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CPSR Newsletter Vol 18, No. 3
The CPSR Newsletter
Volume 18, Number 3 Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Summer 2000

Shaping the Network Society by Peter Day
& Doug Schuler

Are citizens actors--or just part of the audience?

The city of Seattle, known around the world for the WTO protests of 1999, has once again provided the locus of social tensions. Indeed many of the same tensions that sparked the confrontations on Seattle's streets last year underscored the importance of CPSR's "Shaping the Network Society: The Future of the Public Sphere in Cyberspace" symposium, the seventh of the "Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing" (DIAC) series. Bringing together artists, community organizers, researchers, theorists, activists, policy makers and citizens from around the world, the symposium, like the anti-WTO demonstrations, aimed to put citizenship, social inclusion and democracy in the network society on the public agenda. This time, however, the work was at another level. The approach that we used was based on discussion and deliberation and focused on communication systems. At the same time it was--and is--our hope, not unlike that of the protesters, to have an important and abiding influence on the shape of the future. (Please see David Silver's wonderful symposium report "Setting E-Commerce Aside: A Conference Review" in this newsletter.)

The processes of globalization, which ultimately gave rise to the Seattle protests, are increasingly reflected in the developing global communication system. Despite our excitement about the social potential of such technological developments, we cannot afford to be glib or casual about them. The danger of determinism is ever present and although there are currently many more questions currently than there are answers, the questions must be raised right now or we will be too late to help shape the rules that will guide the new systems. What will these new systems be used for? What rules will underpin them and how will these rules be established? What new collective movements will emerge? How might global issues like the environment and trade be addressed using new global networks and new global collectivities and identities? How might cultural themes and values change? What new forms for artistic expression will be developed? How might ordinary people, from everyday communities across the world, participate in these social developments? This last question raises the most critical issue from our point of view: Are people active designers or actors, or are they merely spectators in a vast drama whose architects are out of reach? Deep, penetrating discussions and social experiments are needed if such important questions are to be answered. continued...

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