Everyday people can get their voices heard on the political front, author says

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Steve Powers / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

(St. Martin's Press, $14.95)
by Christopher Kush

As long as there have been governments, there have been citizens trying to make their voices heard.

Even old political hands sometimes feel frustration in dealing with the monolith that is the U.S. government. Now concerned citizens have a new tool at their disposal – the Internet.

In his prologue, author Christopher Kush writes, "The Internet can have a profound effect on the relationship between everyday Americans and their government." With this statement, Mr. Kush makes it clear that powerful lobbyists are not the only ones who can influence the government, but that, through the Internet, ordinary Americans carry clout.

Mr. Kush has written a practical, nonpartisan guide to using the Internet as a political tool. The author says he intended Cybercitizen to be "an easy-to-use, skills-based reference guide." Lists and compilations of Web sites abound. Mr. Kush has painstakingly researched the Internet to find politics-related information, including issues, voting records, funding information and political news sites.

In addition, the author includes information on how to find out what's on a ballot, research ballot initiatives, mount a "flash" campaign and, for those so inclined, run for office.

Cybercitizen is a well-organized, useful reference book for those who want to use the Internet to become strongly involved in politics. Mr. Kush makes it simple for even the most passive citizen to wade into politics without hesitation.

Different take on technology

The Evolution of Wired Life
(John Wiley & Sons, $15.95)
by Charles Jonscher

At first glance, Charles Jonscher's book appears to be just another in a slew of books that examines the question of how digital technology is changing the nature of human reality. This subject has been done to death; reader reaction is likely to be a yawning "so what?"

Those who exhibit a little patience will find that Mr. Jonscher takes a different tack from his fellow authors. His answer to how much digital technology is affecting human reality is almost shocking. Mr. Jonscher maintains that it's really not much of an impact.

Using examples from man's pre-technology history, from the invention of the first alphabetic language in 1700 B.C. to wearable computers to bolster his theory, he argues strongly against the commonly accepted idea that computers will eventually replace the workings of our minds and societies.

In a nutshell, Mr. Jonscher says that human thoughts and ideas have always been more important than the tools used to convey them – and this won't change. Drawing on insights from literature, philosophy and science, he outlines a calm perspective on life in the digital age.

It's clear that he is on the side of the humans here; he steadfastly maintains that no machine will ever match the powers of the creative mind.

Mr. Jonscher has written an outstanding history/treatise. Using a slow, unforced style, the book clearly illustrates that man shapes and influences technology, not the other way around. This book allows its readers the opportunity to perceive technology in a whole new light.

Internet plays small role

The Internet Challenge to Television
($17.95, Harvard University Press)
by Bruce N. Owen

The title is a bit misleading; an image springs to mind of television viewers across America clicking off their sets and plopping themselves in front of their home computers to cruise the Internet.

That image is a long way from the truth. In fact, the Internet is barely mentioned until late in the discussion and even then seems almost an afterthought. The focus of the book is television, its history and future.

Mr. Owen, a communications economist, examines the economic history of the television industry and of the effects of technology and government regulation on its organization. He also explores developments associated with the growth of the Internet, which accounts for the Internet in the title.

The wording is dry, and though Mr. Owen does his best to water down the technical aspects, it's still more technical than most laymen would like. There are too many diagrams in the book; unless one is a true techie – and a television techie at that – the nicely rendered diagrams will be largely unappreciated.

Nearly 200 pages into the book, Mr. Owen finally introduces the Internet. He discusses the possible convergence of television and the Internet. The ideas he presents are neither new or startling; he basically rehashes old information as he tries to put a new spin on it.

He does present some interesting ideas in his section on video on the Web. Otherwise, the remaining pages are drab and unenlightening. That is a disappointment, considering the explosive potential of blending television, computer and telephone.

Mr. Owen's book may be useful as a historical text but adds little to what has already been written on this subject.

Steve Powers is a free-lance writer.