Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

The Man on the Moon, Albania, and Other Rants

Michelle Neuringer

In the true spirit of a class web, I'll contribute to the discussion by addressing a question posed in Laura Lee's Some Questions about Digitally Mediated Environments instead of solely commenting on Mitchell. (As I progressed through Mitchell's chapters, I kept replacing the ideas which I intended to question/add to the course web with new the time I reached the end--the knee-bone, I-bahn propaganda--I was so frustrated with the process that I no longer wished to write anything directly about City of Bits).

Laura asks:

In a digital age, how will institutions or corporations demonstrate their power if not by the visual and physical presence of actual towers or buildings that give form to power?

I think that power--and much of "reality"--increasingly becomes a

matter of belief and a matter of trust as advances in technology are made. Since the actual implementation of these technologies are hidden or not understood by the general public, most people have little ability or presence of mind to question new technologies before they accept them. As a result, those who are knowledgable, along with their creations, gain power. Can we honestly say that we have landed a man on the moon? How do we know that a scene was not merely produced at a Hollywood soundstage? If we accept that we've actually been in space we give power to something beyond our scope because we blindly trust it to be true. If a trained physician prescribes a new kind of technological treatment to her sick patient, the patient will most likely accept the treatment if she knows that it will cure her. This acceptance grants power to the physician. If the public chooses to believe that the US is at war and there is a satellite somewhere in an Albanian village (a la Wag the Dog), only the trust that technology is working to bring us a real news broadcast is required. On a related note, institutions and corporations today establish web presences for themselves, and when surfing the internet the public most often judges the prestige and caliber of such companies based upon the appearance of these pages--what kinds of graphics, scripting, forms, etc are used-- and uses such pages as a basis for comparing companies. In the internet marketplace, a corporation can gain power by using attractive colors and fancy HTML tags-- the cyberspace equivalent of towers or buildings that give form to power.

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