Austin Post Bulleten
By Chandler Harrison Stevens
In 1948, George Orwell reversed the last two digits of that year to obtain the title for his book “1984,” in which he envisioned a top-down society manipulating individuals and families to do whatever “the State” wanted done.
In 1984, Apple Computer introduced in a TV commercial at that year’s Super Bowl a new Macintosh computer “for the rest of us” as a bottom-up answer to Orwell’s gloomy top-down prediction of what life might have been like in that year.
PCs, as well as Macs, have come a long way since then in producing bottom-up anti-Orwellian self-controlling information superhighways — the Internet, the World Wide Web, ubiquitous e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, online chat rooms, computer conferencing, blogs, secure electronic funds transfer and, recently, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, My Space, etc.
These are online services through which alliances form coordinated efforts among individuals, families and neighborhoods from the bottom up; better to manipulate the top than to be manipulated by it. Old Orwellian fears of communism and socialism ring hollow as we now consider creating a “smart grid,” and for parallelism let’s put “smart medicine” under new energy and health reform initiatives.
By adding, in 1948, 36 years, Orwell looked ahead to 1984. Then, in 1984, by looking ahead another 36 years, we began constructing a “2020 vision” that is now becoming much clearer since we barely have one decade left until the year 2020. It is not unrealistic then to envision how the desired Smart Grid and Smart Medicine should look.
First of all, a smart grid should deliver global energy generated from renewable sources (such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, etc.) to as nearby local power users as possible, since electricity leaks during transmission and creates health hazards along the way.
The ultimate way to achieve “energy independence” — within any nation such as the United States — is to help families become “energy independent” by installing rooftop solar panels or even solar shingles along with backyard or, again, rooftop small wind turbines.
We can also achieve this goal with pluggable hybrid cars in garages to store excess generated electricity and to sell back to local utilities such power to avoid the need for expensive peak load sources such as dirty coal, dangerous nuclear power, or other large-scale concentrated energy sources burning fossil fuels. Or even by accessing more distant large wind farms and other sources of large scale power such as large river dams.
Thus, the smart grid needs to be similar to the Internet in involving many small family energy sources as well as large sources of electricity, for which the old obsolete grid was constructed nearly a century ago.
And, since global warming and wars fought over oil are clearly global rather than merely national issues, constructing such a smart grid from the bottom up rather than top-down is something that should concern all nations meeting in global summits. It would be naive to think that the current economic crisis could be resolved without resolving also the energy crisis.
Similarly, a bottom-up approach is needed for the medical information technology initiative that we have here dubbed “smart medicine.” First and foremost, patients and their families must have the ultimate control over how much information is shared and with whom. Electronic billing, electronic prescriptions, and electronically recorded diagnoses, of course, originate with doctors rather than with patients. Patients currently have the right to look at such information generated by doctors — but not immediately, as must soon become possible.
If this is a new era of personal responsibility, then we must all become responsible for our own health and the health of our planet. Bottom-up approaches to developing the smart grid and smart medicine will allow that. Don’t worry; Orwell would be pleased that we heeded his warning.
Chandler Harrison Stevens of Austin is a political activist and retired college professor.