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All Together Now: Connected Communities: How They Will Revolutionize the Way You Live, Work, and Play

by Paul Hoffert

It’s one of the central paradoxes of Internet culture. In the medium’s earliest, pre- e-commerce days, the vast majority of activity on the Net was social and community oriented. The new medium was supposed to help us rebuild our alienated neighbourhoods and our fractured family life. It was supposed to usher in a new era of true, grassroots democracy. Instead, according to its critics, the Internet seems to drive people ever deeper into hyper-individualistic cocoons. Utopia has been pre-empted by banner ads, e-casinos, and online infidelity with partners in different time zones.

Nonsense, says Canadian media guru Paul Hoffert, author of the 1998 bestseller The Bagel Effect: A Compass to Navigate Our Wired World. All Together Now is Hoffert’s insightful and essentially upbeat overview of how the technologies that gave us the Internet can fulfill their early promise. Hoffert believes that computer networking can undo the alienation fostered by industrial culture, but argues that we must approach it in a different way: the Internet is too vast, contains too much information, and is still too difficult to use. True local networking must be easy to use, provide true local benefit and somehow be hived off from the global Internet. To start, says Hoffert, at the very least neighbours must know each other’s e-mail addresses.

Hoffert’s own studies in Stonehaven West, a housing development in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket, reinforce his contentions. Connected by a high-speed local computer network – a private intranet accessible only to the neighbourhood – Stonehaven residents almost immediately started using the technology to foster their community. Residents suddenly knew most of their neighbours, children collaborated on homework online, and impromptu neighbourhood barbecues and gatherings became the norm. Pre-industrial, rural communalism suddenly flourished in a classic alienating industrial suburb like Newmarket.

In clear, lucid, and often funny prose Hoffert explores the landscape of available technologies and introduces us to a whole new lexicon of the networked community. Most important, perhaps, is his notion of the Habicon – a resurgent, bonded community exemplified by the Stonehaven experience. Because fibre-optic cable is so cheap to install and can carry virtually limitless bandwidth, Hoffert argues that local municipalities, housing developments, and even neighbourhoods should be responsible for installing and “lighting” their own to provide community-specific networking to local residents. Local networking is a basic utility, he says, as intrinsic to neighbourhood quality of life as water, electricity, and sewage.