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e-topia: Urban Life, Jim - But Not as We Know It Kindle Edition

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We're not all about to become "rootless, laptop-toting, cellphoning nomads"--thank goodness! This is the reassuring message of William J. Mitchell's latest volume, which imagines how digital technology will shape our cities and communities in the future.

Witty, lucid and objective, futurist guru Mitchell examines how "smart" (ie technologically adapted) places, buildings and clothes, will change our relationships with other people and objects. Essentially, that means more working from home (which will affect housing), friendlier neighbourhoods (because we can link up more easily) and globalisation carried to bizarre ends (very-low-wage workers in Africa can watch video monitors connected to security cameras in New York).

Mitchell makes the exciting argument that we can fashion the new world in the way we want. It will be possible for the affluent elite to use technology to create privileged enclaves: Silicon Valley professionals can already commute to their campus workplaces barely noticing the crime-ridden areas; alternatively, architects and urban designers can help to create social groups that intersect and overlap.

This is an important book for politicians and would-be entrepreneurs. Mitchell predicts many changes: for example, cooks, gardeners and nannies will be earn big bucks because they provide services which cannot be automated, but the value of information-related services (lawyers and accountants) will go down. But while the computer networks of the future will change politics, work patterns and purchasing habits, Mitchell takes the position that urban planning should still focus on the cultural, scenic and climatic attractions of place. In the end Mitchell's vision is neither a utopia or a dystopia, but a convincing portrait of life in the ditigal age. --Brian Jenner


...e-topia is a good primer for anyone interested in how we are going to inhabit the digital era. -- Lawrence Chua Bookforum E-topia offers a brilliant and succinct lesson on how the evolution of information and other technologies has altered the way we build workplaces and communities, manage relationships, and supply our material wants and needs. It unobtrusively lays digital technology into historical and material context, rendering it this way as something not to fear. -- Randall Lyman San Francisco Bay Guardian

