by Jack Kessler, email@example.com
October 15, 2013 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on October 15, 2013 -- and, a little later, on http://fyifrance.blogspot.com/, and at Facebook-Jack Kessler's Notes
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-- and here simply appreciate, yet again, how differently these Internet-&-digital-information topics are viewed by friends, & perhaps entire cultures, overseas...
by Hervé Le Crosnier, (tr. JK), preface to Culturenum : jeunesse, culture & Éducation dans la vague numérique (éds. C&F, Caen, 2013)
It always is good to reconsider first principles, desires, the fundamentals.
The digital certainly is a technique which changes, often radically, the given, a technique which installs itself in all activities and transforms them, remodels them. It provokes what the economist Schumpeter calls "creative destruction", when simultaneously it creates new activities while it diminishes old ones.
The digital is accompanied by numerous discourses, often-elegiac and lacking in nuance, participating in a new economy of promises which goes so well with the amnesia of the media.
But before giving-in to the sirens of marketing, to appeals for a surrender to a so-called "retard", or even a gap, a breaking, before plunging into utopias which offer no escape and no protection, shouldn't we take another look at the fundamentals?
What are we doing in building a society, which institutions and what values are we giving them so we may live together and produce a world for ourselves and for generations to come?
When one considers the digital, and its impact upon our society, upon our hopes and the projects-in-common which those engender, one always has a tendency to assume rupture, to see a world uniquely via the mirror of one's own screen.
But the digital is situated in a more general movement, one of a struggle between emancipation and domination. There are fundamental levels which continue to unfold, which find their source in the struggles and the utopias of the past, but which renew themselves and regenerate at the core of the digital networks: sharing, transmission, education, discovery, relationships...
What is important to us here is to see how the digital is involved in these basic tendencies and how it remodels them, far more than considering just its usage as a simple tool for communication and information.
From this point of view, there exists a major difference between the model, or utopia, or the dream, of The Digital, and that of television or mass media: The Digital puts forward a call to action, a demand for investment by the user, for co-creation, for participation. In the digital utopia users are thought to be able to, and to have to, decide themselves what their level of participation will be, in the construction of a totality greater than any individual. More than even a democracy, in which the majority determines the trend, the digital utopia calls for the ultimate decision by users in designing a future in which each person can realize himself or herself.
This was a central element in the discourse of the founders of the Internet, in their hope for changing the world thanks to a new horizontal technique. (Fred Turner, Aux sources de l'utopie numérique : de la contre-culture à la cyberculture, Stewart Brand un homme d'influence éditions C&F, décembre 2012.)
A beautiful utopia, but one for which we have difficulty now in seeing its virtues, when one confronts the new monopolies installing themselves, the manipulations of the cultural commons, upon the collective aspirations and also upon people's private lives, upon individuals and groups and relationships.
The laws of economics, notably the notion of network effects, the concentration of power, and the absence of any public or political conscience in the phenomenon now installing itself, favor the constitution of new powers, extending their grip over numerous sectors of the economy and over the private lives of individuals, reaching even for the extension of the digital into all human activities.
So we find that the digital is a Two-Headed Janus, a "pharmakon", as Isabelle Stengers or Bernard Stiegler put it, referring to medicines used by the Greeks, which in some doses can cure and in others can destroy.
Called upon by some of its promoters to cure certain social ills in our relations of domination and power, the digital, when it dominates the imagination and our discourse, in the same way that it dominates our stock markets, can become a poison, one which undermines human relations and transforms us and our activities into merchandise.
But the digital is here for the duration. It possesses a magic which humans forever have sought: the construction of a symbolic machine, capable of treating data, information, and very soon even knowledge; capable of analyzing for us the signals of the world, of nature , and of human activity; capable of rationalizing our choices, evaluating our trajectories, economizing the planet and optimizing the time we devote to industry and social organization.
This is a complex machinery, one which uses each participant, the ideas, desires, projects, understandings, and sublimates them in the fantasy of unlimited communication, of shared knowledge and an extended commons of the burdens of powers and interests.
But the magic disperses, the fantasies evaporate, and more quickly than for any other innovation the dystopia-side appears, often so dominating that we forget the basic qualities of the networks and their symbolic machines.
In less than twenty years empires have been erected, of which their symbolic force has no more significance than their stock market value, and for which their importance in our lives is measured by how they serve themselves and how we serve them.
Happily these empires, as opposed to the digital materials of which they are composed, are not destined to survive. They only hold their power through social acceptance. Their riches are built from fiscal maneuverings and speculative offerings, from their capacity to "monetize" everything. These are colossi with feet of clay.
But the question which they pose is that of understanding whether the winners of today, in cyberspace, will be forced to their knees by their peers, more savvy, more nimble, more cynical -- or whether these corporations will seize the opportunity to use the capacities of the digital to re-establish themselves and imagine a world in which the horizontality and equilibrium of power, those two initial utopias of the Internet, may build themselves through sharing and collaboration.
