> Date: Sun, 27 Feb 1994 17:20:23 CST
> From: "Michele Gale-Sinex, CIAS/ATFFI" <GALE-SINEX@ae.agecon.wisc.edu>
> Subject: BST & soul of the new machine
> To: email@example.com
> Priority: normal
> X-Mailer: WinPMail v1.0 (R1)
> Heck, y'all, freedom of the press belongs to them that owns one. Or,
> as DLW at winrock.org points out in the case of Internet, them that
> contrive to use their employers', tsk tsk.
> Now, if we could only control people's Internet access, use, thoughts!
> I'm not a highly respected scientist with a distinguished research
> record in the sciences or the academic-industrial complex. My area is
> communications. The SANET exchange on the technology of rBGH
> has been revealing about communications technologies as well, with a
> calculus of three variables: propriety, fear, social control. And, with
> one or two exceptions, I'm not going to name names in adding my
> pinch of salt to the briny deep.
> In pillorying Lara Wiggert, Pamela Andre's most telling words were
> these: "[T]his powerful medium [Internet] can be used improperly."
> Reminded me, among other things, of early 20th century etiquette
> books that predicted the new electrical medium--the telephone--would
> torch the house of propriety and drive formerly sheltered people into
> the arms of frightening rabble. (Turned out to be true though I
> personally don't find the value of being able to hear from farmers five
> hours from this office outweighed by weird calls at 3 a.m. and market
> research surveys at suppertime.)
> Democracy--that curious beast in the cosmic rainforest. It finds all
> sorts of niches, technological and otherwise. And it does make
> that issue of control of information a sticky one. When it comes to
> democracy, trust me, I'm not naive--just idealistic. Which is why Paul
> Feder's comments hearten me--I worked in government, was horrified
> at how politicized, top-down, and repressive some agencies became
> since the early 1980s. I like to imagine that democracy can be reborn
> in part within government with people like Paul and Gabriel Hegyes
> doing the draining, day-to-day work of nurturing exchange, moderating
> disputes, asking hoods to step outside, and occasionally taking a shiv
> in the ribs for their trouble.
> Likewise academe. A researcher at the UW-Madison (a land grant
> institution) confided to me last year that he feared the Internet and
> citizen access to it. "If they have my e-mail address," he said, "they
> can ask me questions anytime." I asked him whether that wasn't in
> line with his 100% Extension appointment. I didn't say it to be flippant
> or facile, and I appreciate the levels of his concern. But my realm is
> communications: I'm bound to be glad that one of the potentials of the
> Internet is to diversify dialogue and help hold scientists immediately
> and directly accountable for their research, positions, funding
> sources, and contact with "the public." Many people in land grant
> institutions (and, ahem, the Kellogg Foundation) consider these crucial
> issues that'll force a rethinking of boundaries between "institutions"
> and "the public," just as boundaries between corporations and
> government and industry and academe have been dissolved and
> re-forged in an era of global capital.
> I'm not claiming that Internet is a magic carpet across the new terrain.
> It's one vehicle. We've seen, here, how powerful it can be both in
> facilitating exchange and threatening some folks' sense of authority.
> Though a barbarian at the gate/cyberpunk at the gateway, I'm also a
> citizen choosing to send an annual tithe to the IRS to support federal
> guvmint programs. USDA and NAL are neither private entities nor
> independent fiefdoms, though I suspect some of their inhabitants may
> forget that. Services like NAL are beholden to citizens, like it or no,
> and when citizens get Internet or other access change will happen,
> and not necessarily by the whims of those in power.
> And back to etiquette. It'll take awhile to work out a Net etiquette, and
> what gets worked out won't be perfect, I hope, one person's propriety
> being another's censorship. Those who claim to value democratic
> exchange but inclined to feel threatened by Differences, I'd advise
> them to get out in the wind and rain, thicken their hides, and get ready
> for some virtual sparring. It's a tough ol' world; and, just imagine, it
> doesn't even get physical on SANET!
> Finally, it frosts my shorts when the empowered mouth self-serving
> myths about a class of people ill-equipped to choose between the
> subtleties of shiny, supported, warranted Scientific Opinions, and
> drecky icky rabbly ones. To me, the rBGH dialogue both on and off the
> Net shows citizens questioning the very fabric of the social production
> of knowledge, of policy, and of technology, often in terms more
> complex than I hear coming from some of the individuals who are
> replying. Citizens may not be doing this in Edgicated fora bearing
> somebody's stamp of approval, but, hell--neither did the hosts of the
> Boston Tea Party.
> It's about listening. SANET subscribers can go around about whose
> rBGH facts are better and who agrees with whom, and some may
> elect to indulge in institutional voguing and bullying. For those of us
> who are professionals, academics, researchers, etc., throwing hissy
> fits because our authority has been questioned simply looks silly. We'd
> be fools to ignore dialogue about concerns lying outside the
> laboratory and the peer-reviewed journal article simply because,
> horror, it sounds like somebody might be dissing the experts.
> As a citizen, ag professional, and descendant of Tom Paine, I want my
> government to sponsor SANET not as a PR tool of the USDA but as a
> place where dialogue and questioning on issues related to agricultural
> sustainability are valued and supported, and where certain principles
> of democracy are sacred. Yeah, it's messy, time-consuming, and
> diverts resources that might otherwise be devoted to shoring up
> institutional and expert authority. But some of us consider this a good
> use of resources. We also have the First Amendment engraved on the
> inside of our eyelids. That's the one that includes freedom of speech
> and the right of people to petition the Government, in whatever form
> and via whatever technology, for a redress of grievances, including
> rBGH-related ones, with Flavr Savr-related ones likely soon to follow.
> I highly value SANET for many reasons, including you, reading this.
> Thanks for your time, colleagues. Peace and a good new week to all.
> Writing on my own nickel--
> Michele Gale-Sinex
> Madison, WI
> I will send extensive general, professional etiquette, and cosmic
> balance sheet disclaimers to anyone who feels a need for them and
> who requests them at this address.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program
Davis, CA 95616