Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Without Batting an Eye

Elizabeth Rodwell

Mitchell wrote in Chapter 4: " Salesperson, customer, and product supplier no longer have to be brought together in the same spot; they just have to establish electronic contact." Ok, that made me think of how different cultures respond to modernity; Mitchell mentions the layout of a famous French department store. In France, where the open market is of value, where interaction between neighbors and countrymen is emphasized to a greater degree than the U.S. and where students generally don't use computers (at least in the school I visited. Purportedly, it is extremely rare for students to be required to type papers and most children in the region (Alsace-Lorraine) don't see email until the university) can it be expected that the "digital revolution" will prevail eventually? I guess what I'm asking is this: Are there parts of the world that are to be left out of all this? Are they expected to eventually come around in order to keep up with us? Technology is in the hands of the elite, especially in regions such as Alsace...although it's an elite not always based on socioeconomic power. Is it possible that cyber culture will completely bypass a large portion of the world's population... and I'm talking so-called "1st world countries"...the biggies? Maybe the hospitals and prisons will get the technology but what about the average person? Are we to split into those who agree to subscribe to it all and those who won't?

And, I guess along the same principle.. Mitchell wrote (Ch. 3) that cyberwaves, bandwidth etc. are becoming concentrated in the hands of the few. Is (access to the newest) technology becoming increasingly difficult for the average person or is it becoming more accessible, really?

Mitchell also writes:

Interactive television will replace the telephone. You enter a virtual pizza parlor and see a menu of available toppings. As you choose, a displayed pizza is modified accordingly and the price is tallied. When you are satisfied, the nearest pizzeria is notified and the order speeds to your door. (ch 5)

Ok, THIS made me think: if computers are becoming obsolete faster than most people can afford to replace them, than isn't the above privilege not going to be wide-spread? How are we going to afford all this? Is it going to become cheaper? That's my question. I keep asking it in different forms but I'm dying to know... won't we all always be stuck at different levels?

Hmmm a virtual university? (Ch. 4). Would we all be saving so much money not having to send our kids to school that we could afford the necessary supplies to set up our end of the "V.U"? Would there be virtual scholarships and could they ship the equipment to my house?

What about the health risks of never having any reason to go out? What about the psychological impact of not having to talk to people live? It'll never take over! Mwah ha ha.

Working via computers: Look at what happened to Homer Simpson.

Spoke Mitchell:

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.

(to have them work at home). Um... what about the extra electricity needed to power all those computers? Electricity isn't always environmentally friendly (ok, ok).

He also writes: "And, as networks and information appliances deliver expanding ranges of services, there will be fewer occasions to go out. " I'd like to shudder at that.... and am curious as to what he thinks. Gotta take the good with the bad? I guess it's our choice re: how much we take.

Response: If you think about it, everyone dreams of snatching up the most desirable URL. (Except those who have them.) So it's all like real estate- is geocities like living in the ghetto and are the hackers who run the service like Big Brother? ("And it mattered where you came from-the tree-lined pleasances of South Yarra or the grubby streets of Brunswick, Sydney, or the bush.") Hey, geocities is free.... after you buy a computer, buy a phone line....etc etc.

Why in the net version of his story does he have a link to Prodigy and Compuserve and not AOL? Favoring the little guys?

Mitchell often reports new technological ideas... such as: "The artist Krzysztof Wodiczko has gone a step further by suggesting that the physically homeless and displaced might carry electronic "alien staffs" personal device that connect them to cyberspace and sometimes construct public representations of self by providing information to others about who they are and where they come from. These are public rather than personal digital assistants." without explaining how. First off, can he get away with not doing that in the actual paper version of the book? The net links you to the man who thought of the idea himself. Why doesn't Mitchell attempt to help us understand how these things are going to happen? Just that he doesn't know...? Elizabeth Rodwell


Increasingly, communities and their planners will have to consider tradeoffs between investing scarce resources in creating or upgrading parks and community buildings and putting the money into effective electronic networks.

My question is, exactly why would that be?

Overall, it's really hard to tell what Mitchell's take on all of this is. He seems to play the part of the neutral reporter, while his work details cybersolutions to today's problems, both problematic and wonderful. Most likely he's for some of it and against some of it, just as the reader probably is. Is he leaving it up to us to decide?

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