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REVIEW: "In the Net", Jim Walch

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKINTIGA.RVW 20000302 In the Net , Jim Walch, 1999, 1-85649-759-3, U$25.00 %A Jim Walch jwalch@igc.apc.org %C 7 Cynthia Street, London, UK N1 9JF %D
    Message 1 of 1 , May 24, 2000
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      BKINTIGA.RVW 20000302

      "In the Net", Jim Walch, 1999, 1-85649-759-3, U$25.00
      %A Jim Walch jwalch@...
      %C 7 Cynthia Street, London, UK N1 9JF
      %D 1999
      %G 1-85649-759-3
      %I Zed Books
      %O U$25.00 +44-02078378466 fax: +44-02078333960
      %P 188 p.
      %T "In the Net: An Internet Guide for Activists"

      The preface is not particularly clear about what the purpose of this
      book is, nor the audience for whom it is written. The tome is
      asserted to be "action research," while other statements seem to imply
      that it is a partial report on some of the work that is actually being
      done in promoting social action using the Internet.

      In view of the stated intention to base the book on actual occurrence,
      it is ironic that chapter one relies so heavily on models of social
      theory, and so little on real studies. In the discussion of virtual
      communities, for example, the opinions of Postman's "Technopoly" and
      Rheingold's "The Virtual Community" (cf. BKVRTCOM.RVW) figure
      prominently and the reportage of Cohill and Kavanaugh's "Community
      Networks" (cf. BKCNLFBV.RVW) is ignored. Chapter two starts off with
      a rather skewed history of networking, detours to wander through
      several attempts to distinguish different types of computer mediated
      communications, starts another short history of another area of
      computing, and trails off in a few anecdotes about using computers to
      communicate with people. Given the citations in the prior material,
      chapter three appears to be the central point of the book, but
      consists only of some details about the establishment of a network of
      electronic bulletin board systems, primarily in Bosnia, during the war
      in the former Yugoslavia in the mid '90s. Unfortunately, the real
      particulars of getting computers and connecting them are not included.
      Chapter four describes a number of network based social initiatives,
      but the assessment of utility is based almost entirely on subjective
      opinion. We are told that the use of technology has some problems,
      that trying to create utopia has some dangers, and that the computer
      industry itself faces some political issues, in chapter five. These
      are all valid points, but hardly news.

      Late in the book there is a rather odd sidebar in praise of Doing
      Nothing Useful. Now, I found this ironic, given that I almost did not
      review this book today. I had already Done my allotment of Useful
      Things for the day, but the fact that I possibly had enough time (plus
      some probable Scottish heritage that abhors idle time) prompted me to
      read and review it. Walch, in all likelihood, would maintain that in
      producing this review I still haven't Done Anything Useful. However,
      by the same token, I have to say that he hasn't, either. Opinionated,
      hypothetical, and slanted, the writing in the book is difficult to
      follow and even, at times, hard to read. While there may be some
      material here that can add to the growing body of literature on the
      topic of social and political use of the net, nothing in it will
      convince those of little social conscience to become involved, nor
      will the very scanty technical material be of assistance to those who
      are involved in political causes with getting connected to, and
      involved in, computer mediated communications. Socially aware hackers
      will, of course, already know about pretty much everything in the

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKINTIGA.RVW 20000302

      The author has requested that the following response accompany the
      review. It is included unedited. The only modification from the
      message as received is to reformat, and remove extraneous material to
      reduce length.

      Date sent: Sat, 04 Mar 2000 11:01:36 +0100
      From: Jim Walch <jwalch@...>
      Copies to: JULIAN.Z@...

      Reply to Rob Slade

      It seems that Rob Slade and I are on different wave lengths. We may
      have different ideas about social action and computing. This "we" also
      includes a rather large community of scholars, such as co-author of
      the Peoples' Communications Charter, Cees Hamelink who did the
      foreword, and social activists around the world who, like myself, have
      been working for more than two decades in putting the technology to
      meaningful uses. These people are now mainly in the South. This book,
      like other writings, collect and document experiences so that
      learning and sharing may take place. An example of this is the "Global
      Knowledge" movement, with the GKII taking place in Malaysia in
      March, 2000.

      What I have attempted to do in the book is to reflect back upon and
      analyze this work. This is the meaning of the term 'action research'.
      It means a linking of social history with social theory. It is always
      a tricky business connecting theory with practice. I have chosen to do
      this through exemplification of actual uses of computer mediated
      communication by peace, environmental and human rights groups, with a
      short start in social theory in order to set a framework for
      description. A more careful reading by Rob Slade would bring this
      out. And he might be able to see that the point of such things as
      "Doing Nothing Useful" was an allegorical argument for the fact that
      what many may see as not being useful may, in the long run, be very
      important. The case he took exception to was that of young people in
      the 1960s sitting around "not doing anything useful", when in practice
      this was the start of the peace movement against the US war in
      Vietnam. The connection to computer technology, as covered earlier in
      the book, is that the broadening of access to computer mediated
      communications came out of the environment of protest and movements
      for social change. While both Rob Slade and I know this, most people
      do not, but see the Internet and computer technology in general of
      something of, by and for big business. And now, as then, there are
      those who treat political analysis, of necessity done from a political
      perspective, as mere opinion.

      In the Net is not, as Rob Slade correctly experienced it, for computer
      technicians, but for students of social history who are interested in
      the connection between technology and social change. A more careful
      reading would probably erase his question marks for example that the
      central chapter on comuting in a war zone, was written in close
      collaboration with the people who were actually "connecting the
      computers". And more importantly, connecting the people on all sides
      of the battle lines.

      + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +
      Jim Walch
      Stockholm Institute of Education
      Box 34103
      R+lambsv,gen 24 tel: +46-8-737 55 00 fax: 737 97 95
      100 26 Stockholm email: jwalch@...
      Sweden home: +46-8-754 19 88 jwalch@...
      mobile: 070 773 82 35
      homepage: <http://www.lhs.se/~jwalch/home.htm>
      + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

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