ELECTRONIC NIGHTMARE: The New Communications and Freedom by John Wicklein

ELECTRONIC NIGHTMARE: The New Communications and Freedom

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If you ask for an X-rated movie via two-way interactive cable, Someone may take note. If videotex has you pegged as an environmentalist, you may be fed pro-growth propaganda. If appeals for funds come--like ads--over an instant-transfer system, we may all be bilked by charlatans. (Or, the IRS may punch our number and collect what it considers its due.) These are but a few of the possible abuses of the new communications technology--already in operation in some locales--that Wicklein would alert us to; the time to act, he says plausibly, is now-""controlling a technology before it is generally installed is far easier than changing it once it is in place."" It's a popular introduction to the subject, neither comprehensive nor particularly incisive; but it does lay the groundwork for understanding what's afoot. In evidence, Wicklein places Columbus, Ohio's, two-way interactive cable system, Qube, a service of Warner Communications--which transmits ""informercials"" (unidentified commercials) and conducts polling indiscriminately for talent shows, new products, and town meetings. People find it fun, and few ponder the uses to which their votes might be put. A community TV service in Reading, Pa., on the other hand, is operated by, as well as for, the elderly--an alternative to ""two-way as a dehumanizing force."" Wicklein runs through Japanese services and, importantly, Britain's Prestel--an interactive text-on-television service now spreading around the world; he takes up the potential of the electronic newspaper (poor journalism, he suspects); he covers the problems of US commitment to commercial satellites; and he examines how most-vigilant Sweden plans to protect its citizens against computer snooping. He also adduces a cautionary example--Brazil under Geisel. It's a little scattered but the message is perfectly clear: keep control of technology and content separate; consider a public transmission system (not AT&T); decentralize. A respectable start, if not the last word.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking