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Technorealism

As a Canadian watching the digital revolution unfold south of the border I feel somehow separated from it all.

This country’s government should have all schools wired by the end of 1998, the populace has always accepted a degree of government regulation, and the Canadian Direct Marketing Association has imposed stringent limits on the collection of private information and the dissemination of unsolicited email. It’s not perfect but Canada’s traditional, small-c conservatism has help stem the Digital Hype.

Yes, a slight backlash is underway as more people come online. Commercial interests squeeze out some of the more unique Web sites, and the American government has been drawn into an age-old industry feud (Microsoft vs. Netscape and Sun).

But as more people (and companies) come online the Digital Hype grows louder and half-truths soon become both clichés and the gospel truth.

It’s an easy to fall into the trap. I worked at a magazine dedicated to cutting through that noise and finding out what it all means. In time, it too, fell from those admirable goals in part because of the perceived demand for a constant flow of information and, in a strange was, through the hype the Net itself produces.

Netizens have been portrayed, thanks partly through John Perry Barlow’s A Cyberspace Independence Declaration, as a libertarian Utopia. Most of the netizens I’ve come across in my five years online have been more grounded, more wary. Yes, the thrill and potential is felt by all, but maybe — just maybe — the technology can be abused.

Maybe it’s time to look at the Net in the same way we always have, but just broaden that view. Netizens have long said, when online, the Net becomes an extension of them. Maybe it’s time we realize now that society has moved online, the Net has become an online extension of that, with all it’s advantages and disadvantages.

A number of people I have long respected have come to together and proposed this idea. They call it “technorealism.” Their eight basic principles may be taken by some as heretical, but I think represent some of the soundest ideas alive on the Net today.

Decide for yourself.