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 380 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (17 Sept. 1999)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003VPWY00
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,424,948 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug Leith ( on 20 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has had the privilege of meeting the author, then they'll find that this book comes over in the same informal, warm and visionary style.
There's a liberal helping of Negroponte / MediaLab concepts in the pages here, and if you are familar with such, then you may not find much new here. However, Mitchell's context for technology is where the physical and digital worlds come together and that brings a thought provoking perspective to such perennial favourites as electronic paper and the intelligent fridge.
The most engaging portions are where he considers how cities, communities, and communal social practices are altered by technology - location is no longer the advantage.
There's a mass of value in the 23 pages of notes and references at the end to take you to some marvellous further reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
E-topia has vision but lacks depth 30 Oct. 1999
By Geoff White - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All in all, Mitchell's vision of urban life in the industrialized nations is compelling. He weaves a convincing mosaic of The City of "real soon now", where the design elements of architecture are extended to include the additions of Bandwidth, telepresence, conduit and storage. Indeed, as a network engineer myself, I believe he pretty much has it spot on, for those of us who are fortunate to live in the Northern Hemisphere. But what of the rest of the planet who won't have OC-48 cables running down their main streets? (80% of humanity have never come in contact with a computer, let alone a network infrastructure). He paints a picture of a glorious brave new cyberworld for the top 5%, but ignores the implications of this technology on the other 95% of the people on this rock we call earth. Still, if you are one of the fortunate ones (or wish you were) to be able to take part in this vision, the book is well worth reading. Earth: E-topia or Borg Planet, YOU decide!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Coherent & Balanced Future Vision of Wired Cities & Life 18 July 2000
By Prof David T Wright - Published on
Format: Hardcover
E-topia presents a top-level, grounded look at a distant future through the impact of Internet technology specifically related to rich-nations urban spaces, architecture, work and leisure.
The concise, intelligently written, well-referenced chapters span:
* march of the meganets- digiphiles versus digiphobes, after the digital revolution, information infrastructure & opportunity, new networks and urban transformation, the big pipes, connected to the backbone, new global interdependence, from POP to your door, the network city extended, the end of rural isolation, residual wireless backblocks, public and private, behind the firewalls and filters, and the task ahead.
* telematics takes command- proscenium and display, screenspace, out of the box, center and periphery, up in the lights, virtual reality, and augmented reality.
* software- new genius of the place- embedded intelligence, instant networking, and form fetches function.
* computers for living in- wear ware, body nets, appliance intelligence, electronic teamwork, buildings with nervous systems, intelligent resource consumption, adaptive behaviour, reconceiving construction, the I-bahn, and smart cities.
* homes and neighbourhoods- displacement of space, reconfigured homes, rethinking planning/zoning, sociology of wired dwellings, localisation, renucleation, twenty-four hour electronic neighbourhoods, redistributed secondary relationships, and dual cities.
* getting together- online meeting places, shift in scale, invisible boundaries, virtuality, connectivity and sociability, electronic co-ordination, cyberturf, e-vox populi, civitas and urbs decoupled, and reinventing public space.
* reworking the workplace- exchanging intangible products, delivering information products, remaking making, value from knowledge, relocating production, make after buying, the recombinant workplace, and mobilising enterprises.
* the teleserviced city- typology of service systems, summoning assistance, keeping tabs, surveillance and seclusion, delivery at a distance, web of indirect relationships, telerobotics, the teleservice paradox, electronic fronts & architectural backs, and serving space.
* the economy of presence- the cost of being there, traditional limits, asynchronous alternative, information mobilization, remote interaction, modes and operations, costs and benefits, and power of place.
* lean and green- dematerialisation, demobilisation, mass customisation, intelligent operation, and self transformation.
Initially this reviewer was put-off by the sometimes obscure vocabulary, and relative-complexity of grammar (compared with a recent reading-list of simplistic e-business texts). By the end of the book, the synergy of contributions & style proved a key strength. Other strengths include: the coherence, attractiveness and power of future scenarios presented; and related discussion about the rich-poor gap within neighbourhoods and the World.
Improvements could include: better use of illustrations or tables in place of existing lengthier textual descriptions; deeper material in areas beyond the MIT professor-author's expertise of architecture & computer science (e.g. world class manufacturing, supply chain management, teleworking, appropriate technology, and development economics); and greater evidence of significant research & results beyond MIT.
Overall very highly recommended- 'E-topia' is a must-read for business-technologists seeking a bigger context, as well as "blue-sky futurists" seeking a balanced pragmatic view of possibilities.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Great text 24 Sept. 2000
By Ron Mader - Published on
Format: Paperback
- (From Planeta Journal) E-topia is a joyous, philosophical joy ride on the Internet.
Author William Mitchell provides a history lesson about the role of information and technology. He examines the implications of the new digital infrastructure and provides some not-so-futuristic examples of things to come, including wearable technology and new urban infrastructure.
Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mitchell makes a convincing case that we must extend the definitions of architecture and urban design to include virtual realities as well as physical ones. His proposals are creative and practical and show the possibilities of increased interconnectivity on both a personal and a global scale.
While the entire book is a tour-de-force, the last two chapters of the volume shine. "The Economics of Presence" neatly summarizes synchronistic and asyncronistic communication. "Lean and Green" takes on the topic of green building techniques. E-topia is a superb introduction to the digital revolution at hand.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Dazzling Digital Urban Vision! 9 Sept. 2005
By Tigran Haas - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Changes and advancements are already at our front door: in political philosophy, technology, communications, infrastructure as well as shifts in attitudes and behavior of people. It all will affect regions, cities and communities, and basically alter the requisites for future planning and the role of professionals. Today we are faced with two complex processes: urbanization and globalization. This is closely followed by the development of increasingly sophisticated information technologies and radical transformations of other network-complex infrastructure systems such as telecommunications, transport, energy, etc. What seems to set itself as one of the most interesting challenges today is the complex interaction between infrastructure networks, new information technologies and emerging new architectural and urban patterns and forms.

