Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Cultural and Political Presumptions of InfoTech

Kelly Maudslien

1. In Chapter 4, Mitchell discusses telecommuting, the relocation of workers to the home after communications systems make face to face contact unnecessary. Although it is uncertain whether this would save companies money, it may ease environmental problems: "The OPEC oil crisis of 1973 motivated some serious study of the economics of home-based telecommuting... The federal Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, which required many businesses with a hundred or more employees to reduce the use of cars for commuting, provided further impetus" (p. 96). The social impacts of telecommuting are also uncertain. Conservatives hope that working at home will create " 'greater community stability'... a cozy return to the days of the loom in the living room, the farmhouse dairy, and merchants who lived above the shop" (p.102). Liberals fear that the electronic cottage "removes the possibility of finding any refuge from the workplace, encourages long and irregular work hours, impedes organization of workers and regulation of workplace conditions, and puts women right back into the home" (p. 102). However, it also seems that telecommuting would make the workplace more equitable for women, since child care would no longer be an issue. What are the possible impacts of home-based work on women, the family, working conditions, and the environment?

2. If virtual and physical public space are to merge with the proliferation of electronic information kiosks in public places such as libraries and laundromats, Mitchell argues that such areas of public cyberspace must be accessible to all and that "people must feel secure and comfortable -- not subject to hostility, abuse, or attack. And more subtly, but just as importantly, the cultural presumptions and cues that are built into an interface must not discourage potential users" (p. 128). As an example he suggests interfaces in both English and Spanish. What other steps might be taken to ensure user comfort? In what ways do communication systems already contain "cultural presumptions"?

City of Bits discussion Cyberspace OV Main Overview for Website