Michael Hauben, Netizen, dies

Our tribute


We learned today that Michael Hauben, who coined the term Netizen, died suddenly in New York on Wednesday.

Michael had used BBSs as a boy from the early 1980s, and with his parents Ronda and Jay, contributed to the pioneering grassroots computer literacy efforts that followed the cancellation of programming classes for hourly workers at Ford's Rouge factory in Dearborn Michigan. Those efforts led to the establishment of the The Amateur Computerist.

The term Netizen was coined in a 1992 article by Michael entitled "The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net Has on People's Lives", and spread rapidly. Michael was a diligent and passionate researcher, contributing to the IEEE's Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, co-authored with Ronda.

In his preface to the book, Michael wrote:-

"My initial research concerned the origins and development of the global discussion forum Usenet....I wanted to explore the larger Net and what it was and its significance. This is when my research uncovered the remaining details that helped me to recognize the emergence of Netizens. There are people online who actively contribute towards the development of the Net. These people understand the value of collective work and the communal aspects of public communications.

These are the people who discuss and debate topics in a constructive manner, who e-mail answers to people and provide help to new-comers, who maintain FAQ files and other public information repositories, who maintain mailing lists, and so on. These are people who discuss the nature and role of this new communications medium. These are the people who act as citizens of the Net."

He passionately believed that the Net remain public and open, and uncommercialized and unprivatised. In notes for an essay entitled "What the Net means to me," Michael explained why:-

"The Net means personal power in a world of little or no personal power. (Of those other than on the top - who are called powerful because of money, but not because of thoughts or ideas)."

"The essence of the Net is Communication between individuals... the vehicle for distribution of people's ideas thoughts and yearnings"

"Commercialism will lead to growing emphasis on serving-oriented rather than sharing-oriented uses of the Net. ... it is NOT important for me to be able to custom order my next outfit from the Gap or any other clothing store."

Michael was also infectiously passionate about music, evident in his DJing and his online reviews. Although he held his views deeply, Michael was never didactic. He always wore his great knowledge lightly, and was curious and delighted to engage with new people and new ideas.

We first met in London in 1999: Michael had returned from a visit to the Fabian Society, and was brimming with enthusiasm.

He was a friend - a lovely, gentle man - and we'll miss him very much. ®

Related Link

Netizens - online edition
Michael's Columbia home page


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