[techbooks] REVIEW: "E-topia", William J. Mitchell
- BKETOPIA.RVW 990918
"E-topia", William J. Mitchell, 1999, 0-262-13355-5, U$22.50
%A William J. Mitchell wjm@...
%C 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
%I MIT Press
%O U$22.50 800-356-0343 fax: 617-625-6660 www-mitpress.mit.edu
%P 184 p.
"The time and the fashion for breathless, the-world-is-new, anything-
is-possible rhetoric have passed." It is intriguing that Mitchell
ends the first chapter with this statement, since most of the material
leading up to it appears to be written in just this gee-whiz, blue-sky
manner. The prologue announces the end of the city, laid low by the
supremacy of digital networks. With further irony, this epitaph
starts with an autopsy of the death of the village once the central
well was made redundant by water pipes. The information superhighway
may do a lot of things, but it isn't so hot at carrying water, power,
food, sewage, and other mundane but necessary items.
Chapter one heralds the birth of the information age as of 1993, when
Wired magazine was launched, rather than back in the seventies, where
most observers put it when the number of information workers first
exceeded the number of production workers. The author also tends to
use a lot of words like "obvious" and "unstoppable" without much
analysis to back them up. After an initial statement about the
existence of "privileged places" in networks (without defining what
they are), chapter two primarily contains references to technologies
that, while most remain in the realm of expensive toys, generally fit
under the category of the man-machine interface. Embedded
intelligence is the topic for chapter three. Some concepts, like
Java, seem to be understood, others, like agent technology, are not.
None are explained fully. Chapter four lists wearable and premises
In chapter five the emphasis shifts from a mere listing of
technologies to some analysis of future needs in housing.
Unfortunately, the author assumes that everyone will work from home,
and even then manages only to conclude that real estate choices will
likely change but will continue to be complex. Social relationships
are reviewed in chapter six, but not in full depth. Work, information
work at least, gets a once over in chapter seven. Chapter eight lists
information, but not physical, services in the city. There is a rough
history of communications technologies in chapter nine.
Chapter ten says that we can create e-topia, but mostly if we don't
want any physical things.
This seems to be a work of poetry, rather than text, and of a doggerel
sort. The life of the writing relies on popular referents and puns
(rock and roil), with an occasional allusion to Brecht, just to keep
us unlettered geeks in our place. The point, if there is one, is made
early on: things are going to change, and we'd better design the
future we want. How we are to do that is not explained in the book,
and is left completely as an exercise to the reader. But then,
architects are used to leaving the mundane details of their grand
visions to engineers.
There is nothing wrong with telling people to plan for the future. On
the other hand, if that is all you do there isn't any particular point
to the exercise. Mitchell says that our cities are going to be
transformed by information technology, but the usefulness of his
volume is severely limited by his lack of understanding of those
technologies and their needs, uses, and restrictions.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKETOPIA.RVW 990918
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