Can Cities Survive the Net's Global Village?

By Rosenberg, Paul | The Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1999 | Go to article overview

Can Cities Survive the Net's Global Village?


Rosenberg, Paul, The Christian Science Monitor


Rather than simply looking at how the unfolding cybernetic age is likely to affect individuals, William Mitchell's "e-topia" promises a more intriguing approach: an examination of how it will shape urban life.

He begins with a set of three eulogies for urban life as it has been: a fireplace at the center of a house, a well at the center of a desert village, and finally a Buddha under the Bo tree.

Each scene notes major transformations of technology and social interaction with poetic brevity and suggests the kinds of change we are just entering into. The book itself, though suggestive and insightful in flashes, however, lacks the integrated vision this introduction suggests.

Unlike many writers on new technology, Mitchell avoids extremes of enthusiasm and is well-versed in historical examples that give his work ballast. Yet, if he avoids steering readers horribly wrong, he's lacking something to steer them wonderfully right. There are moments one feels moved by Mitchell's genuine appreciation of urban life, but they are fleeting, no match for his continuous fascination with the unfolding impacts of technology.

Ironically, one of the strongest aspects of "e-topia" is the frequency with which he points out the existence of multiple possibilities, choices that exist before us as groups joined either by geography or interest. Yet, because he rarely discusses what's needed to actualize these possibilities, he inadvertently increases our sense of powerlessness. …

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