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Gary Chapman, Internet policy expert and technology visionary, dies at 58

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By Valerie J. Nelson
Tuesday, December 28, 2010; 8:40 PM

Gary Chapman, 58, a visionary thinker on the influence of technology and computers on society who helped shape the study of the field as it became a force in modern life, died Dec. 14 of a heart attack while on a kayaking trip in Guatemala.

Mr. Chapman, who was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, spent his professional life "looking for social justice in a community in which that phrase is distinctly remote and abstract," he wrote in 1996 in the Los Angeles Times.

He was "one of the early individuals writing and doing research on technology policy," specifically Internet policy, ethics and the role of the government and Internet in technology, said Sherri Greenberg, a university colleague.

Educated as a political scientist, Mr. Chapman was the first executive director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a California-based organization concerned about the effect of computer technology on society.

As he led the group from 1984 to 1991, much of his time was spent opposing the U.S. military's reliance on inherently unreliable computers. Eventually, the organization addressed a broader range of issues, including automation in the workplace and how computer technology affects civil liberties and privacy.

Mr. Chapman launched the 21st Century Project in 1991 to redirect government funding of science and technology policy from military objectives toward scientific needs.

When he joined the University of Texas's LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1994, the 21st Century Project came with him.

As the project's director, he helped explore ways for the public to be more involved in setting new goals for science and technology policy. The project also addressed the digital divide - the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not - by studying how to bring the Internet and computing to low-income neighborhoods.

From 1995 to 2001, Mr. Chapman wrote a column, "Digital Nation," for the Los Angeles Times that was syndicated and carried by more than 200 newspapers and Web sites.

In the column, he foresaw a bright future for digital books and predicted that the Internet was "headed to a very familiar technology - your television."

He also covered such topics as the "misguided" push to replace textbooks with laptops and protecting the Internet from private and political interests.

Mr. Chapman thought "hard about the meaning of technology, the meaning of the new world, the changes that digital technology was bringing to society," said Michael Hiltzik, one of his editors at the Times. "To that extent, he was unique."

Gary Brent Chapman was born Aug. 8, 1952, in Los Angeles and grew up in Hawthorne, Calif. During the Vietnam War, he served as a medic for the Army Special Forces, or Green Berets.

In 1979, he received a bachelor's degree in political science from Occidental College in Los Angeles. He did postgraduate work in political science at Stanford University in 1984.

At the University of Texas, he was one of the most popular professors, said Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Survivors include his wife, journalist Carole Flake Chapman; his father, Arthur S. Chapman, and stepmother, Pierrette Chapman, of Solvang, Calif.; and a half-brother.

- Los Angeles Times


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