Power and Powerlessness in the Global Village:
Stepping into the “Information Society” as a “Revolution from Above”


Reinald Dbel Institut fuer Soziologie



This essay was written back in 1995, as a compilation of a partly improvised speech delivered to an audience of students and lecturers at the University of Muenster in Germany. The occasion was a student-organized information day about the possibilities offered by the Internet?possibilities for better learning as well as possibilities for a better presentation of research results to a wider audience?possibilities the organizers felt were still largely ignored by the more conservative university environment. Accordingly, the majority of contributors concentrated on the “how-to” technicalities of achieving this increased “connectivity,” and the expected benefits from it.

It is difficult to play the devil’s advocate in a climate of shared enthusiasm, fuelled by the high hopes that the undeniable possibilities of new technologies easily kindle. For this reason I wanted to be as entertaining as possible, and as close to everybody’s personal thinking as possible. Hence, there are no figures and technical references in this essay that would need updating after these several years?years in which I have accumulated some more experience with the Web myself. These experiences have mellowed some of my erstwhile anxieties about the dangers of being swamped with largely irrelevant “information”; the truth or correctness of which one can hardly verify unless one knows the sender or has some general knowledge about the context in which the information originates. In these past years of private access to the Internet I did find a lot more relevant and seemingly trustworthy professional and other information than expected. On the other hand, some of the main arguments of this paper have been “verified” by personal experience, two of which merit explicit mentioning.

First, not the much-acclaimed “search engines” provided me with the most valuable information, but the hints offered by people I know personally. Knowing who recommended something allowed a reasonable guess about the value of a particular recommendation, about what it might be useful for. Of course, one can guess on the face value of what one encounters on the Net, and discover later that one was misled. Second, the Web occupies an increasing amount of “real time,” to the point where information overload can become a topic of concern for the World Bank’s just completed global discussion list on “Indigenous Knowledge and Development.” And to the point where a special issue of the renowned German news magazine Der Spiegel features a report on “The terror of being reachable.” The report closes with Geoff Baehr (who, as manager at Sun Microsystems, is plagued by 150 emails per day plus dozens of additional telephone calls) and the relief he experiences in his second job as a scuba diving instructor, when he and his students (after all the necessary preliminaries) finally plunge into the “wonderful silence” below the water’s surface ( von Bredow, 1999).

To the extent that similar, if less extreme experiences are surely common today, it also seems worthwhile to report here the failure of a teaching experiment. Together with a colleague, I worked out a proposal for a seminar to study the vision of the global village, both by way of conventional reading and discussion and online research. One of the core issues was to get students to reflect on their cognitive and emotional experiences during their online time. They were supposed to do this offline, in a live group. We also tried to interest some other colleagues at different universities to conduct similar seminars and exchange the results via an electronic discussion list. At the time (1995) this elicited little interest among the German colleagues we contacted. Perhaps this issue of EJS is a better place to suggest that precisely the possibilities offered by the Web could be used to study, in a novel way, the “live” effect of being online. This could be attained by combining “live” dialogue about the introspective observation of being online with an electronic discussion in which the different groups of people engaged in this dispersed experiment exchange the results of their “live” dialogues online.

With this online suggestion I can now turn to the offline record of a live speech.

Introspection and the “Power of Progress”

What follows is an attempt to present a few arguments about the relationship between the individual and the information society. As this relationship is of necessity a personal one, it is also a report about the author’s own position, which is “objective” and “subjective” at the same time. Fortunately, we now live in the post-modern age when it has become common knowledge that the boundary between objective and subjective is a matter of interpersonal construction ? both online and offline.

The first substantive statement of this paper is an example of this blurred boundary: each and every personal decision concerning the new media and its technology (in more concrete terms: to what extent and in what form someone “dives” into the virtual reality of the Internet) is also a decision concerning one’s own position with respect to a global power structure; knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or subconsciously. This essay attempts to assist the reader in reaching a more conscious decision by referring to a segment of the author’s own introspection and its results.

According to Oswald Wiener (1990) “introspection” is an indispensable ingredient if one wants to study mental processes. This is also true for all attempts to create “artificial intelligence” (AI) by imitating formalized mental processes in program structures. In contrast to other proponents and adherents of AI, Wiener does not succumb to the temptation to declare all thought processes as capable of being transferred to machines: he believes that the very process of introspection is genuine to the human mind or spirit.

