In a recent lecture he called “Energy and Form,” Albert Pope of Rice University reminded his audience that the acceptance of living in isolated cul de sacs was facilitated by the one-way mass medium of television propagating a false sense of connection. This social splintering continued as multiple televisions in homes became common and different rooms hosted different programming.
This technologically anaesthetized suburban isolation, and the messages broadcast to those dead ends, led to a devaluation of urban living, the disintegration of our urban fabric, exacerbated cultural divides and stereotypes, and encouraged a general decline in the level of civic discourse and participation.
The internet revolution brought the promise of global connectivity and communication. However, the risk of further isolating ourselves as “alienated labor” in cul de sacs or high rises is still very real as the global economic crisis is reshaping where and how we work as much as technology is granting us the “freedom” to work from home.
So how do we begin to reconnect humans with the rest of humanity? How do we prevent ourselves from becoming “alienated labor” under house arrest?
If “cyberspace” is becoming the new agora for collective decision-making, how effective can those decisions truly be if they are removed from the physical places they effect? What is our metric of civic engagement? Can we collect that data without making citizens feel like the little privacy that remains is being sacrificed? How do you reconcile citizenship – a notion rooted in a particular geographic space – with the mobility that today’s technology affords us? We need to redefine our notions of belonging and citizenship.
Who is going to answer all of these questions?