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William Gibson:

DREAMS

Mr. Sterling and I have been invited here to dream in public. Dreaming in public is an important part of our job description, as science fiction writers, but there are bad dreams as well as good dreams. We're dreamers, you see, but we're also realists, of a sort. Realistically speaking, I look at the proposals being made here and I marvel. A system that in some cases isn't able to teach basic evolution, a system bedeviled by the religious agendas of textbook censors, now proposes to throw itself open to a barrage of ultra high bandwidth information from a world of Serbian race-hatred, Moslem fundamentalism, and Chinese Mao Zedong thought. A system that has managed to remain largely unchanged since the 19th Century now proposes to jack in, bravely bringing itself on-line in an attempt to meet the challenges of the 21st. I applaud your courage in this. I see green shoots attempting to break through the sterilized earth.

I believe that the national adventure you now propose is of quite extraordinary importance. Historians of the future -- provided good dreams prevail -- will view this as having been far more crucial to the survival of democracy in the United States than rural electrification or the space program.

But many of America's bad dreams, our sorriest future scenarios, stem from a single and terrible fact: there currently exists in this nation a vast and disenfranchised underclass, drawn, most shamefully, along racial lines, and whose plight we are dangerously close to accepting as a simple fact of life,a permanent feature of the American landscape.

What you propose here, ladies and gentlemen, may well represent nothing less than this nation's last and best hope of providing something like a level socio-economic playing field for a true majority of its citizens.

In that light, let me make three modest proposals.

In my own best-case scenario, every elementary and high school teacher in the United States of America will have unlimited and absolutely cost-free professional access to long-distance telephone service. The provision of this service could be made, by law, a basic operation requirement for all telephone companies. Of course, this would also apply to cable television.

By the same token, every teacher in every American public school will be provided, by the manufacturer, on demand, and at no cost, with copies of any piece of software whatever -- assuming that said software's manufacturer would wish their product to be commercially available in the United States.

What would this really cost us, as a society? Nothing. It would only mean a so-called loss of potential revenue for some of the planet's fattest and best-fed corporations. In bringing computer and network literacy to the teachers of our children, it would pay for itself in wonderful and wonderfully unimaginable ways. Where is the R&D support for teaching? Where is the tech support for our children's teachers? Why shouldn't we give our teachers a license to obtain software, all software, any software, for nothing?

Does anyone demand a licensing fee, each time a child is taught the alphabet?

Any corporation that genuinely wishes to invest in this country's future should step forward now and offer services and software. Having thrived under democracy, in a free market, the time has come for these corporations to demonstrate an enlightened self-interest, by acting to assure the survival of democracy and the free market -- and incidentally, by assuring that virtually the entire populace of the United States will become computer-literate potential consumers within a single generation.

Stop devouring your children's future in order to meet your next quarterly report.

My third and final proposal has to do more directly with the levelling of that playing field. I propose that neither of my two previous proposals should apply in any way to private education.

Thank you.

William Gibson
National Academy of Sciences Convocation on Technology and Education.
Washington D. C., May 10, 1993.

Literary Freeware -- Not for Commercial Use

William Gibson

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