(I wrote this before my Twitter exchange with Howard Rheingold, below.) In this first week of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course I’m taking through Coursera, one of the assigned readings is a 1996 piece by Howard Rheingold, “For Some, the Net is a Lifeline.”
I’m a Rheingold fan. He’s the fourth person I ever followed on Twitter and his Delicious feed is pretty cool too. He curates, comments on, and delights in many things that interest me also–connections between social media and social justice, education, and gardening.
I believe he may have a utopian view of the web, sure. He has long seen its promise for democratizing our world, as “For Some” indicates. I don’t see his utopian view as driven by a blind technological determinism, though. (By technological determinism I mean the idea that technology shapes culture and world.) As I understand him, it’s not so much that Rheingold looks at a tool and sees utopia springing from it. He sees the utopia we deserve, or perhaps the one we are already standing in and just haven’t noticed, and reaches for the tools that will let all of us take our rightful places in a better world.
But who am I to say what Rheingold said or believes? We live in 21st century, interconnected world. I went to Twitter to tell Howard Rheingold my thoughts in a nutshell, and ask the favor of his reply. When I saw his profile and cover photo, I thought we might not be far off on this utopia thing. Or is that just what it’s like to live in California? Maybe he’ll tell me his view.
Update: Howard Rheingold did reply on Twitter, directing me to a piece in which he wrote pretty specifically and thoroughly about technological determinism and his own history and love affair with the virtual world: “Technology 101: What Do We Need to Know About the Future We’re Creating?” I will need to give it a thorough read.