Still Paying Attention Ten Years Later:
                    A Bakhtinian Reading of the
                    National Information Infrastructure Initiative
                    Agenda for Action

Bakhtin’s concept of centrifugal and centripetal forces should not be confused with the Hegalian/Marxist idea of a finite dialectical synthesis (Baxter, p. 114).

Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces

In Bakhtinian fashion, the Agenda’s messages operate both centrifugally and centripetally: “Alongside the centripetal forces, the centrifugal forces of language carry on their uninterrupted work; alongside verbal-ideological centralization and unification, the uninterrupted processes of decentralization and unification go forward” (Dialogic, p. 272) every word serves as a point where the tensions between centrifugal and centripetal forces are brought to bear. Bakhtin posited that a novel has more in common with rhetorical argument, as that present in politics, religion, journalism, and perhaps even policy, than with aesthetic affectation. The alpha and omega of novels often evolve from specific social-cultural milieus. Likewise, policy as a rhetorical form and genre may emerge from social-cultural milieus that point readers towards future action.

If we embrace the Agenda, we are guided to leave behind some of the old technologies. We must also come together as a nation, we are told, in order for technology to come to fruition: “America’s Destiny is Linked to Our Information Infrastructure” (p.14). The Agenda asks readers to centripetally unite around new technologies as they centrifugally move away from previous technologies. The message encouraged readers to follow a divergent path while simultaneously suggesting that technology can “…ameliorate the constraints of geography and economic status, and give all Americans a fair opportunity to go as far as their talents and ambitions take them,” (p.14). At its most ambitous, the Agenda argues that investing in infrastructure can ameliorate economic divisions between "information haves and have nots" (p.10), thus echoing “Thomas Jefferson's statement that information is the currency of democracy” (p.13).  The aim of then President Clinton’s administration to initiate National Information Infrastructure program with the Agenda as its centerpiece sought to assist American business viability along with American worker competitiveness. These two goals should secure a high standard of living for all Americans. Yet, the previous ten years have not moved businesses and workers in that direction. The Agenda implied a centrifugal dispersal of techno-culture concurrently with a centripetal concentration towards the technological goals of the policy’s authoritative discourse. 

The Agenda beckoned readers to centripetally unite around a vision of the technologically-enhanced future while centrifugally separating from the current technological limitations as expressed by the Agenda.  Americans should promote technologies because of the following benefits: innovation; affordable universal access; protection against intellectual property piracy; more government procurement; improve radio and digital frequency; and alignment with other nations’ governments and industries. Bakhtin’s concept of centrifugal and centripetal forces should not be confused with the Hegalian/Marxist idea(s) of dialectical synthesis (Baxter, p. 114). The encounter of centripetal/centrifugal forces is a dynamic postmodern process akin to unending tumbling of words and meaning-making.