>Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 13:37:18 -0300 (ADT)
>From: Michael Gurstein <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
>Subject: FW: LA Times column, 5/25/98 (fwd)
>To: Canadian futures <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>,
>        Electronic Democracy in Nova Scotia <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
>Mime-Version: 1.0
>Precedence: Bulk
> ----------
>From: Gary Chapman
>Subject: LA Times column, 5/25/98
>Date: Tuesday, May 26, 1998 5:55AM
>Below is my latest column for The Los Angeles Times, from Monday, May 25,
>1998. As always, please feel free to pass this on, but please retain the
>copyright notice.
>   ------------------------------------------
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>Monday, May 25, 1998
>Digital Nation
>Counterculture Is Over -- Is a Backlash Next?
>By Gary Chapman
>Copyright, 1998, The Los Angeles Times
>The "digital counterculture" revolution appears to be over. What's next?
>Wired magazine, the fervent oracle of this "counterculture," has been sold
>to Conde Nast, one of the "old media" empires Wired once railed against and
>a conglomerate built on fashion and celebrity worship. Wired will now join
>Vanity Fair and GQ magazines in the Conde Nast stable, certainly the
>harbinger of a tamed editorial voice.
>The Internet has rapidly gone from being a "revolutionary" technology to a
>conventional staple of middle-class homes. Author Bruce Sterling has said,
>"Web-surfing is a genuinely popular enterprise -- it's like Monday Night
>Football or country line-dancing." Homemakers are trading Beanie Babies on
>the Net, and kids are checking their homework assignments online.
>Revolutionary zeal about the digital age seems, at best, two or three years
>out of date now -- at worst, laughable. The Internet, while still
>transforming the economy, is fading into the cultural background, a
>communications medium that, for most people, simply supplements TV and the
>There are still people clamoring to make money off the Internet, of course.
>The high-flying stock market, driven by high tech, and the quick fortunes
>that are legendary in the industry have made the Internet symbolic of a
>"new economy" that is attracting hustlers and visionaries alike.
>Remember the famous scene in the movie "The Graduate," in which the young
>college graduate, played by Dustin Hoffman, is taken aside by a family
>friend at a party and told the one word that will ensure his future? "One
>word," says the guest. "Plastics."
>That word, a metaphor for everything artificial and oppressive about that
>era, was meant to strike terror into the hearts of all baby boomers
>confronting a future of dull conformity and plodding careerism.
>These days, we could reenact the scene, with the word "Internet"
>substituted for "plastics." The digital counterculture revolution is truly
>What will be the Next Big Thing? This is the gnawing question that keeps
>young entrepreneurs and venture capitalists awake at night, wondering what
>the next killer app is going to be and how they can discover it before
>anyone else.
>But the next big thing may be a popular rejection of the high-tech
>lifestyle altogether. A growing number of people are fed up with the stress
>of modern life, the financial burdens of competitive consumption, empty
>politics, the uniformity of suburbanization, the commercialization of every
>aspect of our culture, pointless gadgets and the overwhelming, ubiquitous
>feeling that significant problems in our country are neglected because of a
>suffocating, indifferent status quo.
>The '90s increasingly resemble a speeded-up version of the '50s. The '50s,
>of course, produced the '60s, a genuine, full-blown counterculture era. Is
>another backlash building now?
>There are comparatively few signs of such a backlash, I admit. One early
>warning signal: The July issue of Fast Company magazine, the monthly bible
>for workaholics caught up in the "total dedication" ideology of Silicon
>Valley, is titled "I Gotta Get a Life!" And some new books and movies are
>beginning to paint the outlines of an emerging popular disaffection with
>consumerism and commodity fetishism, a combination that Harvard University
>professor Juliet B. Schor calls "the national religion" of the United
>Schor has just published the book "The Overspent American," a sequel to
>"The Overworked American." The subtitle of the new book is "Upscaling,
>Downshifting and the New Consumer." She describes the frenzied effort on
>the part of a majority of Americans to "keep up" with their peers, their
>"identity group," typically incurring the costs of maxed-out credit cards,
>financial precariousness and stubborn, relentless envy.
>But a good portion of her book is about a growing class of "downshifters,"
>people who are voluntarily opting out of the "new economy," with its
>stress, long hours, neglect of parental responsibilities, competitive
>consumption and persistent financial demands. These are people who are
>trading higher wages for time, peace of mind and a sense of balance in
>their lives.
>Another new book, "Turning Away From Technology," published by the Sierra
>Club, contains a series of dialogues between thinkers asking hard questions
>about where technological trends are taking us.
>Two new movies also represent the ambivalence Americans have with our
>current, one-dimensional model of progress. Robert Redford's "The Horse
>Whisperer" -- with its admitted shortcomings stemming from a mediocre novel
> -- attempts to portray the balance of mind one acquires from living in
>harmony with nature.
>In the liner notes for the movie's soundtrack CD, Redford writes, "As we
>race madly toward the end of the century, our lives dictated by e-mail,
>cell phones, faxes and other indispensable but mind-numbing contrivances,
>let's take a moment to unplug the computer, sit back quietly and imagine a
>simpler place."
>The other movie is Warren Beatty's "Bulworth," the polar opposite of "The
>Horse Whisperer." "Bulworth" is an angry rant about political spin, sound
>bytes, Ken-doll politicians groomed for TV, and the merging of our two
>political parties into a faceless, gutless mush. While Redford's movie is a
>prescription for the affluent -- you need his money to retire to Montana --
>Beatty's new movie is a scream on behalf of the urban underclass.
>One difference between the '90s and the '50s may be that we're now beyond
>the point at which books and movies can jolt us out of a hyperactive
>somnambulism. In our media-saturated world, all pleas for resistance may be
>merely absorbed into the noise.
>But the growing ranks of a "lost generation" -- those people who look at
>the contemporary model of progress with sorrow and dismay -- will be an
>enduring source of friction for high tech and its accompanying high-stress
>life style. The deep human desire for balance, peace of mind, justice,
>democracy, privacy and, most of all, authenticity, will compete,
>persistently, with the desire for rapidly obsolescent technological
>wonders. When we get exhausted with special effects, computer upgrades,
>information glut, 70-hour workweeks, jargon and acronyms, bland politicians
>and all the rest, we will have lots of company.
>Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the University of
>Texas at Austin. He can be reached at [EMAIL PROTECTED]
>   ------------------------------------------
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