Steven Solomon (ssol) Sun 29 Oct 00 09:48
I have a feeling that as the medium (hardware/software/bandwidth) improves to better engage the senses, moving beyond two-dimensional displays and the pounding of the tips of your fingers, we'll see more of the civility of the "real" world arrive on the net. The net will be where we live, much of the day, and we'll no longer feel quite like we're operating from a safe distance when tempted to flame. Let's just hope there's some civility left to transfer onto the net. As to the digital divide issue, I have a feeling that we'll see the same sort of thing that happened with urban teenagers and beepers, once the right form-factor, price, and level of inutitive usability is delivered in the form of a personal computing/telecom device -- at least in the developed world. One day, a few businessmen, doctors and criminals had beepers. Next thing you know, every kid is sporting a $39 telecom toy. It'll be interesting to see what happens in places like India and China, now designing web-mediated distance education programs for their populations. We're about to see what happens over the span of a generation, as a couple billion people who've never made a phone call, poke their heads into cyberspace.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Oct 00 10:18
The interesting part about all of these speculations, Steve, is that those of us who are fortunate enough to live for another ten years will see which way many of these questions are resolved.
Steven Solomon (ssol) Sun 29 Oct 00 12:33
Indeed, and much more that is unanticipated. I saw Andy Lippman (sp?) from the MIT Media Lab speak seven years ago. I think it was the early spring of 1993. He proposed to the crowd that he was about to make some bold predictions about the future, Yr 2000. The funny thing was, he got just about everything right; PDAs, eBooks, text to speech/speech to text, personal news and publishing, synthespians, were all mentioned, as I recall. I don't recall him ever mentioning the word Internet, and this presentation happened to be about the time that Mosaic and the graphical web was about to emerge from of UI - Urbana.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Oct 00 13:22
Internet caught Lippman, Gates, et. al by surprise because the ARPAnet was 20 years old when the Internet started exploding beyond the scientific, academic, and computer science communities. One thing about this hoo-ha about Al Gore. When I interviewed executives at baby Bells, NTT, France Telecom, BT, in 1992, they were either unaware of or dismissive of the Internet. Gore made a speech to the National Press Club around the end of 1992, and suddenly all these telecom execs around the world started paying attention. Wellite Roger Karraker wrote a cover article for me in 1990, when I was editor of Whole Earth Review, about "Highways of the Mind," which credited a lot of Gore's early work, pushing legislation to support the build-out of the Internet infrastructure.
Katherine Hafner (kmh) Mon 30 Oct 00 07:06
Yes, Gore got unfairly bashed about that at the time. No one, not even Vint Cerf (not yet a popular icon) at the time promoted the potential of the Internet as he did. Howard, did the explosion of the Internet take you by surprise?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Mon 30 Oct 00 18:50
Katie, the honest answer would be that I don't remember! I recall being convinced that online communication was destined to expand far beyond the enthusiasts of 1992 (when I wrote the first edition), but the way the Internet and the Web transformed so many aspects of culture and society was certainly beyond my expectations. When I first saw Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly Associates demo the Web at the Whole Earth offices (before Mosaic -- I think he used Cello or Viola) -- all I knew was: 1. This is the future! 2. I wanna get in on it! When HotWired started, we were all very aware that we were at the very beginning of a new medium. Combining multimedia editorial content with many to many conversation was, and remains, very exciting to me. Too bad there's no business model to sustain quality culture like the late Electric Minds and the still standing Salon.com. I had hoped that a thousand flowers would bloom in that regard.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 30 Oct 00 22:39
Well, in spite of its immense size, the Web is still young. Still much unrealized potential brought to us by as-yet undreamed-of technology. It's such an exciting time!
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 31 Oct 00 07:43
Recently I re-read an old topic from the WELL Virtual Communities conference, the conference where you shared thoughts and adventures on the WELL while writing The Virtual Community. This particular topic in <vc.> is one which was put up on the Web when the WELL got its server and started putting up user and community-related pages. The formatting is primative; as a sample of WELL content it's ridiculous, but as a snapshot in time, these topics are fascinating. They are at http://www.well.com/conf/vc The one I stumbled across was number 21, oldtimers and newusers as of 1992, a dynamic which predictably persists and is one of the ways in which sustained dialog is *so* like a small town or an organization. But I just read the other two, and they are each fascinating snapshots of the era when your book was first gestating, Howard. I was thinking I'd ask for a comment on how things have changed, but I will just leave it at a pointer. At the time these when up, each user was asked for permission and there are a couple of paraphrased posts from a user or user who said no, but in general people agreed, even though the topics were actually created in an atmosphere where the assumption was of a small "town" having access to read the posts. That was bold, in context, though there is nothing wildly personal or unusual.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Tue 31 Oct 00 07:51
Thanks for the pointer, Gail. I will look at it later today.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Tue 31 Oct 00 19:16
I had not read those old topics in years, Gail. Just went through the entiree 1992 "Is the Well a Community" topic. Casey. I miss her intelligence, her skepticism, and the back of her hand. Ironic to read all of her challenges to the notion of the WELL as community in light of all the testimonials that surfaced after she died -- how much time she quietly spent helping newcomers feel welcome and find their way around. I was struck by this, too:
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Tue 31 Oct 00 19:17
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Tue 31 Oct 00 21:15
Topic 7: The WELL as a community #164: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat, Jul 4, '92 (13:14) 28 lines This passage struck me, while I was thinking about the heinous savageries of online warfare and the real warmth and healing of events like the Figtex testimonials. "Communities...have a history -- in an important sense they are constituted by their past -- and for this reason we can speak of a real community as a 'community of memory,' one that does not forget its past. In order not to forget that past, a community is involved in retelling its story, its constitutive narrative, and in so doing, it offers examples of men and women who have embodied and exemplified the meaning of the community. These stories of collective history and exemplary individuals are an important part of the tradition that is so central to a community of memory. "The stories that make up a tradition contain conceptions of character, of what a good person is like, and of the virtues that define such character. But the stories are not all exemplary, not all about successes and achievements. A genuine community of memory will also tell painful stories of shared suffering that sometimes creates deeper identities than success....And if the community is completely honest, it will remember stories not only of suffering received but of suffering inflicted -- dangerous memories, for they call the community to alter ancient evils. The communities of memory that tie us to the past also turn us toward the future as communities of hope. They carry a context of meaning that can allow us to connect our aspirations for ourselves and those closest to us with the aspirations of a larger whole and see our own efforts as being, in part, contributions to a common good." Robert N. Bellah, et al, "Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life," 1985
Katie Hafner (kmh) Wed 1 Nov 00 10:14
That's quite a quote, and so well suited to the Well. Howard, one interesting thread throughout this entire topic so far has been the Well as a reference point. It seems to come up over and over again as a crucial reference point for so many people and in so many contexts. Why do you think that is?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Wed 1 Nov 00 10:24
Good questions. Usenet and the BBS culture predated the WELL, and certainly there are hundreds of thousands of online social networks. It's a touchstone for me because of my long association with it. And the glib answer is that it all goes back to Stewart Brand's strategy of not spending money on marketing, but giving free accounts to journalists. It became the earliest online watering hole for journalists who were the first to sense something happening online; c.f., the Media conference. I explored many different communities when I wrote the first edition, and was actively involved in founding the River, Hotwired Threads (wasn't there long), Electric Minds, and Brainstorms (a BBS-like community described at http://www.rheingold.com/community.html). And the WELL is such a rich cauldron of examples.
Katie Hafner (kmh) Thu 2 Nov 00 11:22
Well, this interview is drawing to a close, so I thought I'd drift off topic completely and ask you about THE BOOK BUSINESS. You're written several over the years, and earlier in the interview you alluded to dramatic changes in the trade publishing world. Is it all the consolidation that has made it such a dismal business for authors? Or is it the fact that no one reads any longer (is that even true?) And are you working on a NEW book?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 2 Nov 00 13:49
When the first edition was published, Bantam, Doubleday, Dell, Random House, and Knopf were very different outfits. Now they are all part of Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann, Newscorp, Time-Warner, and Disney are the main players, I believe, and the little guys are disappearing. The American Bookseller's Association annual convention was a huge event, with tens of thousands of booksellers and sales reps. Now, the only buyers who count are Borders and Barnes and Noble. The "midlist" book, the $25,000-$50,000 advance, seems to be an endangered species. I wouldn't have even tried to talk to a trade publisher about reprinting The Virtual Community. MIT Press gave me a tiny advance, but they will market the book to University bookstores, and keep the book in print, which was my goal. My agent only wants to hear about blockbusters. So, yes, from my point of view, things have changed. Thanks, Katie. It's been fun.
Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Thu 2 Nov 00 14:10
Thanks Katie and Howard (and others) for a thought-provoking conversation! I enjoyed it.
Alan Fletcher (af) Thu 2 Nov 00 16:21
Late-comer to the topic, but thanks for a good, long read. btw, Roger Karraker's article is "Highways of the Mind or Toll Roads Between Information Castles?" and thanks to www.google.com, can be found at <http://www.well.com:70/0/Communications/Highways_of_the_Mind.txt>
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 2 Nov 00 16:39
<scribbled by cdb Thu 2 Nov 00 17:22>
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 2 Nov 00 17:23
oops, hurried replies lead to some stunning gaffes once in a while. Thanks, Howard, for joining us here in Inkwell.vue. And thanks to you too, Katie, for asking such great questions!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 2 Nov 00 20:52
Yeah, thanks! This was a great one!
Steven Solomon (ssol) Fri 3 Nov 00 06:30
Truly! Thanks to all.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 3 Nov 00 09:22
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 3 Nov 00 09:28
Yes, this was fun. Howard, thanks for reading back through the old topics, it was good to share a memory of that good old bundle of contradictions, casey, who had a lot to do with my sticking around originally. I want to testify that your taped reading from the book is good listening too.. it's http://www.salon.com/audio/nonfiction/2000/10/27/rheingold2/ and right now it's at number 17 on the most downloaded Salon Audio mp3 files. Katie, I loved your presense in shepherding this conversation. Thanks, everybody.
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 3 Nov 00 12:07
And let me add my thanks, also! Please feel free to stick around if additional thoughts should occur to you that you'd like to communicate.
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