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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)


Homesteading the Digital Frontier
   Making Places for Citizenship


When the United States government transferred vast regions of the American West from public to private ownership through a series of homestead acts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a world that had become clogged and burdened with the inertia of old governments and old bureaucracies was suddenly young again. All the kings were dead.

The future was open. Everything might be different. People around the world reconsidered their prospects and many headed for the frontier, leaving behind regimes that no longer seemed to work.

In the West, they formed new towns, created new institutions, developed new traditions and practices, and raised their children in a world that, though it grew out of the old worlds, was unlike anything that had existed before. It was a world of huge opportunity and daunting risk. Entering it was a entering an epic adventure.

For the most part, things that worked were variations on things that had worked before. Towns that thrived did not invent themselves from nothing. They drew on the experience of Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, and London. But they were able to make it new because they had before them a world not yet organized into the fiefdoms of the past.

I find the sublime hurly burly of the American West a useful metaphor for thinking about what is happening today through digital technologies. The empire of network news has just suffered a significant blow from guys in pajamas, and new heroes and legends are forming. Digital red light districts are growing apace, without the citizenry quite knowing what to do about it or whether anything can be done about it. Entrepreneurs are rounding up stray resources and driving them across borders to fresh markets. People from distant lands are encountering each other for the first time, and old ways and new ways are being put to the test. Industry is laying new rails and inventing new ways of organizing and new ways of peddling goods. The world is in flux, a kaleidoscope of danger and promise.

The earth is young once again.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
  1. And just like the first time, the first out won’t always survive, but pave the way for others. 

    The new uses of digital technologies, like the uses of the west will mostly likely change dramatically as the “area” becomes settled. 

    It is strange to think that if I had been born 100 years or so ago, I would have been a pioneer. 

    Of course, the digital pioneering effort is much less arduous (wait, maybe not), at least less dangerous than the first kind.

    Posted by  on  09/18  at  10:10 PM
  2. It’s less dangerous for some of us. But I think Nicholas Berg and Dan Rather and Daniel Pearl could be considered victims of it. As well, perhaps, as the students at Columbine.

    Posted by Michael L Umphrey  on  09/18  at  10:38 PM

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