The modern proponents of truly “intelligent” robots have had an astonishing predecessor who could (in 1912!) only dream of “living machines.”

Assisted by intuition we are going to overcome the seemingly unshakeable enmity separating our human flesh from the metal of engines. Beyond the realm of living beings there lies the realm of machines. We are going to prepare the creation of mechanical man with replacement parts and he will be assisted by our knowledge about, and friendship with matter?about which the natural scientist can only know physio-chemical reactions. We are going to free him from the thought of death and, consequently, from death itself, this highest definition of human intelligence.

These sentences were written by F.T.Marinetti in his “manifesto” of futuristic literature. They were quoted in 1995 by the organizers of a small exhibition at the Institute of Sociology in Muenster, as one of the two commentaries to a series of photographs of modern-day attempts to create “real robots” (following Marinetti’s definition of death, one would need to call them “materializations of immortal stupidity”).

The justification for this choice can be found in the following sentences by Marvin Minsky, one of the “fathers” of “artificial intelligence” (Minsky, 1995, p.80 ff; translated into English by the author of this essay):

The future we are going to discuss here cannot be realized by means of biology … In the end it is going to be possible to exchange each and every part of our bodies and brains and we are thus going to be able to repair all the deficiencies and damages which make our lives so short. It goes without saying that we are thereby going to transform ourselves into machines. Thus, are machines going to replace us?

It is my conviction that it is not going to make sense any longer to think in terms of the contradictory pair “man/machine.” I am more inclined to share the stance of my colleague Hans. P. Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) who sees the intelligent machines of the future as our mind children?literally and figuratively.

… Ultimately, nanotechnology is going to enable us to completely replace our brains. And once we are not limited by biological constraints any more, we can determine the length of our lives ourselves?including immortality.

The same Mr. Minsky advances a quasi-ethical obligation to press forward with this development in order to finally overcome the limitations and the lack of direction of biological evolution. This should enable “us” to, first, purposefully construct these immortal machines “according to carefully considered requests and ambitions” even at their biological basis (referring to an engineered DNA code that avoids reliance on the “fortuitous combination of two sets of genes”), and, second, to make use of the possibility of those machines to “catch your mind as well as mine and to combine those two into a new one which would then have both our individual experiences at its disposition” (p.86). The duty to produce mind children in the form of machines is expressed in the following statement: “We owe our minds to the lives and deaths of all those creatures ever involved in the struggle for survival called evolution. It is our duty to make sure that this so painfully acquired heritage is not squandered in a senseless manner” (p.86).

A rather different, self-imposed duty concerning introspection was seen by Mr. Glaser (who is going to play the role of a “witness” later in this paper):

The law?my “private law,” or PRIL?I had imposed on myself a few weeks after purchasing my first computer came back to my mind: vis vis this machine you are both the scientist and the guinea pig in one person. Therefore: Do observe with open eyes even what you don’t like. Do find out whether this machine does change you, your thinking, your emotions, your behaviour. If it does: do try to detect and discern what happens and to describe it. You belong to the generation which is called upon to find out what it is with these machines. (Glaser 1989, p. 143)

Why should an essay that “only” attempts to deal with “power and powerlessness in the global village” start with broadening the perspective to include introspection on one side and the whole of evolution on the other? What does this mind-boggling range have to do with everyone’s personal decision to “dive” into the Net or not; to what extent and in what manner?

By way of an answer, this paper attempts to suggest that we are dealing with a “revolution from above,” and that in this revolution from above, computer networks and artificial intelligence are inextricably interwoven. And the attempt to depict this revolution from above as a moral duty, can be seen as an intellectual service serving this revolution?a service that can be expected from a founding father of a big lab for artificial intelligence (as is well known, professor Minsky co-founded MIT’s artificial intelligence laboratory), a small service to be paid in return for the big service of funding such an institution in the first place. The introspection of anyone who cannot discern this link is limited: he or she must not (for moral reasons) use introspection to come to the conclusion that “The Road Ahead” could (or even should) be different from what one of the most powerful men of the computer industry described in his recent book with that very title (Gates 1995).

