Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Video-on-Demand, Telepresence, and Location

Steve Cook []

a. Mitchell makes a big deal about video-on-demand. However, from the news articles I've read, the Florida roll-out of v-o-d was a dismal failure, both commercially and technologically. Does this suggest that there's something lacking in the premise of v-o-d? With certain exceptions (Acme Video, e.g.) video stores don't generally strike me as inviting places, but apparently people prefer them. Browsing? F2F (to use Mitchell's terminology) interaction with clerks/customers? What does this say about the likelihood of omnipresent telecommuting/tele-everything that Mitchell's gushing about?

On the subject of telepresence, I know that the notion of accurate "national" time is largely an outgrowth of railroads. (Previously, in Britain, at least, the typical town had several large main clocks that provided a standard for -that local area-; the birth of rail meant that timetables had to be standard at every stop.) The steamship spurred technological advances necessary to calculate longitude. I was wondering through the first chunk of Mitchell's book what that sort of telepresence would do to the technology and the cultural understanding of place and time; Mitchell doesn't seem terribly concerned. (Would the lag from satellite transmissions make Australians telecommuting to North America seem vaguely unreal? What about time zones? Etcetera.)

Finally, I just wanted to drop a word about Mitchell's inclusion of the "on the net, no one knows you're a dog" cartoon. Sure enough, and Mitchell at least recognizes that this paradigm requires access. But he mentioned the South Side of Chicago as a place so dangerous (akin to a battlefield or a nuclear reactor) that nobody would want to go there "really." Now, the South Side (it's not clear whether Mitchell was referring to Boston or to Chicago) was one of his examples of the Real world's judgment-loaded aaddresses. But if it's so incredibly badass there that we have to don robot bodies to visit, doesn't that render the whole idea of the net equalizing everyone invalid? Technology here seems to be a mask for privilige, if not a justification (in the Toffler-Gingrich technoconservative mode). I'll rant about this in class (as well as some thoughts on "intelligent agents" and that I'm holding off on to see if they are covered in the second half of the book).