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|This Memoir is about two friends of mine who have influenced my relationship to this technology and my view of the world. One of these friends is among the youngest members of the MOIA discussion list, at twenty-two years of age. The other is in his late sixties and (supposedly) retired from IBM. Their names are Demetrius d'Alessandro and Charles Hallock, respectively. The former is normally called Dmitri, the latter Charlie. Dmitri works for Old Glory now, building Web sites up in Connecticut. Charlie is out in Monterey, California, enjoying his family and convincing himself that he won't go on another speaking tour.
I have known Dmitri, well --- all of his life. I remember when he was just a twinkle in his father's eye, as his parents met at a party I threw twenty-six years ago. They were housemates of mine when I was in college.
Charlie and I met through his first wife, when I was in high school. She taught at my school, but was never one of my teachers. We just sort of gravitated toward each other and became good friends. I have known Charlie now for thirty years. He has been with IBM the entire time.
In retrospect, it strikes me as not entirely surprising that I should have gone on to become a Thomas J. Watson Fellow. The association was already there.
This time last autumn I was visiting Dmitri's family while trying to land a flat in Manhattan, fresh from leaving San Francisco where I had lived for most of this decade. So we had a lot of time to talk about the Web, computer technology, and the world around us. He was re-designing the Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant decommissioning Web site at the time, as an intern.
It did not surprise me when he posted a quote from the Sacrilege Millennium Chronicles pages to the discussion list for our consideration. I'm sure a number of list members, because they were busy, or because these were the musings of a twenty-four year old, or because the site expressed a discomforting anxiety about the Y2K issue and the future of our society, brushed off the place and its thoughts after a single click. I didn't.
I thought back to Charlie Hallock, then in his mid-thirties, willingly listening to my views about the world when I was sixteen....
|"...because we're lonesome." - KURT VONNEGUT
It's easy for "adults" to stop listening to the views of young people because most adults think: "Been there, thought that."
Perhaps it is possible to be right and wrong at the same time.
dubya-dubya-dubya DeepThoughts dot com
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|It's easy for "adults" to stop listening to the views of young people because most adults think: "Been there, thought that." I used to see it all the time when I was young. I'd watch older people already preparing to tell me how I didn't know enough, hadn't lived enough, hadn't experienced enough to know what the hell I was talking about or feeling. It used to drive me batty.
That was one of the reasons I respected Charlie Hallock. I never saw that impatience to contradict me or dismiss my thinking in his eyes when we talked. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say, and usually reflected on what I had said before responding to it. That was so cool!
So as I read about the anxiety, the real ponderous effort that the young man at the Millennium Chronicles had put into conclusions --- or lack of them --- and some of the responses of other younger people on his "Shared Thoughts" board I tried to digest the ideas presented. More significantly, for me, I tried to wrap my own feelings around what these people were trying to grapple with and internalize.
It's only natural to be concerned about the future, and all the apocalyptical social baggage that we humans put around the issue of the Millennium only makes that concern more poignant. I found it interesting in the fourth or fifth Chronicle when the young man asks himself if the Internet itself is a spawn of the Devil, a destructive evil force separating families and communities. I have seen that same question put in less dramatic and mystical terms on most of the major newspapers here in the United States and abroad. The whole "Internet Addiction" movement springs from the same basic philosophical questioning...
At issue here, in the questions these people are trying to address as they move toward their own "adulthood," are questions of spirituality. Spiritual questions, verging close to the dreaded questions of religion and purposefulness and values as they do, are ones which those of us older and involved in this technology are uncomfortable with in public discourse.
And validly so. While we have personal and private ethical concerns, and positions we have hard come by, we do and should take a stance which separates those concerns and positions from our professional conduct and interactions... up to a point. That is, we need not bring our beliefs about religion and the universe to the table, but we must and should bring our ethics and social responsibility with us at all times.
|When I was in my twenties, the technology which provoked this type of spiritual questioning and appeared to hold apocalyptic potential for mankind was nuclear power. I found it ironic therefore that Dmitri in his twenties should be working on a Web project, as an intern, about the safe disposal of one of my own generation's bogeymen.
And I find it understandable that this technology should look every bit as frightening and dangerous to lots of people --- old and young --- as nuclear power looked to those outside of Physics/Military-Industrial/Governmental priesthoods of my own youth. Even for young people intimately involved with technology, the networked economy and grasped by a love-hate relationship with it, as I sometimes feel Dmitri must be, there is more than enough to fear both about the Brain Lord priesthood in charge of it and its potential for ill as well as delight. All you need do is mention the Echelon Project to see quivers move through both informed and uninformed groups.
When issues like a seemingly benign technology from Real Networks actually cataloguing the private choices of individuals *without their consent* are commonplace news in this industry, the concerns and fears are legitimate ones which should not go away.
What do we mean by "privacy" in the Information Age? How much information can or should be taken from you without your knowledge? What types of information gathering technologies are harmless and what types lead down the slippery slope to a Big Brother world? Is it a good thing that smart cards can tell Dixon's or Safeway what my family has chosen to purchase for the last year? Are the computers on our desktops looking AT US as another generation thought (Fahrenheit 451) that televisions would one day accomplish?
Charlie Hallock told me two years ago, for the first time, that before he and I first met he had overheard me talking among a group of other students. He said that his first impression of me, upon hearing my laughter, was: "Oh-oh! That kid is dangerous. He has no respect for authority whatsoever."
I was taken aback by this statement of his for two reasons:
As we grew to know each other, and became comfortable sharing our thoughts, Charlie discovered that we had more in common that he had originally supposed. He had gravitated to IBM because of an insatiable curiousity and a desire to *make things work better*. My own iconoclasm came from that same latter impulse. It did not surprise him at all that I would eventually become a Watson Fellow or that I would embrace computer technology and see it as another instrument in the arsenal of constructive, international social change.
Charlie's in his late sixties, Dmitri his early twenties; still these two friends of mine occupy a common ground in their vision that this medium *can and should* help to make things better.
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Event # 192: Give for What You Take
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MEMOIR ONE: The Pinnacle, by FELICITY USSHER
MEMOIR TWO: Age of Exploitation, by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR THREE: Is Microsoft Bothering You, too? by RON DIENER
MEMOIR FOUR: The Name of The Rose by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR FIVE: War on The Web by ADAM J. SMITH
MEMOIR SIX: G21 Interviews ICANN's ESTHER DYSON
MEMOIR SEVEN: The Chamber of E-Commerce by ROD AMIS
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MEMOIR FOURTEEN: Cultural IT Artifacts by JEAN-YVES DUROCHER
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