In other words: when it comes to those technologies that created the capital on which the latest growth cycle (starting in the 1970s) of global capitalism rested (see Drucker 1990, p. 17), no doubt can be permitted that historical as well as biological “evolution” can only advance further through and with the help of machines. Rarely is this dogma laid out as clearly as by professor Minsky, yet it seems to be so fundamental and so widespread that any objection is quickly demolished: whoever objects simply cannot be anything but “old-fashioned,” “backward,” “nave,” or the like. The spread of this judgement?as well as the passion accompanying it?nourishes the suspicion that we are dealing with an article of faith residing in the depths of the collective subconscious mind.

Of course, the substantiation of this suspicion would require something like a collective introspection?and neither is anyone entitled to demand this, nor does anyone have the means to achieve it. Against the prospect of a completed revolution from above, which has turned all human beings into “bio- machines,” the only remaining hope is that human beings simply cannot be held back from following their biologically natural inclination towards introspection. I do believe that this is a “sufficient hope” because all human beings have an equally natural inclination to communicate the results of this introspection and to arrive at conclusions that are more or less relevant for the actions of people who have been involved in this communication.

The “Revolution from Above” is Led by a Free Market Yet Needs Governmental Support

Nobody, at least in Germany, who just listens to the radio, can escape the promises of the Internet: Telekom’s advertisement for “T-Online” is on the air. As a consequence, nobody can avoid to take a stance vis vis these promises?and their corollary, anxieties ?floated in the “public discourse” and thereby raised in the individual.

Ute Bernhardt and Ingo Ruhmann used the phrase “revolution from above” for the headline of their analysis published in a major newspaper, the Frankfurter Rundschau, November 15, 1995. These two social scientists show that the path to the “society of tomorrow” is advertised with four doubtful, if not false promises: more work, more economic growth, more environmental protection and more democracy. They conclude that the so-called “next industrial revolution” is in fact engineered by identifiable “actors” from the fields of economics and politics and therefore should be called “revolution from above.”

These actors want to move ahead, even if a recent study of the “BAT- Freizeitforschungsinstitut” in Hamburg discovered that “48 % of the respondents above the age of fourteen feel `overrun’ by the developments in the multimedia sector, i.e., they feel threatened rather than anything else,” as professor and moderator Claudia Mast informed the other (rather high-level) participants of a recent TV. discussion on the chances of the (German) industry in the “beautiful new mediaworld.”

For the “revolutionaries from above” (who were represented in this T.V. discussion) faith and the subconscious mind seem to collaborate in such a way that they can only experience one more threat: to miss the train the competitors seem to have boarded already. For that reason, they can only see the threats experienced by those 48% previously quoted, as symptoms of a “false mentality” that must be changed.

In this respect, the view of Mr. Edmund Hug (a participant in the T.V. discussion and a prominent board member of IBM Germany) is but a mirror image of the views expressed in the Bangemann Report, the official report of recommendations to the European Council (European Council, 1994).

Mr. Hug, in the T.V. discussion, said, “In our education system, including voluntary training and professional upgrading, we must find a way to make these new instruments of multimedia so transparent that as many people in our society as possible feel more comfortable with them than they do today.” The experts’ report reads (p. 6):

There is a danger that individuals will reject the new information culture and its instruments. Such a risk is inherent in the process of structural change. We must confront it by convincing people that the new technologies hold out the prospect of a major step forward towards a European society less subject to such constraints as rigidity, inertia and compartmentalisation. By pooling resources that have traditionally been separate, and indeed distant, the information infrastructure unleashes unlimited potential for acquiring knowledge, innovation and creativity. … Preparing Europeans for the advent of the information society is a priority task. Education, training and promotion will necessarily play a central role. The White Paper’s goal of giving European citizens the right to life-long education and training here finds its full justification.

I can’t help but feel reminded of the role the British government was willing to play when the private initiatives of the British East India Company began to experience limitations in what was to become Malaysia (which I had to study in the framework of my doctoral dissertation): to create the securities needed by private investment.

The European Council’s experts begin their “Action Plan” with these sentences (p. 8):

This Report outlines our vision of the information society and the benefits it will deliver to our citizens and to economic operators. It points to areas in which action is needed now so we can start out on the market-led passage to the new age, as well as to the agents which can drive us there.

