Cyberspace can improve our living space
- By John M. Eger
- Jul 03, 2000
One of the more interesting paradoxes of our age is that the more we live
and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes.
Although this notion runs counter to much of today's popular literature,
we are already seeing knowledge workers and high-tech, knowledge-sensitive
industries migrating to highly livable communities — communities with mountains
or lakes, open spaces, clean air and, as in the case of Portland, Ore.,
and other communities that have established urban-growth boundaries, relying
less on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.
The growing concern about urban sprawl, coupled with the nostalgic yearning
that the new urbanism movement represents, is evidence of sweeping changes
in public attitudes toward physical space. As the Internet revolution moves
into full throttle, however, there is every reason to believe it will have
a dramatic impact on the architecture and landscape of communities worldwide.
In recent years, it has become popular to refer to the domain in which
Internet-based communications occur as cyberspace — an abstract communication
space that exists both everywhere and nowhere.
But until flesh-and-blood human beings can be digitized into electronic
pulses in the same way in which computer scientists have transformed data
and images, the denizens of cyberspace will have to live IRL ("in real life")
in some sort of real, physical space — a physical environment that will
continue to dominate our future in the same way that our homes, neighborhoods
and communities do today.
One of the main reasons that information networks can so profoundly
transform people, businesses and communities is that every other major technology
advance that has shrunk space and time also has remade society in fundamental
and important ways. Transportation improvements, over the past few centuries,
for example, have done more than perhaps any other technological advance
to bring the world's people closer together.
The Internet, the World Wide Web and their successors are likely to
produce consequences that are as great or greater than anything we have
seen so far — and are apt to be equally unexpected.
Until recently, advances in telecommunications and transportation have
contributed to our disconnectedness. Although we can travel easier and work
from home, a sense of community, of a "town square," has been lost.
Many communities, sensing the trend, are positioning themselves to be
both smart and sustainable. But the recognition that we can be both, or
that one is a natural extension of the other, is just beginning to enter
the lexicon of urban planners and architects, as well as those involved
in economic development.
Technology is already helping planners with difficult tasks such as
comparing the value of various tree covers used for storm water containment;
using desktop geographic information systems to allow community leaders
to put the natural environment into their city planning; and using satellite
data, aerial photography and on-the-ground surveys to help define a city's
Technology is also being used by citizens in one part of the world to
link environmentally concerned citizens in another, providing an effective
means of organizing how to plan and design the smart communities of tomorrow,
protect the earth and share ideas on how to build smart but sustainable
But much more seems within our reach. As the World Wide Web becomes
part of the web of life, perhaps technology will ultimately enhance and
secure our connectedness to the physical world, preserving and protecting
it for future generations.
If successful, the smart and sustainable community will dramatically
reverse an adverse trend precipitated by the Industrial Revolution and will
help lead us toward a future in which our communities and technology can
— Eger is a professor of communications and public policy at San Diego State
University and president of the World Foundation for Smart Communities.
He can be reached at email@example.com.