=annual individual consumption of water in Western Europe); 5,000 kilowatts of electrical energy (+ 40-85 kilowatt hours, yearly use); and results in 640 lbs. of waste (some highly toxic).
("Dig more coal--the PCs are coming" by Peter Huber and Mark P. Mills, in the May 31, 1999 issue of Forbes Magazine, cites the following: "There are already over 17,000 pure dot-com companies (Ebay, E-Trade, etc.). The larger ones each represent the electric load of a small village. It takes 9 kilowatt-hours to etch circuits onto a square inch of silicon, and about as much power to manufacture an entire PC (1,000 kilowatt-hours) as it takes to run it for a year.")
At a time and in this world of increasing populations, accelerating change, and globally interconnected impacts, what are the affects of greater human activity in the material world, and increasing communications in the sensory environment? What are the implications and consequences of everyone having the opportunity to do something and to say something?
Are we going to experience a greater noise to signal ratio?
Will the Information Revolution unleash a possible 'tsunami' wave of evermore greedy, selfishly motivated, competitive commercialism and consumerism, that may dramatically undermine the most well-intended works for social and environmental benefit?
How can the Net be used to mitigate the impacts of population explosions; increasing consumption and waste; technological development and dependence; imbalances of water, air and energy resources distribution; pollution; environmental destruction; and warfare?
What is the appropriate, integrated technological, economic, political and cultural balance that may foster improved quality of life for the majority of the world's populations?
What are the restructurings and relationships between small towns, suburban neighborhoods and large urban centers in the new Information Society; and how might the virtual realm affect the physical nature of architecture, transportation, cultural expression, economic exchange and our hopes for preserving remaining wilderness and endangered species?
What are possible outcomes of our technological evolution, from electronic, to photonic, to bio-genetic systems; and what will the impacts of these continuing rapid changes be?
Might there be an anti-technology backlash if our current internetworking efforts do not fulfill their promise; and what can be done to avert such possibilities?
What are the pragmatic, yet entrepreneurially exciting steps that ought to be taken to intelligently and creatively build an Information Society from the top down and bottom up?
1.7 Local scale questions that impact tele-community development decisions
The nature of 'localism' is in question amid the powerful affecting forces of 'globalism'. Many of these have already been touched upon herein. Opportunities abound as well. Innovation and successful ventures depend on knowing where there are needs to be met, and knowing what questions to ask. Many questions do not have simple answers.
How will cyberspace affect landscape, architecture and the built environment?
What are the 'networked' impacts upon urban-rural migrations and suburban sprawl?
How might tele-work and tele-commuting affect transportation, energy use and leisure?
Do computers and the Internet really improve teaching and learning in our schools, and at what age do we introduce these tools?
Will computers and the Internet further the affects that television has had, in breaking up the traditional family and community structure; and if so what will this mean for society?
What are sound community economic development strategies in the 'new economy', and what will the affects be upon individual spending, saving, investment and taxes?
If the rapid and powerful changes we are witnessing are real and long term, how might cities and towns best proceed to assure economic and social stability, and improved quality of life for their citizens?
If the Information Revolution is to be truly revolutionary, it will, like all great revolutions throughout history, have to be a people's revolution. Are social institutions and organizations willing to accept the responsibilities and consequences of their current technological, political and economic actions in this regard?
2. Tele-Community Planning
The tele-mediation of society will dramatically change architectural, spatial, and urban- rural relationships; and may well increase and accelerate the disparities, complexities and noise that is already having significant negative impact on urban life.
If today's Information Revolution is as great a force for social transformation as forecast, than communities must embrace telecommunications education, planning and implementation with no less commitment than is being given to the issues of land use, transportation, energy, building and other basic community planning and development matters.
Few of us can yet envision the means by which the Internet, web pages, teleconferencing and other telecommunications media might practically make a difference for the present and future of our cities and towns. Most of our civic leaders are having to make decisions in this regard, based on barely being able to keep up with rapid technological change and ever limited financial resources. Planners and designers know that citizen participation is vital, but rarely inclusive. Long-term planning and decisionmaking is nearly impossible. What are the new opportunities for our currently increasing elderly populations, and what is their relevance for our children and their children's children These are central issues in the design of townscape. Beyond all of the good ideas and ideologies, what are practical next steps for us to take?
The following (incomplete) outline is intended as the basis for thought, discussion and implementation in the development of Tele-Communities.
Public and private sector partnerships (competition and cooperation)
Shared resources and standards agreements
Security, privacy and rights
Economic and educational development
Environmental impacts mitigation
Universal access, accessibility and opportunity
Creating a great good place
Technical, financial, and social systems
Optical fiber and wireless networks
Switching, routing and server systems
Computers and other digital technologies
Convergent tele-media services (voice, video and data)
City and regional plans and ordinances
Contracts and agreements with providers
2.4 Applications and Content
Government and civic services
Elections information and voting
Safety and emergency services
Transportation and other infrastructure
Energy and resources
Research and development
Health and social services
Banking and investment
Commercial and transactional services
Planning, mapping, simulation and decision support
Arts and culture
Neighborhood and community networks
Public and personal
Directories and search engines
2.5 Civic Engagement
Community networking initiatives and facilities
3. What Does the Future Hold?
3.1 Scenarios: Unforeseen Factors, Strategic Opportunities and Creative Possibilities
The earth-shaking events of recent weeks and their powerful continuing ripple effects are making all of us question our assumptions about the future. In retrospect, we may come to see that the cataclysmic events initiating the "nuclear era" and the "cold war" in 1945, and upon New York City in 2001, marked the beginning and end of an era, and that we are now embarking upon a very different and unforeseeable future. If we have learned anything from such tragedies, it is that the human spirit is inextinguishable. While our forces of destruction are evermore frightening, our abilities to create can be even more powerfully affecting and inspiring. Our hopes and intentions will determine our future actions. As others have said before, the Information Revolution must lead to a Knowledge Revolution. The Greek roots of the word 'democracy' means: people power. Our shared humane, local-global future calls for greater 'demosophia': people wisdom.
Keynote presentation to international city planners, Fukuoka, Japan, 2001.