As requested in the Council’s mandate, we advocate an Action Plan based on specific initiatives involving partnerships linking public and private sectors. Their objective is to stimulate markets so that they can rapidly attain critical mass.

In this sector, private investment will be the driving force. … The prime task of government is to safeguard competitive forces and ensure a strong and lasting political welcome for the information society, so that demand-pull can finance growth, here as elsewhere.

And there can be no doubt that the governments must confront their task in order to meet the challenges (p.7):

Tide waits for no man, and this is a revolutionary tide, sweeping through economic and social life. We must press on.

Yet, the report speaks of advantages of the “information society,” it even speaks of a “vision” (p.3):

This revolution adds huge new capacities to human intelligence and constitutes a resource which changes the way we work together and the way we live together. (S.3)

But the commission of experts itself seems to have been short of the necessary resources of human intelligence if the report can?seriously, so it seems?plead for using the new technologies in the hope of creating “a more caring European society with a significantly higher quality of life and a wider choice of services and entertainment” (p.5). The latter point is feasible and likely of course, provided the existing oversupply can be further enlarged.

The entertainment industry (see Lindo 1994) in fact furnishes a few entertaining examples for the increasingly harsh distinction between “winners” and “losers” which the “revolution” is likely to produce while it drives us all into the new age. Take the case of the young French entrepreneur Nicolas Gaume for example: his company, “Atreid Concept,” sells computer games so successfully that two branches could be founded in China. Recognizing these achievements and his contribution to the local job market, Mr. Gaume is now a well-established member of the local Rotary Club. According to an interview he gave for the T.V. channel Arte, one of his basic orientations is “to go to the limits of what is possible.” This is true for his work as well as for his playing, with no clear boundary between the two: “I work while I am playing. I play while I am working. I try to see how I react in order to be able to react ever faster.”

Thus, Mr. Gaume seems to belong to the category of “content creators” mentioned in the Bangemann Report for whom the information society is going to offer: “New ways to exercise their creativity as the information society calls into being new products and services” (p. 5). And he does exercise his creativity so successfully that he can say of himself:

I still consider myself a big and naive boy. But in order to survive in a tough business world, even a big and naive boy needs a sense of responsibility. So I had to develop certain qualities “by reflex,” through a survival instinct, so to speak. And I did it precisely to protect my naive and “unripe” side.

Without a “naive and unripe side” like this it is probably difficult, if not impossible, to create marketable games in which, as the commentary suggests, technology acquires a “magical” dimension to the extent that the role of the information specialist in “cyberpunk” appears to be similar to that of the magician in the fantasies about the medieval times. Whereas the real magicians are the programmers of computer games who manage to keep the players (i.e., consumers) spellbound by the products of their fantasies.

The latter are the losers of all these “developments”: their fantasy is held captive in the artificial worlds produced by those whose fantasies take a more or less definite (but never really “open”) form because they have “mastered” the technology.

Grgoire Glachant, another seventeen-year-old programmer, puts it into these words: “Behind all these electronics there is a hidden world which we attempt to comprehend and to control.” He also tells us that he has now been working for about two years “without any break or holiday” for the team developing a new game, “Scavenger.”

It seems that one of the least recognized aspects of this “revolution” is that the technology supports (I still hesitate to use the word “enhances”) the creativity of the producers while it holds the creativity of the consumer in captivity.

What I find alarming is the matter-of-factness that the “initiated” exhibit when they speak about the advantages even small children derive from an “as-early-as-possible” contact with these technologies and the contents offered through these “new media.”

“When he was five he already used my computer for his homework,” says one director of a French research institution. In the United States, the “virtual classroom” does in fact exist as an officially recognized institution. According to the programme director of Computer Sciences NJIT, the virtual classroom is based on the concept that there are neither walls or buildings, nor real people. What we are dealing with is a computer-based network for the transmission of data which allows teachers and students to communicate and to exchange information. … The main idea of the whole thing is to be free of the constraints of time and distance.”

