Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Notions of the Global Village

Zachariah Boyle

Mitchell's City of Bits struck me as similar to the book Utopia, this time the ideal future filtered through the gaze of a 20th century optimist.

I felt that Mitchell's bases were marvelously covered. At first, that is. He does cover every aspect of society well in its digital makeover. For example, even down to the local pizza parlor -- wired up the the internet and accessible by computer by the hungry consumer. It would sound like an ideal future, but I detected an undercurrent of that constant human motivator, the ultimate goal: leisure. People have worked at it for centuries, and though Mitchell is quick to point out that even he does work (albeit it all from his laptop), his future paints a picture of a person sitting in an armchair during their free time.

However, his optimism is fresh. In the bygone era, doctors paid visits to people's homes, milkmen and grocery boys brought meals to one's door, and work may have been a short walk from your home. With the advent of the expanding cities, freeways and "bedroom communities," a lot of out time is spent commuting and driving from one errand to the next. Being a native southern Californian, I readily know the irritations of driving from place to place. Perhaps Mitchell's future will remedy these problems. As he says, :itinerant healers are returning. They will ride the information superhighway." Working at home, as well, would bring the fragmented American family back together.

I think it would be safe to say that Mitchell resides on one extreme side of the cyber-future. On one hand, you have the hopeful perspective seen in Wired magazine, Popular Science and writers such as Mitchell in which the future is flawless, harmonic and full of goodwill in its dependence on technology. On the other is a decayed situation conjured up by many cyberpunk writers in which the internet, the matrix, etc. has depersonalized people and society, turning it into a decadent mush of irony and lack of simplicity. I feel that the real future lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

Should the web go from the tool that it is today to the girders supporting our society, we shall see. Already many people of our world are able to be contacted through that ubiquitous 'one of many names'--should it grow larger and larger (which, of course, it is now), undoubtedly the small little villages that already exist on the net will grow, too, and include aspects of our real society. Also which, of course, is already happening.

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