Bill Haenel

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Posted by Bill Haenel on 28-Feb-07

"Billions of signals rush over the ocean floor and fly above the clouds. Radio and television fill the air with sound. Satellites hurl messages thousands of miles in a matter of seconds.

Today our problem is not making miracles—but managing miracles. We might well ponder a different question: What hath man wrought—and how will man use his inventions?"

Thanks, LBJ.

If you read the REMARKS OF PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON UPON SIGNING THE PUBLIC BROADCASTING ACT OF 1967 at, it won't take you long to realize what happened and why. I have to guess because I wasn't there, and in fact I wasn't even a human yet. Maybe you were there, and you do remember. If so, please correct me if I'm wrong.

The Public Broadcasting Act seems to have been initiated for many reasons, but there is one in particular that stands out for me as I read Johnson's remarks. He describes an abundance of communication methods and technologies. He talks of the potential of television, and the need for utilizing technology for education. He specifically mentions that we work hard to "enrich man's spirit".

"I believe the time has come to enlist the computer and the satellite, as well as television and radio, and to enlist them in the cause of education."

So it seems that this act, the Public Broadcasting Act was in some ways a marker for communication and technology in the United States. There was perhaps, at the time, some recognition that we had an incredible set of resources suddenly at our disposal, and it was our nation's responsibility to make some decisions about how we would use those resources.

"...our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.'

Have we succeeded in fulfilling Johnson's vision of how we might use communication technology? I understand completely that this act was meant to establish an entity separate from commercial media, if only for the purpose of maintaining a public interest, and so perhaps LBJ's statements could be said not to apply on a general level. However, it is impossible to ignore the answer to the question, "why was this act established?"

Wasn't it because, as the technology grew and changed, and as more organizations and individuals became able to harness that technology for their own self-interested purposes, there was a need for ensuring the viability of a public voice? Was it perhaps also because there was an obvious feeling that if someone didn't, right then, take measures to leave space for education and public dialog somewhere in the mix, that probably those spaces might never exist?

Maybe I'm applyng a fair bit toom much drama to the point. Maybe not. In either case, the point I want to make now is that today is not different than 1967. We are once again in the thick of a surge of communication technology growth. Can you possibly miss it? Can you deny the abundance of seemingly-miraculous methods of communication technologies? So I ask the same question now that LBJ asked then:

How will man use his miracles?

I choose to make my space by getting involved at At present it doesn't look like much. But I'd like to think that in time it will begin to look like a new way of life, based on the similarities found between the open source community and the public broadcasting community. The two communities are without a doubt our best examples of how technology can be used to enrich man's spirit

See the (2nd) initiation of the PubForge project, and maybe even Open Source Culture.

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