December 11, 2009

The Evil Empires That Always Manipulate New Technologies

Pornographers, fundamentalist religious movements, paedophile networks, racists, terrorists, ethnic cleansers, electronic stalkers—all these will make use of the Internet and global networks to expand the range, and sometimes the profit, of their seedy activities. Police forces all over the world are currently bemused as to how to deal with the abuse of public networks used to smuggle bytes of sadism and violence across national borders, and we are in for some big debates about what we should be allowed to do with these networks. When is a server a publisher? What is a newsgroup? And so on. All forms of publishing technology have raised issues like these in the past, but the freedom and liberty of the wired individual will tax our old moral and ethical values like no other form of publication has done. The digital copying of everything that is not nailed down will also tax good relations between nations and companies, and a select band of lawyers will make fortunes out of advising on the law (or the lack of it) concerning international and national copyright. As the old map makers of the fifteenth century put it when they did not know what was over the next ocean, ‘here be dragons’ indeed.

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December 08, 2009

Deteriorating Political Agendas for Public Access to Information and The Widening of Existing Economic Disparities

While there is a tremendous amount of interest in all societies as to how those with the tools and instruments to access the new global networks, e.g. modems, computers, software, telephone or cable lines, boxes full of interactive intelligence and the skills to understand and handle them, will be empowered, there are generally few political agendas addressing how accessible these networks will be for the sizable populations who will not have easy access to these tools. The impact of exclusion both on the haves and the have-nots, and the extent to which such a discrepancy changes each group’s assumptions about the world, looks like being left to market forces to mould and then control. It has ever been the case that the affluent in any society have always had new discretionary wants created for them by the market while the economically hard-pressed simply tend to adjust their wants downward to cope with new conditions.

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December 04, 2009

A Critical Perspective of Technological Development

By avoiding the more Utopian accounts of the information society thesis, the contributors to this collection have attempted to adopt a critical and perhaps more cautious (although not intransigent) approach to the technologically driven changes currently underway. In particular technological development is seen as being shaped by social, economic and political relations which in turn often produce indeterminate outcomes. From this perspective the explanation for the uneven spread of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) within and between societies is to be sought from a clearer understanding of the relationship between technological development and differential opportunities for exercising power.

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December 02, 2009

Defining Literacy and Cyberliteracy

What is cyberliteracy? The term literacy is a highly contested one; I will provide a brief overview of this issue to illustrate how I am using the concept. Looking at this overview leads one to the logical conclusion that in the digital age, the concept of literacy must be reconfigured if it is to be useful for helping us understand communication in the future.

Kathleen Tyner, in Literacy in a Digital World (1998), provides a succinct overview of the literacy debate. She notes that in general, the term literacy is often equated with the ability to read and write. Before World War II, scholars wrote about “literacy as a tool for transforming higher psychological processes”.
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November 28, 2009

The Spatial Turn

Despite their avid use of spatial metaphors in conceptualizing different kinds of democratic practices, political theorists, have tended to conceptualize space in physiocentric terms: as a natural, given, physical container within which physical bodies move. This framework, I suggested, is what has contributed to the construction of size (territory and population) as a limiting condition in democratic theory: the perennial problem of scale. This fetish about size creates a kind of conceptual impasse, generally committing theorists to a single position somewhere along the “democratic corridor”. The common premise is that participation by citizens is a face-to-face affair. Consequently, citizen participation is most active in a small-scale community and, of necessity, least active in a large-scale society, where the business of administering government is, therefore, best left to elected representatives.

