All this relates intimately to a second problem in the online society: the radically limited ability of the digital "landscape" to ground real communities. As a medium cultivated for its efficiency, the Net lacks most of the qualities that give people a place to dwell. It does not embody the history and tradition, it does not possess the kind of stability and social structure, and it does not present the distinctive cultural and natural contexts within which people can adequately work out their profound destinies among one another.
Again, this is trite. No theme has been more thoroughly flogged over the past decade than "place versus cyberspace." We know by now, or should know, that there is nothing in the online world that can stand in for place. That's just not what digital networks are for.
When, a couple of years ago, a Florida man was arrested for routing children to pornography sites on a large scale, a U.S. attorney said, "Few of us could imagine there was someone out there in cyberspace, essentially reaching out by hand to take children to the seediest corners of the Internet." On the contrary, this is exactly what was imagined by every Net commentator worth his sociology degree in the early 90s except that no one framed it in terms of children and seedy corners. Rather, they kept it at a clean, safe, abstract level: "the entire world at your and my fingertips." But, of course, that meant children's fingertips, too. How reluctant we were to connect the dots!
Yes, the world the Internet world, with all its undoubted and now essential marvels is at our fingertips. But, as I have already mentioned, to be a keystroke away from everywhere amounts to being nowhere in particular, and this means that making the Internet a healthy place for children is not for the time being a realistically achievable goal. There is no "place" to make healthy, no place where the way people relate to each other, where the design of houses with their private and common rooms, the layout of streets, the location of businesses, schools, and parks, the long-evolving structure of family and community relationships, the rhythms of work, study, commerce, dining, recreation, and conversation, the grounding reality of sun, breezes, rain, and mosquitoes no place where these and a thousand other factors can come together to say, "Here you are. Your name is written into this place. You belong here, and you are safe."
Real places become safe and healthy by virtue of an infinite material complexity of the right sort. On the Internet, by contrast, we are forced to protect children through clever technical devices whereby we may indeed contrive "streets" and "homes" and "parks." But within this technical sphere, every clever device functions primarily to call forth a cleverer counter-device. Whereas real streets, neighbors, and watchful eyes do not disappear when a few bits are twiddled, Internet real estate is instantly movable facade.