It is of course possible to concur with Jerry Fjermestadt (who spoke the above sentences into the camera of a T.V. team sitting on the ground in a forest) that the advantage of this system is that even students from as far away as India or Russia can get access to the “best” schools and universities. And this of course also concurs with the vision of Bill Gates who likes to talk about “information at your fingertips” in his interviews and publications.

Now, what about a little pause for reflection: what is the use of information that is attached to your fingertips but does not reach the brain? And what remains of the often cited “doubling of the knowledge of mankind” in less and less years in the face of a recently released United Nations report of more than a thousand pages that talks of at least 5,400 animal species and 26,100 plant species as “endangered,” i.e., unlikely to survive without special efforts (or despite them)? (According to “Frankfurter Rundschau,” Nov. 15, 1995.)

Therefore we are in a situation where our knowledge about machines is increasing rapidly while our chances to know more about biological processes are decreasing, at least in proportion to the disappearance of species. I believe that only believers in “salvation through machines” such as Mr. Minsky, can doubt the importance of the latter kind of knowledge, probably for the survival of our own species.

In addition, Mr. Gates’ enthusiasm about the accessibility of “information” does not seem to recognize, much less acknowledge, the fact that we can only call “knowledge” that which can be accessed immediately when required for a decision about action. The term “knowledge” can only be applied to those things available in the human organism.

Furthermore, the enthusiasm about conquering time and space (at least as far as “information” is concerned) tends to overlook another trivial problem, and the most basic problem for anything called “knowledge”: Truth.

The trivial problems are those unnerving pauses you experience while waiting for the “robot” (also called the “search engine”) to locate the particular piece of information you are looking for in the global network of computers and databases, and then to transmit the digital code for this “information.” Because these digits travel “physically,” the problem increases as both the available information and the community of “internetters” grows. And for principal reasons, there is no way to make this problem disappear. As an aside, consider the contribution to this problem through what has been termed “information garbage” (e.g., useless and time-consuming pictures on homepages).

The basic problem of truth needs to be considered from two angles. First, it is amazingly easy to change digitalized information or to make it simply disappear. There is only one guarantee that the recipient receives exactly that string of digits sent by the originator of any message: both the recipient and the sender must use the same high quality encryption program and they must agree on using the same “key” for the encryption. This “solution” cannot be applied to data (wrongly termed “information” or “knowledge” in most public sources) that should be commonly accessible. Therefore, those wishing to transform commonly accessible “data” into “knowledge” for themselves must rely on faith and trust in the “truth” of the data. In contrast to direct communication “face to face” there is simply no way to judge the reliability and credibility of the “source,” except for the encryption program just mentioned. It looks like an irony of history that some of the basic theoretical concepts for the development of computers were developed by British mathematician Alan Turing, who also developed a machine capable of decoding the coded messages of the German army during World War II.

And second, even the protection of the integrity of data sent and received requires a communication process beyond the direct processes of coding and decoding: an agreement between the sender and the receiver on the usage of the same code and key. In this respect the problem of encryption simply shares the basic problem of all kinds of “knowledge”?”knowledge” resting on social processes of agreeing on what is “true” and what is “false” (see Roszak 1986, p. 194 f).

An illustration of the complexity of these processes is provided by the history of science; and as a result there is now this “body of human knowledge” that will supposedly be accessible for everyone eventually through the global network of computers. This “body of knowledge” contains elements that were considered “false” yesterday and may be proven “false” again tomorrow through processes of communication between the members of the “scientific community.” And those members are not only fighting to attain to their personal “truths,” they are also engaged in power struggles between individuals and groups, the outcome of which decides which of the rival statements is accorded the title “scientific truth” (see Kuhn 1976).

The Individual and the Net

The propaganda for the “Net” keeps silent about the complexity of these processes and even proclaims that there are possibilities for “new ways of communication,” when in actual fact the possibilities for real communication are reduced for two reasons. The first reason is found in those subtleties of gesture and intonation that can never be transmitted completely even by the most advanced system of “video conferencing” because any transmission of data necessitates a reduction of the complexity of any real situation. And second, the propaganda implicitly relegates to a status of irrelevancy all those simultaneous and multiple communication processes present in any real situation. This refers to internal processes of decision (taking into account the presence of others) as well as to “secret gestures” and eye contact between some individuals who are physically present.

