So what am I suggesting? Only that it is time, finally, to bring certain long-recognized truths into our social and personal decision making. There are always trade-offs in the pursuit of efficiency, and this implies a tremendous burden of responsibility for those engaged in the pursuit; and, likewise, every time we dissolve a place into placelessness, we also dissolve an incalculable amount of materially incarnated social and cultural capital.
When we take these truths seriously, we will no longer so easily conclude that "more efficient" or "cheaper" signifies "better." Nor will we take it for granted that using investment and tax policy to encourage rapid adoption of networking technologies is an obvious and unqualified good for society; we will be more inclined to look for massive hidden costs. And we will not stigmatize as "backward" a school that opts out of computer-based curricula especially if this school is focused upon fashioning vibrant places where kids can belong.
Most of all, we may rediscover within ourselves a new soil in which the delicate flower of idealism can thrive. The problem with the rank idealism of the Net's early days was that it was vested in the redemptive powers of the technology itself. This was bound to disappoint. A true idealism is voiced in the expression of our own ideals as we find within ourselves the resources to put them into practice. And we can put them into practice, on the Internet as elsewhere. To the degree we do this, we may hope to discover a pathway through our present discontents and make the Internet a worthy, if presumably limited, expression of a healthy society. The alternative is to watch society become an unhealthy expression of the Internet.