These are common values, which are building now in the byways of the Nets, often just as add-ons to the central effort, like a growing ivy which enfolds the other branches, sometimes on its own and as a rebellion, like the many movements issuing from the original open-software example, forming a new alternative for this old emancipation-combat, which always has carried people into opposition, putting to work and into motion goals of solidarity, equality, and liberty...
In the current context we address the contradictions emerging in education and the transmission of knowledge, and in their creation and diffusion; to see what the digital is changing and what promise it may carry.
We try, as well, to better-define and place in context the new powers emerging in this field, the better to deal with them. We look for what the digital is bringing to the old combat of emancipation.
The specific topic of public education, which is the origin of this work, offers us a precious tool for reflecting upon the reorganization of culture, of education, and of emancipation, in the digital era.
Each of us knows that education is in-crisis, and that this is true throughout the globe.
So, even though the new technologies on the one hand, and the extension of democracy requiring greater citizen-involvement on the other, demand an extension of the knowledge of individuals, the progress of education remains in-retreat.
The gains in productivity realized over thirty years in production sectors have been transformed into means of enlarging education to last the length of life, either in formal professional education or in public education. On the contrary, the education and training sectors see their budgets diminish.
The productivity provided by these techniques is not used to construct a more-educated society but is hijacked to construct immense private profits.
Although it was the dream of Aristotle that, "the day when transports can proceed by themselves will be a Golden Age", this has been more prosaically transformed into, "The Age of Mass Unemployment" -- and the free time which would permit general access to education and culture becomes something devoted instead to the media industries, their "viewing time".
This crisis in educational well-being, in the transmission of knowledge, can it be resolved by the technologies of information and communication?
What is certain is that we all hope and believe that we may bring into the education domain the "productivity gains" which are the hallmark of the new techniques of information in commercial productivity.
But, it must be said, this hope is an old one which never has been realized. Every new technology has been assigned a mission in education. In 1922 Thomas Edison did not hesitate to declare, "I believe the cinema will revolutionize our education system, and that in several years it largely will replace, if not completely, the use of textbooks". (Edison predicts movies will replace textbooks, http://www.xtimeline.com/evt/view.aspx?id=775970)
Beliefs in technology have taken center-stage with the appearance of each technology of communication.
We endowed every educational establishment with television during the 1960s, there were "educational networks"... so much so that the TV became a principal symbol of instruction.
Before evoking the place that the digital may hold in education, and to avoid falling to the sirens of marketing and of techno-beatitude, we must again return to fundamentals.
What happens at school? Is this above all about information, about structured knowledge regarding this information? In this case, one easily may conceive of a new paradigm based on the technologies of information. But the reality is far more complex. (Julien Gautier, Petite Poucette : la douteuse fable de Michel Serres, Revue Skhole.fr, "Penser et repenser l'école", 25 juin 2013. http://skhole.fr/petite-poucette-ladouteuse-fable-de-michel-serres.)
What a student absorbs, beyond the subjects of the curriculum, is an entire series of behaviors, of critical thinking, of extra-curricular reflections, all of which form the cognitive achievement so necessary to the development of learning and the integration of acquired knowledge and making it one's own...
There is nothing "scientific" about digital-information any longer, nothing precise, or objective, no Objektiver Geist at work in The Digital -- if there ever was, as so often things which begin as facts quickly become judgments and opinions, it's a measure of their success...
These things-digital now so permeate our lives that they have become entirely subjective, matters of judgment, subjects of debate and passion, and so there must be room for many opinions.
It amazes me more and more, then, how little discussion and debate there actually is, about the fundamentals, in my own USA where most of these things-digital still get invented.
Here in the US, currently, the greatest subject of true passion in these topics appears to be the adjustments in income, between authors and publishers, under way now in digital copyright...
Other places, though, it's education, privacy, government snooping, equality. So often, in the pragmatic US, it's about-the-money, only.
So, are the threats to our Knowledge Commons, to our "cultures", to our education processes and our very learning and understanding -- all addressed here by Hervé -- all mere fantasies of the French?
Or are his concerns shared in fact by others, everywhere, even by all the others who use our still largely-US-designed digital tools now?
It is important to remember, always and at all levels, that not too many nations share our unique US blend of democracy, capitalism, religious toleration, lack of adequate social welfare policies, poor and declining educational achievement, skyrocketing prison populations, and enormous if vastly mal-distributed wealth... our Gini-coefficient of income distribution, 45, is nearing Brazil's, now, 54.7, with its favelas & uninsured homeless, and our own...
The world will not be like us, anytime soon. Perhaps, then, we in the US should listen more, and better, to the differences, if we ever are to understand the rest.
If we would begin by understanding the worries and objections of our good friends the French, who in fact are so much like us and with whom we have so much in common, that would be a start -- at any rate before we try out our unique blend on others not-so-friendly and far-more-different, in locales such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, India, China, & Egypt & Brazil itself & Kyrgyzstan & Pakistan, among other places where our US foreign policies have been rebuffed so completely, recently, also in M. Abe's newly-re-armed New Japan.
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com -- also now at http://www.facebook.com ("Jack Kessler" My Notes), and at http://fyifrance.blogspot.com/. Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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