As a result, any technology for “networks” we are able to conceive of, reduces human communication to the restrictive model of a one-to- one relationship between a single sender and a single receiver. I contend that this reduction forces human beings to engage in subhuman forms of communication. I further contend that the “truth” of this statement can only be asserted in real communication that admits the relevance of introspection.

The Destruction of “Time Constraints” as a Dehumanizing Power Strategy

Taking a “plunge” into the Net (i.e., into the true “virtual reality” where the dividing line between fact and fiction ultimately disappears [provided the arguments in this paper are not completely fictitious]) means accepting a deprivation that extends beyond the simple reduction of human communication to its manifest contents as expressed through language (which occurs even in videoconferencing systems transmitting pictures and sounds). I am referring to the loss of “time” that both the “winners” and the “losers” experience when facing the screen, and the hidden demands behind it. Paradoxically enough, the “conquering of space” results in a loss of time rather than more of it. Bill Gates, for example, would have you believe that using the Net saves time you can then spend “off-screen.”

This, of course, connects to our ideal of “efficiency?the smaller the amount of “dead time” often spent in inherently “unproductive” activities such as travelling?and the higher demand for a “productive outcome” for any given piece of time.

In a T.V. discussion, Edmund Hug (the IBM board member cited earlier in this paper) said: “In the future, we are going to expect that our employees use part of their leisure time for further training?something I can recommend to everyone, by the way. Considering how short our working hours have become, there is enough time anyway.”

This of course tallies with our common sense knowledge of “performance” being “amount of work” per “unit of time.” In addition, this meets the needs of those who relish to act accordingly, such as the young French entrepreneur cited earlier, whose main goal in his fusion of work and play was to increase the speed of his reactions. This is an effect computer games seem to have on all users, provided they are “achievement-oriented,” as my own experience suggests.

At this point, my own introspection and observations yield results that are similar to the results of the introspection and observations of Peter Glaser who has been quoted for turning introspection into a kind of “moral obligation” through his “Private Law.” For this reason I consider him a trustworthy witness concerning the truth of the statement that, almost without exception, those who have been termed the “winners” of the new technology find pleasure in experiencing “speed.”

I think it is permissible (if not advisable) to speculate on the possibility of this pleasure being related to the pleasure of “vanquishing time.” If “vanquishing time” is defined as “shortening the time between having a wish and having it fulfilled,” then the link between “speed” and “power, ” as observed by Lewis Mumford (cited by Glaser, p. 116), becomes obvious:

All the plans of the King must be accomplished while he is alive. The speed of execution of any undertaking in itself expresses the power behind and thus becomes a means for demonstrating power. This element of the myth of the machine has penetrated so deeply into the very foundations of our technology that most of us have lost sight of its origin.

As for the pleasure of speed, Glaser tell us:

For me it was a key experience of my early childhood to be able to move ahead fast with the help of a tricycle. Scooter, bicycle, motorcycle and car increase the speed until the upper limit for everyday life is reached by the airplane. The body can only be accelerated further in a fighter plane or a space shuttle.

Almost all the computer freaks I know love speed and share my propensity for fast cars and fast cuts in the cinema. Ends spoil the pleasure of rushing: the pictures in the movies function as mere bridges between the real stimuli?the real pleasure is derived from those moments when the pictures change. Similarly, departure and arrival are the most banal moments of a drive with a car. The real delight is the experience of pure speed. (“Though I don’t know where I want to go I shall be there much faster” (Helmut Qualtinger, The Wild Man and His Machine.)

These reflections lead Glaser to the suspicion that this relationship with time might be inappropriate (p.115):

I ask myself: what has happened since the early days of the possession of fire? I keep on programming, for hours, days and nights, and, as if lighted by a flash of lightning from past centuries, I see myself building on the deeds of past priesthoods, such as the lords of the cults of fire, the Indian Agni Hotra, or the Persian priests who guarded the flames of Zarathustra, the light of eternity. I see the quest for perfection: the programme without bugs. And I see myself sacrificing: time.

