wow -- I went home for the weekend and there's been a lot of posts since, so I’ll try to add some and respond to some. i honestly don't think online discourse is as bad as I stated, I was just trying to go a little overboard to get some conversation going. Implied in that post, however, was that any content on the internet is media. I think that's the most interesting thing ... if you go talk to someone about Bush at a Howard Dean meeting, no one but those who are there will hear your ideas. Although, Nichols says otherwise, i think the internet has the potential to circumvent the "main narrative" and add to dialogue. We've already seen that with blogs -- how blogs such as talking points memo and daily kos help senators raise money, serve as a source for information for users -- while still just being a journal.
I totally agree w/ Derek. As it stated in Telecom and the City, people spend seven years of their lives in front of a TV, a passive medium. If you were in VR, this would constitute a meaningful part of your life -- you'd be in the soap opera of your choice (passions.. just kidding), find the cure for cancer, run for president, in the virtual reality. While meeting others in this world may be meaningful, there's a world outside that needs tending to.
But... it seems like things are much more organized on the grassroots level than they used to be. The protests against the war in Iraq were coordinated quickly by many groups -- who constantly said it wouldn't have been possible without the internet. With civil engagement however, you can't just have a few involved people, you have to engage those who may not otherwise care. These people, I think, will be missing from future civil engagement when they can just go to, as Derek said, their virtual proms. It was evident, for example, in the Iowa Caucuses that the Dean supporters "weren't from around here." People came from all over to spread the Dean gospel, but Iowans were turned off by that -- there was good Dean organization, but little Iowa organization. So, organization may not be the key aspect in making an online community that can be translated offline.
Also in Telecom and the City, as Paul stated, was the packaging and selling of cities. Plazas, town squares and other aesthetically pleasing things go up to attract business, but I found it interesting that parts of the town are purposefully segregated -- as in Houston's tunnel for businessmen. As geography and time disappear, it becomes increasingly easy to ignore those who we can now avoid.