CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996
A Plea to Ignore the Consequences of Free Speech, by Susan Dwyer
The Limits of Technology
Current technology no doubt gives many people access to information and relatively inexpensive means to communicate. Special interest bulletin boards have proliferated, putting people with common interests in touch. Thus, one could argue that the information super-highway has radically egalitarian potential: We can send email to the President of the United States! An individual citizen no longer requires the financial resources of a Rockerfeller in order to have a chance to be heard. Anyone, it seems, can participate.
But it is far from clear how realistic this is. People who are currently economically and socially disenfranchised will never be part of the `new culture' information technology is creating. In many respects, they are already shut out of cultural discussion. And my point is that we have no reason to predict that world-wide information systems will do anything but exacerbate what we might call epistemological alienation.
I have been urging that we cannot think coherently about free speech independently of issues about equality. And so in our debates about what material should be allowed to circulate in computer-mediated communication environments, which themselves raise issues about liberty and equality, we must not lose sight of the ways in which deeper questions of social liberty and equality are implicated in the very existence of a massive information-driven culture.