[unrev-II] Fwd: Charles Ess's criticisms of the Global Brain idea

From: Jack Park (jackpark@thinkalong.com)
Date: Fri Jun 22 2001 - 07:40:22 PDT

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    This strikes me as appropriate to the Unrev initiative...

    >X-Sender: fheyligh@pop.vub.ac.be
    >Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 13:09:52 +0200
    >To: gbrain@listserv.vub.ac.be (Global Brain Discussion)
    >From: Francis Heylighen <fheyligh@vub.ac.be>
    >Subject: Fwd: Charles Ess's criticisms of the Global Brain idea
    >Sender: owner-gbrain@listserv.vub.ac.be
    >Reply-To: gbrain@listserv.vub.ac.be
    >>From: "Parker Rossman" <prossman@socket.net>
    >>To: "Francis Heylighen" <fheyligh@vub.ac.be>
    >>Cc: "Charles Ess" <cmess@lib.drury.edu>
    >>Subject: Fw: My Belgrium workshop Germans bellieves in the idea
    >>Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 07:21:39 -0500
    >>X-Priority: 3
    >>Francis, here are some questions you should add to your list. Charles Ess
    >>is a brilliant man you should invite to the big BG conference as it
    >>emerges. And have you been in touch withg Floridi?
    >>----- Original Message -----
    >>From: <mailto:cmess@lib.drury.edu>Charles Ess
    >>To: <mailto:prossman@socket.net>Parker Rossman
    >>Sent: Wednesday, June 20, 2001 11:33 AM
    >>Subject: Re: My Belgrium workshop Germans bellieves in the idea
    >>without wanting to dampen your enthusiasm - but really and truly, assist
    >>with your project with what is intended as constructive criticism - let
    >>me point out the following.
    >>As you no doubt know, there are enormous obstacles to any notion of a
    >>globally-distributed information technology of the sort described - the
    >>following are the ones that seem most recalcitrant to me:
    >>a) the Digital Divide - at a first level, in terms of
    >>infrastructure. (For a recent paper by Oxford philosopher Luciano
    >>Floridi, on this topic, see his address to UNESCO's sub-commission on
    >>ethics of the information society:
    >><http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/~floridi/pdf/eaie.pdf>.) As Floridi points
    >>out, two billion people have no access to electricity, and four billion
    >>people earn less than $1500 a year. And so far as I am aware, the
    >>Digital Divide continues to get worse at the global level, not better.
    >>b) Beyond the infrastructure and economic issues - there are digital
    >>divides at a deeper level (in my view), namely, at the level of interest
    >>and culture. As especially field work with rural peoples, including
    >>indigenous peoples, makes clear - even _if_ IT becomes affordable and
    >>available, their interests are not always aligned with those of us in the
    >>first world who, however well-intentioned we may be, may well be engaged
    >>in a form of "computer-mediated colonization" in our efforts to develop
    >>and export these technologies in the name of helping others.
    >>(I'm especially familiar with efforts to introduce IT in rural areas, and
    >>among indigenous peoples: I'm attaching an introduction to a themed issue
    >>on this topic that will be published in September that provides a more
    >>detailed examination of the challenges.)
    >>c) in particular, the vision of a Global Brain, whatever its promise for
    >>information-sharing, problem-solving and the like - it also appears to
    >>contain within it two paradoxical elements, ones that run directly
    >>counter to its optimistic intentions:
    >>c.i) most postmodernists, beginning with Foucault, have developed rather
    >>extensive critiques of such visions of ubiquitous technologies, seeing in
    >>them the same "dialectic of Enlightenment" identified by Adorno and
    >>Horkheimer in the wake of their experience with fascism: the trajectory
    >>towards a global/total technology/overview/encyclopedia runs the danger
    >>of becoming (for postmodernists - but not me - indeed, they will
    >>inevitably become) the "Panopticon," the perfect technology of
    >>surveillance and control. (In the bumper-sticker versions of PM: the
    >>total becomes totalizing and thus totalitarian.) I am known as a critic
    >>of PM - but these critiques of technology have so shaped the discourse of
