Putting a new technology to good social use does not happen automatically; commercial pressures intervene, and the emerging technology may develop in ways that benefit private interests to the detriment of the public good. However, on-line communication is somewhat unusual because it already has a history of use in the public interest. The Internet was built with public funds and was turned over to academic institutions when it was discarded by the military. Eventually, private interests began making use of the system. The task now is to preserve and enhance the Net's social role at a time when it is finally coming within reach of a significant portion of the population and is coming under heavy commercial pressure. Experiments such as the biotechnology Web site can provide prototypes of socially useful applications of the Internet, worthy of protection from commercial and political intrusion and perhaps even worth emulating in the interests of an informed, contributing public.
Back | TIS Home