The digested bit

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
8 August, 2017
Editorial: 122
Fecha de publicación original: 2 junio, 1998

Experience is a hard master

Among the many contradictory processes being generated by the Information Society, one of the most striking is that which we could call “communicational revisionism”. This position is held by important figures from the world of communications who have played an important part in the creation of distinguished and highly qualified communications platforms frequently associated with the values of freedom of expression and other basic elements of the democratic system, such as putting “quality information for the interpretation of reality and guaranteeing individual freedom” within the public reach. However, sometime over the last few years something has snapped irremediably in this communications world that they knew so well forcing them to alter their interpretation of it.

The emergence of new communications systems, new media and, especially, the Internet, which, in principle at least, puts the tools for active participation in the social process of the creation and distribution of information and knowledge, into the hands of the ordinary citizen, seems to have seriously upset those principles which so loudly sang the praises of freedom of information. For example, we now have Ignacio Ramonet, director of Le Monde Diplomatique, saying that “more communication does not mean more freedom”. The powers that be it seems, now censor by multiplying information in democratic countries. This is the thesis Ramonet puts forward in his latest book “La tiranía de la comunicación” (“The Tyranny of Communication”) which, along with Juan Luis Cebrian‘s “La Red” (The Net) warn us of the dangers encapsulated in the Information Society.

These views show a strong tendency to simplify within the parameters of the world inherited by the communications models bequeathed by themselves. However, it is not at all clear that we can simply “transfer”, in a clean, clinical fashion, the criteria of a society modelled to a large extent on a particular way of acquiring, processing and emitting information — basically from learned and, consequently, powerful centres to the rest of society– just when those models are crumbling due to the increase in communication flows of a radically different type. Faced with an event of this importance, we must try to understand this new complexity from a more global perspective and not just from that which we have used up to now in which the roles of the large media, the big corporations and the power games in play during the Cold War make sense.

The Information Society is going to force us to design new social, political, economic and ecological scenarios, to develop innovative new models and operational simulations that allow us to function in a considerably different context to the one we already know. It is much more complex and defies unravelling by analysis alone. In fact, analysis of the whole is practically impossible under the present circumstances, because, amongst other things, the whole today is made up of a great diversity of disciplines which are not yet interconnected. In other words, we haven’t even laid the foundations of the educational and research systems where this interaction should emerge in the context of the Information Society.

Faced with “an excess of communication and irrelevant information” the answer is clearly not to go back to the communication model already in the hands of an illustrated (and wealthy) elite, but instead to ask how we can extract knowledge and understanding from this morass of information which threatens to agitate our neurons as if they were in a cocktail shaker. What new skills will a society based on information and knowledge demand of us? How do we attain the necessary conceptual tools to get a true picture of reality? These questions should not be answered with home remedies. Dealing with them will require complementing science, technology and interdisciplinary research capable of “taking on the whole”, even if this is only in its crudest, most primary colours. In this way, we will be able to obtain sufficient elements for establishing who the new intermediaries in the information and communications systems will be, how they will have to operate, how they will be accepted as processors of digital material and with which criteria the organisation of information will be converted into knowledge. In other words, what we could call the step from the “raw bit” to the “digested bit”.

For intermediaries to attain this objective, they will have to be capable of establishing a series of crucial new connections within the processes inherent in the Information Society, not just playing with those we are already familiar with. This will mean an intellectual effort demanding a synthesis of scientific knowledge, multidisciplinary research and a growing participation of citizens in this process. The philosopher F.W. von Schelling maintains that our society is clearly divided into “Appollonians” and “Dionysians”. The first being noted for their analytical approach, logic and objective examination of reality. The second for their intuition, synthesis and passion. Murray Gell-Mann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969 and an expert in chaos theories, and, consequently, the Internet — adds a third category: the “Odyssians”, who combine both visions in an attempt to discover and establish the relevant connections between ideas. In future editorials, we will try to examine how these different points of view can orient us towards the understanding and organisation of the Information Society.

Translation: Bridget King.