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Author: Dale A. Stirling
Title: The Internet Edge: Social, Technical, and Legal Challenges for a Networking World (Mark Stefik)
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 2000

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Source: The Internet Edge: Social, Technical, and Legal Challenges for a Networking World (Mark Stefik)
Dale A. Stirling

vol. 3, no. 1, April 2000
Article Type: Book Review

The Internet Edge: Social, Technical, and Legal Challenges for a Networked World

Mark Stefik, The Internet Edge: Social, Technical, and Legal Challenges for a Networked World. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 1999. $29.95 cloth. ISBN 0-262-19418-X. 320 pages.

From e-commerce to e-business the Internet is one of the preeminent technology issues in the new millenium. Due to the Internet's rapid changes and advances no one book published at this time, or even for the foreseeable future, will be able to fully grasp all that the Internet is. However, author Mark Stefik has penned a rather absorbing review of the social, technical, and legal challenges that face those working in or affected by the networked world at this point in time.

Stefik begins the book by highlighting recent advances in digital audio, comparing the technological leaps between the current Internet and the historical phonograph, and touching upon current "hot issues" such as digital music and MP3 players, bandwith, personal document readers, and processor technology. This all backs up Stefik's claim that "today the Internet is in an analogous period of new invention, competing visions, advancing technology, and companies scrambling for advantage "(p. 19). Chapter three provides an in-depth overview of security issues with an emphasis on trusted systems and digital-rights language. This is heady material, but very timely as all users of the Internet are faced with security issues on a daily basis. We've gone beyond the need for virus checkers to the need for protection of virtual ideas via technological change. Stefik compares this to an arms race of sorts and provides a well-detailed "attack" scenario as an example of the value of trusted systems. Chapter Four discusses the vanguard of Internet publishing and attendant issues such as copyright and information overload. Stefik states that "the market remains nascent because the medium has failed, so far, to balance the interests of important stakeholders" (p. 79). Stakeholder interests, according to Stefik, include copyright and paper publishing as well as copyright and personal computers. Fortunately, trusted systems have alleviated some of the concerns over publishing copyright issues. Stefik also discusses other concerns including printing off-line and fair use of online copies. For those in the information business, these issues are a daily fact of Internet life. In Chapter Five, the author discusses the historical problem (advancing cultures, regardless of their point in technological time, have experienced cumulative and quantitative amounts of information) of information overload and its translation to the online age. The conundrum is not that we have too much information (we can never use it all anyway) but how do we locate and utilize the information we need on a personal level. The role of "sensemakers" is reviewed, as is the need for better information management and search engines. Chapters Six and Seven dwell on theoretical Internet philosophy and cover interesting terrain such as knowledge ecologies, social process, and technological chaos (coping with change). Interestingly, Stefik reviews the growth of European hunting and farming cultures and associated economies as an example of how the Internet may develop as a knowledge medium. The key to a functioning knowledge system is avoiding bottlenecks with knowledge acquisition and modifying and updating the system as needed over time. Ancillary to the knowledge medium is coping with rapid change, and Stefik dwells on this issue at length in Chapter Seven. He discusses stages in technology adoption, which are felt in periods of rapid social and technological change as well as attendant problems of keeping pace with technology.

Chapter eight relates to Internet privacy and personal security and is timely in light of recent hacking incidents, in particular the case of stolen credit card information from a well-used discount compact disc site. Stefik revisits issues of privacy rights and trusted systems, first discussed in Chapter 3. He expands on the earlier discussion by reviewing the shifting grounds of privacy and the very real threat of personal and business dossier development. He uses the example of European regulatory harmonization as one attempt to protect privacy of the business and individual. In closing the chapter, he intones that "We may find that building trust into our computers will enable us to offer a new kind of trust to people we can't see–people we don't' watch on our computers but who share the world with us" (p. 231).

Stefik closes the book with chapters on the social aspects of Internet use and recent technological advances, along with certain accompanying pitfalls, that the Internet presents its users. For Chapters Nine and Ten, he apparently desired to investigate the Internet world beyond his own virtual confines for a more complete picture of the Internet edge. He touches upon cultural diversity, democracy, and public access to the Internet, among others. Lastly, he talks about the great potential of the Internet and how its challenges can be met in order to serve personal, community, and global needs.

Mark Stefik's The Internet Edge is revealing and an excellent snapshot in time of the Internet world. He presents a real-world overview of its excellence and pitfalls and provides some insight into the Internet's possible futures. Several decades down the road (and perhaps less) when the Internet is not longer "new" and is part and parcel of our daily lives, this book will be a great chapter among many that will be written about the Internet.

Dale A. Stirling.