Vital Signs

New Media Savants Check the Pulse of Silicon Alley

With the new year smoothly under way, the Voice asked leading experts to weigh in on the best and worst recent developments of the tech revolution—and to envision the shape of things to come. Here's a sampling of their responses.

ANDREW SHAPIRO, author of The Control Revolution and a senior adviser to the Markle Foundation

One thing that's missing [from the Web today] is great local gateway sites where people can find not just movie listings but real conversations among neighbors about issues they care about: local politics, community issues, sports, schools. I'm also surprised that we haven'treally figured out what the equivalent of NPR or PBS is on the Web—some kind of aggregator of high-quality noncommercial content. With AOL Time Warner and the TV-ization of the Web generally, it's more important than ever that people be able to find smaller voices that might be out there but essentially lost in cyberspace. A site that collected and organized those perspectives in an intelligent way would be valuable.

Niche portals are in right now, targeting women (iVillage), teens (Bolt), Boomers (ThirdAge), and African Americans (BlackPlanet). But I think the next big thing might be values-based portals—sites that appeal to us not because of our gender or age, but because of what we believe in. In such an environment, I think we might find more organic, loyal, and bottom-up community building—not the ersatz online communities of today where features get imposed upon consumers, but sites that really respond to their users' needs and desires.

REBECCA ODES, cofounder of and coauthor of Deal With It!

The Internet simultaneously expands on and explodes the image of the teenybopper with a phone welded to her ear, giving teenage girls an open forum to talk to anyone about anything. With her personally crafted identity, a Web-wise girl can be free from the judgment she feels in real life and find out what she needs to know without worrying about whispers of her dilemma leaking out in gym class the next day. Girls no longer have to wait until they are 27 (and drunk) to admit to a girlfriend that they masturbate. Now they can go online and get advice on how to get the most out of the showerhead technique.

In the ideal future, people will be watching teenage girls represent their own realities instead of Hollywood versions of teenage life. Girls who have grown up being exposed to differences and challenging their beliefs won't waste half their lives trying to figure out what they believe in. Cyberflirtation will take the pressure off high school dating, and girls will be able to develop their brains instead of worrying about how their bodies are developing.

MARISA BOWE, editor in chief of Word

My ideal content of the future is sort of like the worlds in William Gibson and Neal Stephenson novels. I want 3-D virtual worlds with full synch sound, elaborate landscapes and buildings, complex human avatar-and-bot social worlds, all able to be changed and customized by the users. I want there to be all sorts of different worlds, for all different tastes and types.

ANDREW RASIEJ, founder and president of the nonprofit organization MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education)

About 80 percent of New York public schools have Internet access in one or two rooms, and about 50 percent have a computer network of some sort. The Board of Education seems somewhat helpless in implementing the elements that need to come together for technology to flourish as an education tool. Schools need networks, systems administrators to run them, staffdevelopment programs to help teachers understand how to use technology as a tool, and a process that has students helping manage and build the informational infrastructure. To this day, there is not one school with a systems administrator. The position doesn't even exist.

Once these foundations are laid, the education process become accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once high-speed networks are in place, the need for the actual school building and the classroom itself will change. Social interaction will still need to happen, but not in a structured classroom environment. The teacher will be transformed from someone who supposedly knows all the information and delivers it from the front of a class to someone who will act as a guide to the massive amounts of information and the sources for it. The success of the future students will not depend on their ability to memorize and perform on tests, but will be based on their ability to apply all the information which will be available to them in a meaningful way.

DR. STEPHEN COHEN, director of minimal access surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital

Laproscopic tools enable minimal-access surgery that requires little to no incisions. In gynecology we've been using scopes since the '70s, but the instruments have . . . exponentially improved in the last decade and there's been a rapid escalation of what can be done through minimal-access surgery. For example, endometrial oblation, where we actually destroy the lining of the uterus, is entirely new, enabled by the tools. There are 200,000 hysterectomies a year done for abnormal bleeding alone. These are procedures that could in most cases be eliminated by a 15-minute endometrial oblation procedure.

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