A Vote for Ingenuity

Information technology, historically, has focused on automation: using computers-and human ingenuity-to take the grunt work out of extensive calculations, document design and other daily labors.

But technology also has become part of the life stream of our communities, creating a new class of skilled workers, fueling the growth of regional, national and global economies, and changing the way people communicate and gather information.

Several articles in this month's issue show how this dramatic cultural shift brings new opportunities and new challenges.

Our cover story, "On the Virtual Campaign Trail," by Heather Hayes, captures both elements. According to many political pundits, the Internet, like TV, has the potential to be a powerful soapbox, giving candidates a new tool for getting their messages out, with few of the time or financial restrictions that come with other media.

Already, voters have access to more information on political candidates than ever before through the World Wide Web sites of candidates themselves and watch-dog organizations. And we are only at the beginning of this new era of virtual campaigning.

However, Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, argues that the federal government could hinder the realization of the Internet's full potential in the political arena by applying the same restrictive campaign finance laws to the Internet as it does to TV and print.

The Federal Election Commission, if it does not change course, could undermine the vital grass-roots culture the Internet brings to the political process, Schwartz writes in "Campaign Finance Laws Stifle the Electronic Soapbox."

Orange County, Va., on the other hand, definitely is rising to the challenges that come with the shift to a technology-centric culture.

Like a growing of number of school districts, Orange County has made technology a core element of its curriculum, as Heather Harreld reports in "Schools Open for Business." Not only are students taking technology classes, but they have the opportunity to work in a real business environment, providing services to the county's schools and some local businesses.

Clearly, Orange County is giving its students a real edge, whether to pursue a college degree or find a well-paying job. The county also is nurturing a technically adept work force, which could help this rural Virginia community attract and support new businesses, infusing the local economy with new blood and creating even more opportunities for its residents.

We would all benefit by fostering such creativity in our own communities and across state and federal governments. For all the technical wile we possess, we've just begun to glimpse the ramifications of this blossoming Internet economy.

As we should have expected, human ingenuity, which launched this revolution, will provide the solutions to the new problems, and the key to the new opportunities, that we face along the way.

John Stein Monroe




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