    >>the past fifteen years or so, especially with regard to computer-mediated
    >>communication that they must be responded to, in my view, if one is to
    >>make rhetorical and real headway against them.
    >>(Fortunately, in my view, this situation is changing somewhat: I have an
    >>overview of the literature coming out in the Blackwell's Guide to the
    >>Philosophy of Information and Computing, hopefully by the end of this
    >>year - if you'd like to see an advance copy, I'd be happy to send it to you.)
    >>c.ii) (this is where the German philosophers would _really_ weigh in,
    >>experts as they are in Chinese language and culture) - To reiterate and
    >>instantiate the point about cultural differences ("b," above): the
    >>cultural differences between East and West (however problematic these
    >>terms are upon closer inspection) remain enormous and perhaps
    >>incommensurable. "Problem-solving" as a way of justifying investment in
    >>technology is largely modern and Western, and specifically American (it
    >>goes back to Jefferson and Madison, who argued that democracy can
    >>overcome the natural limits of a 50-square-mile state via the
    >>communication technologies of roads and canals). No other people, so far
    >>as surveys demonstrate (e.g., the Nomura survey), embrace technology with
    >>as much enthusiasm and as little criticism as Americans. And on the
    >>basis of precious little data: there's no good evidence - according to
    >>Saul Fisher of the Mellon Foundation, for example, who conducted a
    >>meta-study on the topic - that the 20 years of enormous nvestment in
    >>technology in education has actually made any measurable difference in
    >>learning outcomes.
    >>Europeans (among others) tend to be more critical - so as to use
    >>"citizens' committees," for example, to determine whether or not new
    >>technologies - such as genetically modified foods - should be introduced
    >>(many European countries have said 'no' to this one).
    >>What counts as a "problem" and how it is to be solved, moreover, varies
    >>enormously along cultural lines - especially between Western/
    >>progressivist / materially-oriented / individualist /high risk tolerant /
    >>medium- to low- power distance / feminine (more gender equality)
    >>countries and Eastern / collectivist / face-saving - and thus low risk
    >>tolerant / high power distance / masculine (more gender inequality) countries.
    >>In particular, what will be the lingua franca of the global brain?
    >>Chinese will become the majority language on the web by 2007. Do you
    >>really want a vision of a single, culturally homogenous "global brain" as
    >>the engine of problem-solving - in which case, somebody's
    >>culture/language/communication preferences/values, etc. will inevitably
    >>dominate, erasing cultural differences for anyone who wants/needs/feels
    >>compelled to jump aboard: would you be happy if the Global Brain were in
    >>fact Chinese?
    >>Again, I don't raise these points as fatal objections. On the contrary,
    >>I genuinely believe that these points can enhance the prospects of your
    >>project, as they call attention to the role of culture in our
    >>interactions with communications technologies.
    >>Hope they are of some interest. In the meantime, best wishes, peace, and
    >>I look forward to hearing from you as time and circumstance permit.
    >>Charles Ess
    >>Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
    >>Drury University
    >>900 N. Benton Ave. Voice: 417-873-7230
    >>Springfield, MO 65802 USA FAX: 417-873-7435
    >>Home page: http://www.drury.edu/Departments/phil-relg/ess.html
    >>Co-chair, CATaC 2002: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/catac02/
    >>"...to be non-violent, we must not wish for anything on this earth which
    >>the meanest and lowest of human beings cannot have." -- Gandhi
    >Francis Heylighen <fheyligh@vub.ac.be> -- Center "Leo Apostel"
    >Free University of Brussels, Krijgskundestr. 33, 1160 Brussels, Belgium
    >tel +32-2-6442677; fax +32-2-6440744; http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/HEYL.html

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