'Digerati' talk on costs and benefits of the Internet

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 13, 1999

and World Wide Web site designers discussed the positive and negative aspects of the on-line world. The Kelly Writers House welcomed a group of visitors rather different from its regular crowd yesterday as it hosted a meeting of the minds - cyber-minds, that is. Nearly 50 students and faculty members attended the "Digerati at Writers House" discussion to exchange ideas with a panel of Internet experts. The term Digerati - derived from the notion of digital literati - refers to people also known as "cyberintellectuals." It was coined by human communications professional Tim Race and has been adopted by journalists the world over. One of the main topics of discussion on the panel was the dichotomy between the purely commercial aspects of the Internet and its ability to distribute information.

The event was advertised as an "effort by cyberintellectuals to bridge the gap between science, technology and humanities in contemporary culture." The discussion was led by a nine member panel, including founders of popular World Wide Web sites, an Internet trade magazine reporter and educators of multimedia studies. Penn English Professor and Writers House Faculty Director Al Filreis opened the discussion by introducing John Brockman, author of The Third Culture and organizer of the event along with the other panel members. Filreis also mediated the 90-minute discussion.

In conjunction with the debate, Jason McCabe Calacanis, editor of the trade magazine Silicon Alley Reporter brought up the increasing popularity of MP3 music files on university campuses. These files, which are compressed to take up a small amount of space, can be easily copied and distributed over the Internet. Besides allowing amateur musicians to record for public use without being under contract, they also allow consumers to copy music without paying concerns over copyright infringement among those in the music industry. While in the past the technology was limited to computers, companies are now developing Walkman-style MP3 players, which prompted a recent lawsuit on behalf of the music industry. "MP3 's are the music industry's Vietnam," Calacanis noted. It's a war they can't win. "The next Madonna may break on the web and she doesn't have a contract." Members of the panel agreed that the recent explosion in Internet popularity is a good thing as long as the information super-highway remains user-oriented and not geared toward corporate profiteering.

Participants also stressed that there needs to be more discussion about the subject. "We tried to see if the gap could be closed between people who make the tools and people that use them," Filreis said of the meeting. Judging from student response to the discussion, the participants may have moved one step closer to meeting that goal. "I use computers a lot, but I'm not extremely plugged into Web culture," College sophomore Nick Kraus said. "It's always interesting to hear what the professionals have to say." College senior Lucia Zapatero added that the meeting was "a great opportunity for students, faculty, and guests to share ideas about new media industries."