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
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
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
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
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
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
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
1.3.2 Last 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
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
Broadband systems include:
DSL (various flavors)
Ethernet / Coaxial Cable (10-40 Mb)
DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite); and LEO (Low Earth Orbit)
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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,
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Tele-community planner, environmental designer, media artist and
cultural activist. Executive Director of the Davis Community Network
and Yolo Area Regional Network, Davis, CA, 1996-. Board Member of
the Association for Community Networking, 2000- , and U.S. Steering
Committee member of the Global Community Networking Congress. Committee
Member, National Research Council-CSTB "First Mile" Broadband
Study / Report, 1999-2001. Consultant to the California Smart Communities
Project, 1996-2000. Founding Director of the Telluride Institute
and InfoZone Program, Telluride, Colorado, 1985-1996. Governing
Board of Colorado Advanced Technology Institute's Rural Telecommunications
Program, 1993-1996. Web author of the "Rural Telecommunications
Investment Guide." Speaker, writer and consultant on tele-community
development initiatives in the US, Europe, Latin America and Japan.
Richard Lowenberg's telecommunications and community
development projects have received federal, state and local government
grants; university and corporate support; and international media
coverage and recognition.
Richard Lowenberg's body of media arts, installations
and performance works, have pioneered in areas of art, science and
technology integration, with a primary focus on the social implications
of the "Information Revolutions". Works have been exhibited
and presented internationally since 1968, including at: the Whitney
Museum, NYC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; NASA; Venice Biennale,
Italy; Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria; Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf;
Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; MIT/List Center
for the Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Richard Lowenberg's virtual studio, RADLab, is located