In "e-topia", William J. Mitchell, dean of School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the well-known work City of Bits, gives us an insightful view about tomorrow cities and the way we may live in them. Given his dual background in Architecture and Information Technology field, Mitchell offers a very vivid-balanced and at times thought provoking view on how information (digital) technology will shape our regions, cities, communities, neighborhoods and homes in the (near) future. Mitchell's main emphasis is on how the new technologies will shape and alter the urban form.

"E-topia" consists of 10 chapters, which can be read as a whole and as separate entities. This gives an additional quality to this work, apart from the pristine language and clarity of discussion, which can appeal to wider non-technical and non-architectural audience. The concise, compact written, well-structured and well-referenced 10 chapters span a whole range of topics, starting from more "hardware" issues to those of more "software" character. The detailed discussion takes us through the digital technology revolution of the moment, its different use, application and possibilities. One can feel a strong MIT research & development presence here. It can be argued that the discussion of significant research in the digital technologies could have taken a broader outlook, but on the other hand MIT is one of the global centers of R&D, teaching and learning in this sector. Aside from Mitchell's City of Bits, books by MIT's Professors Nicholas Negroponte (Director of MIT Media Laboratory) Being Digital and Michael Dertouzos (Director of Laboratory for Computer Sciences) What will be and Bill Gates's The Road Ahead, give a state of the art on the technological underpinnings of the digital revolution. Elegantly balancing between natural and social sciences, Mitchell continues the discussion through a sort of global/region/city sphere, focusing especially on community, neighborhood and home level. The influence of IT on workplaces, social places, commercial marketing and exchange of information places are also covered. The story is a continuous one shifting slightly from topic to topic, but always having a sort of hierarchical, historical, and contextual thread. The discussion always ends up, between the lines, on how the city for the 21st century will (probably) look like, in respect to the symbiosis with the digital technologies. It has to do with the question of how `smart-technologically flavored' places, buildings, and artifacts will change and shape our relationships with other people and objects.

Mitchell argues for the extension of definitions of architecture and urban design (form) to incorporate `virtual reality' as well as physical one and at the same time to be interwoven with telecommunication and transport infrastructure of the future. The analysis of the relation between telecommunications and all aspects of city development and management is provided more in detail by Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin's book on Telecommunication and the City. Their upcoming book Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition will probably shed even more light on these issues. For Mitchell the global digital network is much more than just e-mail, internet (world wide web) and digital TV. It is a completely new urban infrastructure, - one that will not efface or demolish the urban form as we know it but rather, `change it or complement it' in a positive way so that it will become an inseparable part of our cities, communities, neighborhoods, homes - our everyday lives. He simply points out that in the coming decades, the digital revolution is an unavoidable factor in shaping of the urban form. And above all, although at times the ideas might seem far-fetched and hard to believe, Mitchell does not just point to this new future but also shows us how to get there. He proposes strategies for the `creation of cities that not only will be sustainable but will make economic, social and cultural sense in an electronically interconnected and global world'. Unfortunately the discussion doesn't go deep enough here. For a more comprehensive analysis of economic, social, political and cultural dynamics of the global digital revolution, one should turn to works of Manuel Castells (his trilogy), especially The Network Society - Volume I.

William J. Mitchell also argues in his "e-topia" that the `new settlement patterns of the 21st century will be characterized by live/work dwellings, 24 hour pedestrian scale neighborhoods rich in social relationships and dynamic community life, by electronic meeting places, decentralized production, marketing and distribution systems'. He advocates, as he calls it, `the creation of e-topias - cities that work smarter, not harder'. Stephen Doheny-Farina also gives an eloquent exploration of the nature of cyberspace and the increasing virtualization of everyday life in communities and neighborhoods in his work The Wired Neighborhood. He argues that electronic neighborhoods should be less important to us than our geophysical neighborhoods, also looking more into the negative aspects of IT than Mitchell does. Like Mitchell, he also speaks in favor of `civic networking, a movement that organizes local information and culture, and shows how new technologies can help reinvigorate communities'. Mitchell draws (indirectly) much from the founders and advocates of the `New Urbanism' and Sustainable Communities movement. In particular one can find links to the works of Peter Katz and Vincent Scully The New Urbanism, Peter Calthorpe's The Next American Metropolis, Anders Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk's Towns and Town Making Principles, and Michael Bernick Robert Cervero's Transit Villages in the 21st Century.

