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Mitchell W. (ed), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999. Type: Book (026213355)
Date Reviewed: Nov 1 1999

This book is part of an ongoing discourse on the interrelationships between cyberspace and urbanism. It is derived from the discussion and debates that greeted the publication, both online and on paper, of the author’s City of bits: space, place, and the infobahn [1] in 1994. In particular, the 1997 Massachusetts Institute of Technology colloquium “High Technology and Low-Income Communities” was influential.

The author’s goal is to sidestep the well-known trap of naive technological determinism that ensnares both digiphiles and digiphobes, and to renounce the symmetrical forms of fatalism proposed by booster-technocrats and curmudgeonly techno-scoffers. Rather, the purpose of the book is to begin, instead, to develop a broad, critical, action-oriented perspective on the technological, economic, social, and cultural reality of what is going on around us, right now. It accomplishes this through ten chapters of bulleted notes and observations:

  • March of the Meganets

  • Telematics Takes Command

  • Software: New Genius of the Place

  • Computers for Living In

  • Homes and Neighborhoods

  • Getting Together

  • Reworking the Workplace

  • The Teleserviced City

  • The Economy of Presence

  • Lean and Green

There is also a prologue, “Urban Requiem”; an annotated bibliography; and an index of names.

Strategies are proposed for the creation of cities that not only will be sustainable but will make economic, social, and cultural sense in an electronically interconnected world. Mitchell calls, for instance, for the creation of “e-topias”--lean, green cities that work smarter, not harder. The basic design principles are boiled down to five points: dematerialization, demobilization, mass customization, intelligent operation, and soft transformation.

The book is short and interesting. It is not a textbook, but could be used in a course on computer applications in broad terms, or in courses seeking future visions. It is thought-provoking. For instance, I wondered about the interrelationships between cyberspace and urbanism in terms of Paul M. Pair’s observation that education is fast becoming a spot on the wall in the big picture of what is going on. For instance, he has observed that we have come to a time when high school teachers cannot trust parents as to the behavior, ethics, and trust of the students sent to them, and, correspondingly, parents cannot trust the teachers their children are entrusted to. I suppose the key is, as always, who will control the dematerialization, demobilization, mass customization, intelligent operation, and soft transformations.

It will certainly will be an interesting time and an interesting activity for problem solvers, hopefully those guided by a keen sense of ethics and finding a better way.

Reviewer:  J. Fendrich Review #: CR122596 (9911-0837)
1) Mitchell, W. J. City of bits: space, place, and the infobahn. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994.
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