Tucked within the pages of the January issue of the Agriview, a monthly farm publication published by the State of Vermont, was a short survey from the Department of Public Service (DPS). Described as an aid to the Department in drafting their “Ten Year Telecom Plan”, the survey contains eight questions, the first seven of which are simple multiple-choice queries about current internet and cell phone service at the respondent’s farm. The final question is the one that caught my eye:

“In what ways could your agriculture business be improved with better access to cell signal or higher speed internet service?”

Two things are immediately revealed by this question:

(a) The DPS believes that the only possible outcome from faster and better telecommunication access is that things will be “improved”.

(b) If you disagree with the DPS on point (a), they don’t want to hear about it.

A cynic might conclude that the DPS is only looking for survey results that justify decisions they’ve already made, and that’s probably true. But the department’s upbeat, one-dimensional outlook on technological change is actually the accepted norm in America. In his book In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander points out that new technologies are usually introduced through “best-case scenarios”: “The first waves of description are invariably optimistic, even utopian. This is because in capitalist societies early descriptions of new technologies come from their inventors and the people who stand to gain from their acceptance.” [1]

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have made an art of utopian hype. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of high-tech’s most influential boosters, gave us such platitudes as “personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created,”[2] and my favorite, “technology is unlocking the innate compassion we have for our fellow human beings.”[3]

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