We are the Borg: the Web as agent of assimilation or cultural Renaissance?

Ess, Charles (2000) We are the Borg: the Web as agent of assimilation or cultural Renaissance? ephilosopher.

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Abstract

In the United States, we are immersed in a series of messages concerning technology in general and computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies (such as the Internet, its offspring the Web, etc.) in particular: these technologies are crucial, we are told, because they will lead us to an "electronic global village." Thanks to these and their even more powerful descendents (just around the corner of an ever brighter future), the electronic global village will enjoy seamless and transparent communication: such communication will inevitably bring in its wake greater freedom of expression, greater democratic governance and affiliated rights, and, last but certainly not least, greater economic prosperity. The surrounding atmosphere of pundits' articles and manufacturers' advertisements breathlessly promise a global happy family: Jamie Lee Curtis (whether as Wanda or Wendy?) can call from "anywhere" on her cell phone, and New York customers can discuss their custom-woven rug with their Tibetan village craftsman. I have become increasingly convinced, however, that the icon of the electronic global village is not simply advertisers' exaggeration and hype, a crafty - and successful - appeal to deeply-seated US values and beliefs for the sake of selling hardware and software. I will argue, rather, that such fond beliefs are a kind of bad myth - what Bourdieu calls meconnaisance, a framework internalized in our minds - one that then produces reality as it shapes human acts and behavior, and thus our history and society. This myth is philosophically suspect because we can see rather quickly that it rests on two contradictory philosophical assumptions regarding technology - i.e., the presumption of technological instrumentalism (these technologies are culturally and morally neutral) and of technological determinism (once these technologies are made available, they will inevitably reshape the world - including diverse peoples and cultures - in alignment with the ostensibly universally valid values of democratic governance, free speech, etc.). This philosophical incoherence, moreover, is accompanied by profound political consequences. Especially if the technological determinism presumed by proponents of CMC as leading to greater world democracy and prosperity is granted, and if we recognize that the values and communication preferences embedded in these technologies are not universally shared, but indeed conflict (sometimes deeply) with the values and communication preferences of diverse cultures - then CMC technologies emerge as an agent of a globalization process that threatens to flatten all distinctive cultural values and communication preferences into a single homogenous "McWorld." It is precisely against such homogenizing globalization, of course, that diverse cultures and peoples react, sometimes violently, in the effort to preserve their distinctive identities - what political scientist Benjamin Barber refers as "Jihad."

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: computer-mediated communication;electronic global village; internet;technological instrumentalism;technological determinism
Subjects: Philosophie > Philosophische Disziplinen > Medienphilosophie, Theorie der Virtualität, Cyberphilosophie
Depositing User: Stefan Köstenbauer
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2006
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2011 18:51
URI: http://sammelpunkt.philo.at/id/eprint/1156

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