Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dead Weight and Heavy Lifting

This week I've been reading Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital, which is about the fundamental differences between atoms and bits when it comes to economic, social, and political policy. For example, without inventories and shipping to consider, digital products can be disseminated at a much lower cost than their analog counterparts. This difference also matters at the community level. UC Police Department officers justified the recent tasering of a student on the grounds that the young man was too heavy, at two hundred pounds, for them to lift out of the building, even though he was a passive resister and posed them no physical threat. The euthanasia of patients in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina was apparently also partly motivated by the difficulty of evacuating patients who were obese, paralyzed, or otherwise difficult to physically transport. When it comes to questions about moral choices in a society increasingly oriented to thinking about the world in virtual terms, it is important to build in opportunities for discussion, debate, and pedagogy about our obligations to those of flesh and blood and the need for collective heavy lifting.

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