Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

How do we find a balance?

Jacob George

Having read roughly half of this novel, I have already accumulated a pile of generally-related questions about William Mitchell's vision. The picture Mitchell paints is an "increasingly plausible" (p.70) world future where nearly all aspects of tangible reality must be redefined by the "infobahn." The ways and means for the distribution of information have changed dramatically with the coming of cyberspace, so much so that events as simple as reading a book or attending class are steadily becoming more abstract. Libraries exist on the web; teachers can teach from their laptops to students in separate continents, and so on. "We are all cyborgs now," the author claims (p.28), and according to his vision we are destined only to morph further into the mechanical world, losing touch with our "pre-cyborg existence." Few would argue that the majority of these technological innovations improve the quality of life, or at least build bridges of communication. My main question is, how do we find a balance between reaping the fruits of technology without losing the taste and uniqueness of each fruit?

In other words, there is a danger of losing all individuality, and beyond that losing touch with the physical world as we know it. Mitchell writes: "My representation on the Net is not an inevitability of biology, birth, and social circumstance, but a highly manipulable, completely disembodied intellectual fabriaction" (p.12). If all manners of experience (learning, communicating, social interaction) come through the infobahn, how are they distinguished from one another? I may sound old-fashioned, but I would just as soon feel the handshake of meeting someone new and look into their eyes with my own rather than wonder whose alias I am communicating with and what server they are on. Mitchell's vision may be provocative, but I have found so far that it has "provoked" a certain animosity towards a digital future. I would still rather curl up with a good "tree flakes encased in dead cow" than a laptop anytime. I guess I'm archaic - but still reading!

City of Bits discussion Cyberspace OV Main Overview for Website