According to the published observations of another successful programmer (Valle 1984, p.168), those who do not already relish this particular game and who are not yet willing to sacrifice time voluntarily might be “persuaded” at last:

If we run into problems with the use of computers we can do one of two things: we can either change the system or we can change the people who use the system. There is reason to feel alarmed about this: already, the computer industry does have enough power to begin changing the people. Like the manager of a computer network who has changed already and now works hard at changing others so that they?like himself?might adapt to what he knows to be a mistake in the system.

The theme of the 13th International Conference of the Computer Society, held in Washington in the summer of 1976, was: “Millions of computers for millions of people” (“Computer zu Millionen fr Millionen”). One of the speakers, the Director General of Motorola Semiconductor Products, said that in the years to come the public needs to be given a chance to interact directly with the machines. According to Computerworld the speaker added:

If the public is expected to used computers in everyday life, the consumer needs to be taught “systems thinking.” The industry is responsible for fostering this kind of training. Undoubtedly, the computer industry is controlled by highly gifted engineers. But these are people who, according to one theory of the functions of the human brain, rely strongly on the logical capacities of their left brain which are related to linear thinking. This type of (person) aims at optimization and usually holds a mechanistic view of the world. And the systems they build are for people like themselves, ignoring the needs of the rest of the population, to which some of the most creative individuals belong, who are contrasting right brain types who rely on intuition, aesthetic perception and even on irrational decisions.

Are there any reasons why we should not become adepts of the “religion of speed”? We can take some of these reasons from the published papers of the conference “Um die Wette leben” (“Living as racing”), which was organized by a professional association of town planners and regional planners (Vereinigung fr Stadt-, Regional- und Landesplanung e.V., 1994): this “religion” is not only counterproductive, it is plainly unhealthy if the present biological make-up of the human being is taken into account. Yet, gathering and summing up the negative effects of this “religion” under the medical term of “stress” misses a whole “dimension”, as suggested by Richard Gault in his plenary lecture “In and Out of Time” for the annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Technology in Peniscola, Spain, in May 1993 (see Gault 1995):

… However, the search for novelty combined with the need for more and faster of what we have contributes to the stress which gives our time its true character, the stress which helps explain why we opt out of the present for the nostalgia of an easier going past or the dream of a more restful tomorrow….

The primary task is to retrieve or resurrect the future. Once there is a future then there can be right actions performed for it in the present. Because the resurrection of the future requires the re-instatement of kairological time, the time in which we can be present to the future even as we concentrate on the present and attend to the past. In kairological time the future is not predicted or planned, but can be prepared for.

… We do still possess some sense, however atrophied and devalued of kairological time, and this vestige is a seed of hope…. Cultivating our atrophied sensibility … requires faith, concentration and imagination. We would need faith to forsake chronometers, forecasts and our dependency on the plethora of modern technology. We would need to cultivate concentration on the present where we are present, being in time, instead of wandering out of time to fantasies set in the past or future: it is a concentration we occasionally experience when we are deeply absorbed in a pleasurable task, so we know we have a capacity to dwell in the present. And imagination because this is the mysterious and misunderstood faculty by which we can sense the messages of time.

…The ultimate, dreadful effect of succumbing to the temptation of chronological time is the loss of the future. And I do not merely mean that we have forfeited our future through our acceptance of the risks of nuclear power, our tearing a hole in the ozone layer or by our fouling of the oceans. I mean simply, though profoundly, that there is no future for the chronological citizen.

… Our carelessness, the carelessness with which we guzzle oil, dump our wastes, and produce chemical, biological and nuclear poisons believed to remain toxic for millennia for example, happens because we are actually acting in the implicit belief that there is no future to care about….The lack of resolve and procrastination by governments when confronted with the demonstrable ecological dangers of their own industrial, military and transport policies arises from the same absence of a real belief in the future.

The term “kairological time” used by Gault, refers to the old Greek concept of an “experienced time” in contrast to the prevailing model of a “measured time” (the smaller the fractions of a second, the better!) which he terms “chronological time.” It appears to me that even the introspection considered desirable in the present paper necessitates a “reconquering” of this “experienced time.” In addition, it appears as if this introspection can only lead to results that are not in opposition to human dignity if those who share the same desire involve themselves consciously and reflectively in real communicative connections. From this background only, can the concentrated calmness of real actions grow; actions that might represent the only real opposition against the artificially stimulated hyperactivity characteristic of humans adapted to technology.


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