"E-topia" points out the important aspect of changes and polarization in society vis-à-vis the digital technologies. Here the author makes a stance that architects, urban planners and designers can help to create social groups that intersect and overlap. This discussion is taken to a more profound analysis in the work of Donald A. Schön, Bish Sanyal and William J. Mitchell, High Technology and Low Income Communities, (with participation of Manuel Castells and Peter Hall). Most of Mitchell's argumentation draws heavily on history of technology, architecture and urbanism. In a subtle, but yet convincing discourse from Plato to Mumford, he shows that there is a `red thread in history of cities' and especially that there is an unavoidable pattern of development and change in technologies. In this way, Mitchell explains not just how things are likely to change, but also examines historical precedents. The references (endnotes) in the book are a Tour-de-Force by themselves. As opposed to his previous book `City of Bits', there is a general lack of illustrations in "e-topia", something which could have complemented the discourse well. A companion CD-Rom (with illustrated examples and additional diagrams and tables, as well as multimedia presentations) could have been an interesting addendum to the book that advocates the IT future. Probably the most striking chapter `The Economy of Presence', summarizes the synchronistic and asynchronistic communication (discussion on face-to-face and tele communication). The last chapter, `Lean and Green' gives a refreshing discussion and outlook on green building techniques.

Even though Mitchell is a strong advocate of the life in the digital age, he asserts that urban planning should still focus on the cultural, scenic and climatic attractions of place. The spirit of the place (Genius Loci), discussed in length by Christian Norberg-Schulz in Genius Loci - Towards a New Phenomenology of Architecture, is vivid in Mitchell's thinking and conclusions. Maybe the best illustration of these two waves (electronic vs. geophysical) of thought in Mitchell's work can be found in the concluding chapter `Lean and Green' (under the concluding heading `Our Town Tomorrow')

Sir Peter Hall has called this book a `dazzling survey of the cyberfuture and its impact on urban life'. For him and other experts in the field, William J. Mitchell is the world's foremost authority on the subject. This is not an anticipatory work, book of dreams or a nostrum for the future cities. It is simply a solidly grounded survey and inquiry study with visions, forecasts and scenarios for the city of the future. It is a homogenous series of lessons on how the evolution of digital technologies has altered and will alter the way we live, work, build and communicate in our cities, communities and neighborhoods - a coherent and balanced vision of digital technologies (foremost IT) and urban form and their influence on everyday life patterns.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A thought provoking set of readers ...and a challenge for the conventional role of designers 13 Aug. 2005
By Kaushambi Shah - Published on
Format: Paperback
The evolving digital telecommunications revolution, dissolution of geographical barriers, miniaturization of electronics, commodification of bits and the growing domination of software over materialized form adumbrate the emergent but still invisible cities of the twenty-first century.

While the two texts "City of Bits" and "Etopia" overlap, he takes cues from current trends in digital technology, and puts forth five main points in dealing with the evolving digital revolution and the associated interactive urbanism.

As he discusses his ideas of Dematerialization,Demobilization,Mass Customization,Intelligent operation and Soft Transformation, he often creates scenarios of human beings completely wired with their surroundings. This phenomena may help solve many of our current day problems and help conserve human energy, preserve natural resources and control environmental problems.

However, it also raises many questions about the cities of tomorrow - both in the developed and the developing world. There are loopholes and contradictions when one weighs efficiency attained by bodily connectivity to the world wide web, versus privacy, individuality and the role of the human being in an increasingly wired society.
There are also ethical questions to be answered about new forms of interpersonal relationships, public life,governance and power holders,inequality due to digital divides - basically adapting to a whole new social, economic and political scenario.

The tasks of future architects, urban planner and designers will need redefinition too. It will mean design of interior and exterior environments that allow people to participate, and not just inhabit space.

His theory is apt and thought provoking for the time, but must be debated and questioned as thoroughly as the first cloned human baby, perhaps more.
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