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November 25, 2009

Space, Technology, and the Body

“Politics,” Stone observes, “works through physical bodies” (Leeson 1996, 114). Indeed, as Foucault’s own work has shown, relations of power in contemporary societies are manifested in a variety of disciplinary techniques that are organized around the visibility of the body. To the extent this is so, physical presence before others is a rather risky venture. The paradigmatic ideal for a kind of participatory democracy, however, has been the agora: an ostensibly egalitarian physical space where citizens could have a say, in part because they were physically present, there in the flesh. Being seen,making an appearance before fellow citizens, was a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for becoming empowered, for being a political actor. In one respect,Oguibe’s story participates in this ideal. The story he tells is fundamentally about how people are disempowered by being excluded from certain spaces, such as cyberspace. Even while he criticizes utopian claims about the democratic potentials of cyberspace, however, he makes the following challenge: “[T]hat we begin to explore with greater seriousness and humanism [the] means of extending the numerous, practical possibilities of this new technology to the greater majority of humanity” (1996). Hence, despite his criticisms, the technology still retains for him a certain emancipatory promise, which is why it needs, in his account, to be democratized, made accessible to others. Foucault reminds us, however, that if invisibility is disempowering, visibility is a trap (1979, 200). Being seen always comes at a price.

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November 24, 2009

Cyberpower as a Possession

If we think about all the tales that are relevant to the nature of individual cyberpower, we can see they all embody a notion of personal empowerment. In the myth of Julie, Sanford became a woman to experience conversations he desired and, until the deception was revealed, Julie provided support to a number of women. In cybersex, people can experiment and explore in ways they cannot do offline. In institutions, cyberspace can reorder hierarchies to benefit individuals. Even where it is not clear that empowerment is all that is on offer, the power of the individual still seems to dominate cyberspace. In the flame war between alt.tasteless and rec.pets.cats, both communities were first empowered to exist—that is, to find other people committed to discussions about tastelessness or cats—but alt.tasteless then had the ability to invade rec.pets.cats. Online cat lovers found themselves losing the community cyberspace had allowed in the first place, but in kill files they engaged with each individual attacker. When cat lovers battled within cyberspace the battle was with individuals, not the collective of alt.tasteless.

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November 22, 2009

Sojourn to the Digital Public Sphere for the Millennium and Beyond

This survey of select historic black presses’ migration to the Internet clearly reveals their commitment to continue the struggle for black political, social, ultural, and economic survival and prosperity well into the digital age. What the online incarnations of the Afro American, Indianapolis Recorder, Charlotte Post, and Philadelphia Tribune newspapers represent, besides a corrective to a presumption of black technophobia, is African Americans’ robust technological participation in the nation’s postmodern public sphere or what Nancy Fraser more accurately sees as an agglomeration of many “counterpublics.”

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November 19, 2009

Hyperreality and Virtual Reality

Perhaps most notable within the debates about postmodernism and CMC has been the prominence of Jean Baudrillard’s exposition of ‘hyperreality’ (1988) as it relates to the development of cyberspace and especially the potential capabilities of virtual reality technologies. Although based primarily upon mass communications media, Baudrillard’s contention that such technologies are constructing an entirely new social environment, an electronic reality, has clear resonance for those proclaiming that cyberspace represents an alternative, virtual reality. In contrast to cyber-libertarians, Baudrillard is unlikely, however, to find solace in the electronic frontier: his is a dystopic view of future technological change.

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November 18, 2009

Modernism Versus Postmodernism

When the topic of "postmodernism" is discussed in "deconstructivist" circles, it is obligatory—a sign of good manners, so to speak—to begin with a negative reference to Habermas, with a kind of distancing from him. In complying with this custom, we would like to add a new twist: to propose that Habermas is himself postmodernist, although in a peculiar way, without knowing it. To sustain this thesis, we will question the very way Habermas constructs the opposition between modernism (defined by its claim to a universality of reason, its refusal of the authority of tradition, its acceptance of rational argument as the only way to defend conviction, its ideal of a communal life guided by mutual understanding and recognition and by the absence of constraint) and postmodernism (defined as the "deconstruction" of this claim to universality, from Nietzsche to "poststructuralism''; the endeavor to prove that this claim to universality is necessarily, constitutively "false," that it masks a particular network of power relations; that universal reason is as such, in its very form, "repressive" and "totalitarian"; that its truth claim is nothing but an effect of a series of rhetorical figures. This opposition is simply false: for what Habermas describes as "postmodernism" is the immanent obverse of the modernist project itself; what he describes as the tension between modernism and postmodernism is the immanent tension that has defined modernism from its very beginning.

