Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Digital Boonies and Virtual Museums

Matt Pillsbury

Digital Boonies

In Cit of Bits, Mitchell asks,

The American telephone system was set up to provide "universal service" reaching not only to profitable markets... but also to poor communities and to remote and sparsely populated areas.... But will the fast lanes of the information superhighway... be deployed to the same lofty goal? (18)

While our telecommunications (especially in the US, but other parts of the world are slowly following suit) are much more competitive corporations than the subsidized utilities of the past, the technology to distribute to those rural areas, and even the urban poor, is not as prohibitive as it once was. Much of the technology that the various elites of the world will have the side effect of making the more remote, and less privileged, parts of the world far easier (and thus, far more profitable) to wire.

Although Mitchell objects that "And there are only so many geosynchronous satellite `parking spaces' in the Clarke Circle." However, we're all ready starting to move towards low Earth orbit based communications satellites (the Iridium satellites are one example--there are others). Some wealthy people want to be able to use their cell phone or modem anywhere on the surface fo the Earth. But this technology will become cheaper, as all technology does. Further LEO satelites are cheaper to launch, and don't need to be at any "magic" altitude, like Clarke's 22,000 miles, to be effective, the way that GEO satelites do.

Mitchell sells this technology short.

Virtual Museums

Mitchell claims, "In a virtual museum digital images of paintings, videos of living organisms, or three dimensional and works of architecture... stand in for physical objects" (59). While this takes less space, makes crowds easier to control, and saves lots of money, I don't think it has the same potential for success that virtual libraries do.

The idea that text, as books, is independant of its medium, is already well established and familiar to us. Text can be reproduced almost perfectly, because it is so simple. We're used to seeing different copies of books, as well as editions in different typefaces and styles of binding. However, there is a very strong sense that, say, the Mona Lisa is a specific piece of canvas with specific oil paints on it.

Coffee table books are compact, cheap, and plentiful, but people still make a big deal out of going to the Louvre.

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