Metropolis (June, 1995)
"City of Bits is yet another impressive and important feat by Melbourne-born Bill Mitchell. Coolly illustrated, the slimmish volume digests much of what is known about infotech's impacts on the world, in a succinct, personalised and accessible manner. Peppered with hip slogans and jaunty jargonic jingles, the book speaks to the lay cyborg: people like you and me, enhanced by and utterly dependent on technological devices.
This is not a discourse on paradigm shifts & agrave; la David Harvey, Manuel Castells or Martin Pawley, nor a researchy tome like Saskia Sassen's work on techno-impacts on the financial services industry in the world city triad of London, Tokyo and New York. More akin to Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital, Mitchell's volume revels in a gizmotic world of techno-toys and feats — celebrated nonchalantly despite widening divides between information-haves, have-nots and have-beens. [...] Mitchell conveys awareness of some of these troubling conditions — but this does not deter him from providing a seemingly value-neutral rendition of infotech's impacts on the way 'we' live and work and build and dwell. It's a SimCity world, but one waiting for TangiblePolicies to deal with RealInequalities.
— Peter Droege, University of Sidney in Architecture Australia
"You may never have thought of architecture as an interface, but [William] Mitchell does, while also proposing that architecture may teach us how to design the public virtual spaces of the future in which there will be schools, libraries, museums, shopping malls, and theatres. How, he asks, will we build the bitsphere? If the real world is any guide, inconsistently."
— Wendy Grossman in New Scientist (5 August 1995)
"In his lucidly written and intelligently argued text, William Mitchell explores the future of this new non-geometrical 'space' from the perspective of architectural and urban design, convinced that in the 21st century we will inhabit not only 'real' cities and spaces made of concrete and glass, but more and more the simulated cities and virtual spaces created by the new electronic media. No map can be drawn up to help people navigate their way round the new space since it is a space which defies cartographical delimitation.
Mitchell maintains that the most important tasks facing us are not technical ones to do with such mattes as how to devise the digital plumbing of broadband communications. Rather, they are architectural and environmental ones to do with transformation of civic structures and spatial arrangements being brought about by our evolution into the virtual. Everyone will have a[n] electronic identity in the future, and 'identity' that is more complex and metastable than any before, such as name and number.
[The author] is surely right when he claims that an exploration of the new space becomes crucial when we realise that the design of the digital era will profoundly affect issues such as access to economic opportunities, the nature of public discourse, questions of governmentality, forms of cultural activity, and the make-up of our everyday routines.
Mitchell's architectural journey through the virtual cities of the future is a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on the topic of the near and unstoppable future. His exploration succeeds in showing that libertarian concerns, and not simply technical issues, lie at the heart of the politics of cyberspace. His is a voyage well worth undertaking and remains optional only for those who prefer a more back to basics strategy of adaption in the face of the future and its evolution. The future will hit you like a comet."
— Keith Ansell Pearson in the Financial Times (29-30 July 1995)
"Mitchell argues that online communities, transcending geographic boundaries and social contexts, offer new ways of thinking about urban design, private and public space, the separation of work and home life and personal identity. In more speculative chapters, he walks us through the changes in civic institutions such as libraries, hospitals, museums, banks and bookstores, changes made possible by computer technology. Complete with architectural blueprints, illustrations of digital gadgetry and an index of related Internet 'surf sites,' this is a particularly clever and evocative look at the "soft cities" of the 21st century."
— Publishers Weekly (21 August 1995)
"The book's stress on architecture analogies gives a very new way of looking at old issues. For example, the ancient Greek 'agora' (or urban public space) features heavily. But when it comes to cyberspace, don't most legislators the world over suffer from electronic agoraphobia?
'Cyberspace, as implemented for example on the Internet, supports a truly radical conception of free speech,'[the author] says. 'Highly redundant packet switching networks that transcend national boundaries, and incorporate technologies like encryption, anonymous re-mailers, etc, are truly unsensorable. As someone remarked, the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.'
He stresses how the new 'city of bits' can condense scattered rural communities. A similar scattered community is the electronic diaspora, and some would argue that the Irish have a relatively high presence in cyberspace due to its traditionally high degree of emigration. or is the idea of 'diaspora' a misnomer in a post-McLuhan world?
'We may be entering an era in which nations are defined more as dispersed, electronically interconnected communities of interest and common culture rather than as geospatial entities,' he says. 'Ireland and Greece, and other traditionallycemigrant cultures may well be the first to evolve in this way...'"
— Michael Cunningham in The Irish Times (4 September 1995)
"Mitchell's City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn, though not entirely uncritical, is basically positive in its depiction of the glorious electronic future that lies ahead.
Unsurprisingly for a dean of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mitchell's book lays out its arguments with the linear logic of one of Le Corbusier's early city grids. 'The keyboard is my cafe', he writes, celebrating the Infonet and the new spatial freedom that it brings. 'Without leaving my office at MIT,' Mitchell marvels, 'I can teach a class in Singapore.'
He is bullish on everything from virtual museums, which can obviously be more complete than anything found in the limited realm of the three-dimensional, to the coming marriage between persons and machines, a cybernetic bit of bonding that will make the Roy Rogers-Trigger ties seem trivial. Shopping malls, theatres, skyscrapers, schools, and prisons could all conceivably be dispensed with if enough virtual options were offered online.
Even better, freedom must flourish, because on the Net thought has become harder than ever to censor. 'Fahrenheit 451 is becoming irrelevant,' Mitchell assures us. 'You can burn books, but not bits.'"
— Mark Harris in the Vancouver Sun (2 September 1995)
"In addition to the entire text of the book, the online version has a new wrinkle: sprinkled through it are words highlighted in color, each of which provides a hypertext link to other sites on the Internet that contain related information. By clicking on those words, readers are transported to other electronic sites anywhere in the world. They are, in effect, super-footnotes, and some may contain more information than the whole book in which they are embedded.
But the difference between the printed and the online versions goes beyond that, because the Internet is a constantly changing, evolving entity. To take that into account, Mitchell and his assistants will be constantly updating the links, adding new relevant sites as they appear and pruning off dead branches that lead to defunct sites."
'I think of it as being very much like a garden you have to keep tending,' Mitchell said.
There's also a place for readers to plant their own seeds: At the text's end ia an invitation for readers to post their own comments, questions or counterarguments, and to respond to the comments posted by others.
Thus, the electronic 'book' will grow and change over time, although the basic text will remain fixed. 'It enables you to think of a text as a living, changing, evolving thing,' Mitchell said.
But the printed version still has advantages, Mitchell pointed out, and as a medium that will probably never die. It is conveniantly portable, needs no plug or batteries, has an easy-to-read high contrast 'display', and can easilty be read anywhere, even the bath.
'If the electronic world had come first, and then the book came along,' he said, 'we'd regard it as a tremendous technological innovation.'"
— David L. Chandler in The Boston Globe (9 September 1995)
(For full article, look at the New York Times SyndicateM.)