When Bricklyn Pulled the Plug

  • by Brenda Softbrick, The Bricklyn Eagle’s Culture & History correspondent, and Samantha B. Fortune, Health & Science correspondent
  • July 10, 2021

Summary of Article ➤ Did the landmark 1992 ruling of the Federal Council limiting computer network connectivity set Bricklyn on a smarter course? A look back at the ruling and the controversy over The Exchange.

➤ Note from Bricklyn Eagle Editor Walt Brickman: We had not planned on running this article by reporters Softbrick and Fortune until next week, but given the announcement yesterday of the Federal Council’s ban on Facebrick, we asked them to complete this article asap, as it will give you a basic understanding of The Exchange — Bricklyn’s link to Outland computer networks and databases — as well as the key role the Realm’s Chief Prognosticator often plays (as happened again in yesterday’s Council ruling).

One of the most profound and far-reaching decisions ever made by the Federal Council of the Realm of Bricklyn (FCRB) occurred on May 15, 1992.

On that day, the FCRB by a 6-1 vote pulled the plug on the growing expansion of computer networks. For better or worse, that decision has shaped Bricklyn’s subsequent history and set the City on a very different path from its twinned City of Burlington, Vermont, and from virtually all other Outland communities. What’s more, it sparked a movement among other Inland (LEGO) towns and cities to follow Bricklyn’s lead.❖

Of particular note, the Federal Council of the Realm of Bricklyn issued three key mandates as part of its ruling:

(1) that any inter-business and inter-governmental networks only be allowed under strict criteria to be drafted by the Bricklyn Science & Humanities Board (BSHB). These criteria were promulgated the following July, and approved by the FCRB;

(2) that societally beneficial limitations be placed on the use of computer networks by residential users, under rules to be developed by the BSHB. More in a future article on some feel the adopted rules were circumvented by Facebrick.

(3) that one location, open to the public, be established in the City of Bricklyn as a single point of connection to external networks being developed in other Inland/LEGO cities. This facility, called “the Exchange” in honor of Ursula Le Guin, was opened in November 1994.

Report on the Future of Networked Computers in Bricklyn

Cover of the landmark report by the Office of the Chief Prognosticator, relied on by the Federal Council in issuing its three mandates on networked computers.

Heavily influencing the Council’s decision was an in-depth report prepared by the Realm’s then Chief Prognosticator, Ray Brickbury, in consultation with Chief Scientist Mike Strassman (who still holds that position) and then Chief Historian Joseph Tiler Bellis.

“A Report on the Future of Networked Computers in the Realm of Bricklyn” predicted that computer networks would ultimately display a dangerous vulnerability, where the welfare of businesses, residents, and essential public services could be at risk from being dependent on the stability and security of the networks.

“It was very fortunate,” Plater-Zybrick adds, “that the Realm back in 1992 could call on — and then listen to — the wisdom of Chief Prognosticator Brickbury and his colleagues.”📍

📍Brickbury retired in 1999, and was replaced by Mary Plater Campbell. David Bricks was appointed to the position in 2014 .

Brickbury also foresaw that computer networks would enhance the already addictive nature of computers for young people, lessening the resilience of this generation of Bricklynites.

A young Ray Brickbury, then an Assistant to the Chief Prognosticator, in 1981. In front of the Prognosticators offices in the Northeast Corner building (LEGO 10264).

➤ From the pen of Ray Brickbury’s human doppelgänger, Ray Bradbury: “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.” Quoted in “Fahrenheit 451 becomes e-book despite author’s feelings”BBC News. November 30, 2011. Retrieved July 5, 2021.

❖ As policy analyst Barbara Plater McQue has written, “the bold decision of the Federal Council moved Bricklyn to a leadership position among Inland communities around the world, a surprising outcome for a Realm of relatively small size, and geographically isolated from the principal LEGO realms.” From Bricklyn’s LEGO Community Leadership & How It Came About (Lost Hinge Press, 2019).

Defending the Federal Council’s Ruling

Hilma Plater-Zybrick at her home.

As can be imagined, the Federal Council’s decision also placed a demanding burden on the Bricklyn Science & Humanities Board, then Chaired by Hilma Plater-Zybrick. As many readers will know, Plater-Zyberk later went on to be elected to the Federal Council from South Bricklyn in 2008. She then ran and was re-elected as for the at-large Council seat in 2012, thereby becoming President of the Council.📍

📍The at-large Council member is automatically named President of the Council. For more on the Federal Council.

Plater-Zybrick, in a recent interview with this paper, noted that “the heavy, and growing, dependence that much of the Outland world places on computer networks, puts individuals and businesses at the mercy of increasingly common service interruptions, viruses, or attacks.” But Plater-Zyberk cautions that “the even graver risk is that whole countries are now realizing that their basic infrastructure, including electric grids, is at grave risk.”

📍 From “Plater-Zyberk reflects on the Outland’s SolarWind Attacks,” (The Bricklyn Eagle’s Inland-Only Edition, June 15, 2021).

➤ See also, for example, reports on the recent SolarWinds attack on CBS news (“SolarWinds: How Russian spies hacked the Justice, State, Treasury, Energy and Commerce Departments“) & in many other publications, including The New York Times (“As Understanding of Russian Hacking Grows, So Does Alarm“).

Controversy Over “The Exchange”

The Exchange is located in the third floor suite of the Northeast Corner Building — coincidentally (?) in the same building that houses the Office of the Chief Prognosticator.

Some critics of the Federal Council’s mandate for a separate facility to connect to networks in Inland communities across the globe said it seemed to emulate what they called the “bizarre fantasy novel,” Always Coming Home, by Outland author Ursula Le Guin.

In Le Guin’s telling, computer networks in Kesh communities were made available in buildings called “Exchanges” (or “Wudun” in the Kesh language) and not in peoples’ dwellings or places of work.

Defenders of the Council’s ruling argued that Le Guin’s imagined society offered a “perfectly sane approach” to allowing for the growth of knowledge (through connections between the Exchanges and enormous databases in the “City of Mind”), while at the same time “diminishing the negative societal impacts of networked computers.”

Yes, as a result of the policies resulting from the Council’s decision, life in Bricklyn can at times seem quite backward compared to Outland cities, or to even quite a few other Inland communities.

Yes too, there has been occasional griping from the business community about the “wonders of technology” Bricklyn is missing out on — though those critiques have lessened as the vulnerability of Outland networks has become more apparent.

But polls show that the vast majority of Bricklynites still strongly support the Council’s 1992 ruling and see little reason to revisit it.📍

📍 Polling from the Prew Institute for Public Research indicates that 55% of Bricklynites still think “highly positively” of the 1992 Council ruling; 20% view it “positively;” 10% view it “negatively;” 2% highly negatively;” and 13% either “have no opinion” or “have never heard of” the 1992 ruling.


Bricklyn’s path forward has some parallels to the slowly growing Neo-Luddism movement among Outlanders. Even those who profess not to be Neo-Luddites can attest to the benefits of lessened dependence on the Internet and world-wide networking in this age of damaging hack attacks.

➤ As Brett Frischmann writes in Scientific American’s blog (“There’s Nothing Wrong with Being a Luddite” (September 20, 2018): “The good thing about Luddism is that it enables critical reflection and evaluation of the world we have built and are building. At times, we need to break away, to deconstruct the systems within which we find ourselves embedded and to evaluate how the technologies we take for granted influence who we are and can be.” ✥

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