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Technology as Access to Forums

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 12, 1999
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Technology, particularly as it moves so quickly today, becomes a source of privilege. Those who know and have access become the "in" group. Those who are "clueless" and do not have access become the "out" group, with all the attendant political repercussions. Stacy Horn in Cyberville: Clicks, Culture, and the Creation of an Online Town, describes this with both candor and style in her description of the creation and growth of Echo. Wendy Grossman, in net.wars, describes the reaction of the WWW originals to the invasion by AOL.

There is a special language of technology which those who are "in" soon forget is special and come to speak only "techno speak," which the new and clueless cannot understand. Of course, the implication is that "this is simple English; which part don't you understand?" That's privilege, folks. Those of us who speak "techno speak" are in one class; the rest of you are in another class. And so you end up with the kind of story Wendy Grossman tells of AOL's assault on the News groups. And then, in response you end up with a lot of rules of how to behave, a lot of people talking down to other people as though they were, well, clueless, and a lot of miscommunication. This is a bit like making all lawyers take an ethics course and exam after Nixon's Watergate break-in.

The rules are an attempt to protect the forums from the ones who are not "in," who do not belong. Unfortunately the rules are ritualized and made into "rules" before any of us have the chance to understand the situation sociologically and before any real community gets to develop. So then we complain about auto-poietic non learning subsystems. And we're right. But being right doesn't necessarily help with the forum dilemma.

Another major issue we'll want to discuss on this topic is what the legislature is doing to the E-rate, which was the budgeted system to hardwire all our schools and libraries so that the poor and the children would have access. That money is now being taken from the FCC, and that means that many schools are not wired, and may not be in the near future. What does that do to access and privilege? Legitimacy?

These are some of the issues that will concern us.