November 17, 2009

Fantasy as a Support of Reality

This problem must be approached from the Lacanian thesis that it is only in the dream that we come close to the real awakening - that is, to the Real of our desire. When Lacan says that the last support of what we call 'reality' is a fantasy, this is definitely not to be understood in the sense of 'life is just a dream', 'what we call reality is just an illusion', and so forth. We find such a theme in many science-fiction stories: reality as a generalized dream or illusion. The story is usually told from the perspective of a hero who gradually makes the horrifying discovery that all the people around him are not really human beings but some kind of automatons, robots, who only look and act like real human beings; the final point of these stories is of course the hero's discovery that he himself is also such an automaton and not a real human being. Such a generalized illusion is impossible: we find the same paradox in a well-known drawing by Escher of two hands drawing each other.

November 16, 2009

The Global Digital Divide

The network society is creating parallel communication systems: one for those with income, education and - literally - connections, giving plentiful information at low cost and high speed; the other for those without connections, blocked by high barriers of time, cost and uncertainty and dependent on outdated information. (UNDP, 1999: 63)

The principle of equality meets in the literature and debates about ICTs with a great deal of consensus. As the Independent Commission for World Wide Telecommunications Development (1984) states, it is in the interest of humanity that the majority of the world population is not excluded from the use of new technologies. The Commission, chaired by Sir Donald Maitland, writes in his report The Missing Link, 'that by the early part of the next century virtually the whole ofmankind should be brought within the reach of a telephone' (1986: 4). Yet, there seems general agreement in the scientific literature and in public policy statements that the leT gap between the developed and developing countries is widening and that thishinders the integration of all countries into the so-called Global Information Society. Nowhere in the world have the aspirations of the
Maitland report been achieved. Universal access has not been realized anywhere in the world! For some 5.7 billion people there are one billion telephone lines. In some 500 million households (34 per cent of the total in the world) there is a telephone. Early 1997 62 per cent of all telephone lines installed were in 23 rich countries with less than 15 per cent of the world's population. Although over half the population of poor countries lives in rural areas, some 80 per cent of all telephones are connected in the urban areas.

November 15, 2009

A Review of Western Literacy Technologies

To be cyberliterate means that we need to understand the relationship between our communication technologies and ourselves, our communities, and our cultures. It may be hard to see the effects of the Internet and cyberspace on our daily lives, in large part because we are living in the midst of these changes. Already we take so much for granted. Email messages containing photos of your family in another state; real-time chats and instant messages; Web sites for almost every product, service, and idea imaginable—these features have quickly become part of our daily landscape. And even as these technologies shift into different shapes (new versions of software, faster Internet connections), they continue to affect how we view the world. Tyner’s observation is astute: “Some literacy technologies atrophy from widespread disuse, but the conventions they foster in form and content may linger for centuries” (1998, 40). Cutting and pasting, kerning, the standard size of a page (81 / 2 #11 inches)—all these ideas come from an older print technology but have made their way into new technologies like word processing and Web page design.

EMILE DURKHEIM: The Economy as Moral Order

It is not possible for a social function to exist without anymoral discipline. Otherwise, there is nothing left except individual cravings, which cannot regulate themselves because of their essential limitlessness and insatiability, but must be controlled from outside.
—Emile Durkheim

EMILE DURKHEIM belongs to that generation of sociologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who found the subject matter of sociological study in the process of social transformation and the conflictual transition from traditional agrarian societies to modern industrial societies that was caused by industrialization. The question of the possible social cohesion of societies that are marked by increasing individual freedom and the concomitant dissolution of relationships based on tradition had concerned political philosophy since the seventeenth century. Both contract theories and the theory of order of political economy sketched an optimistic scenario for the problem of social order in modern societies. The pacification of social relations is expected by giving up individual rights of sovereignty to the Leviathan or by market coordination, even if the members of society no longer belong to a moral community. This optimism was obviously counteracted by socioeconomic crises, which affected all industrializing societies in the nineteenth century. The misery of the proletarian masses documented in countless contemporary studies and literary descriptions and in the political conflicts—not only between capital and labor, but also between the middle-class, the clergy, and the nobility, or forces of restoration, reform, and revolution (Muller 1983)—make the incipient social structures seem profoundly anomistic.