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History Table of Contents
1996 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1996
Citizens of the Electronic Village: Smartening Up or Dumbing Down?

President's Message

President, Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs

Some 28 years ago, when I attended my first Couchiching Summer Conference, wonderfully entitled, Why are we revolting?, the global village of Canadian sage Marshall McLuhan was very much in the air (if not at the conference). In the world of the future, it was predicted, the power structure would evaporate in the face of the electronic media. Now we are actually living in the future of those far off days, we find the power structure very much with us. What has changed beyond recognition are the technologies which determine our notion of citizenship and nationhood.

This past summer, we explored the themes of community and belonging in the electronic age at the Lake. In many ways, a difficult topic, Citizens of Electronic Village: Smartening Up or Dumbing Down, is essential equipment for facing the challenge to long-cherished notions of citizenship posed by the proliferation of electronic communications technologies. Program Committee had the frustration of a topic embedded so deeply in the gestalt of our age, that while it was virtually impossible to frame, everyone knew how it absolutely had to be tackled.

The conference produced its share of Couchiching moments. Opening speaker, Ervin Duggan, electrified us with, not techno-wizardry, but a profound discussion of values and republican virtue. Coming from an eminent American, Mr. Duggan's views on values make a fascinating contrast to the recent election campaign where values seemed to mean on the one hand, sound bites about scandal, or on the other hand, the abortion issue. Yet, he seemed to beg one fundamental issue: do the values of the republic to our south actually translate across the 49th parallel? This is a question for us to answer.

Despite the Conference title, there were remarkably few instances of technology dominating the message. Frederick Tipson, Vice President of AT&T and one of that company's technology gurus, delivered his entire presentation in rhyme. The hall was on its feet following that virtuoso performance.

Finally, who will forget Patrick Watson's summing up of the Conference? Patrick, whose association with CIPA spans decades, did far more than precis the meeting. Rather, his Sunday afternoon talk gave us the benefit of a great wisdom about this country, its people and their place in the world.

A lot of wonderful speakers and a great many memories. I invite those of you who had the good fortune to be with us at the Lake to peruse these pages, as well as those who are reading this summary because they were unable to attend. It's well worth it.

See you at Geneva Park next year!