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Open Dialectics: Trajectories and Discontinuities in the Interconnected/ Hyperconnected (Mass) Society**

Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true.

Michel Foucault

 

So the whole question comes down to this: can the human mind master what the human mind has made?”

Paul Valéry

 

Technologies are nearly living things. Like all evolving entities, they must be tested in action, by action.[ . . .] Eventually, by living with what we create, we can redirect technologies to new jobs when we are not happy with their outcomes. We move with them instead of against them.

Kevin Kelly

 

Technological innovation is one of the determining variables of the evolution of social systems and organizations, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. Once more, what is needed is culture, shared knowledge and education to allow systems to metabolize change and to efficiently manage the out-of-control phases that accompany the accelerations imposed by technology, which – it must not be forgotten – is always a product of culture and never something “external”.

Piero Dominici (1998)

 

. . . as always, no “reading time” is foreseen

 

Preface

What are the requirements of the “new” hypercomplexity (cognitive, subjective, organizational, social and ethical) that characterizes the Hypercomplex Society (2008)? Aside from a systemic transnational perspective on strategies and politics, above all what is urgently called for is the definition and configuration of an interpretive theoretical model capable of, if not (fully) comprehending, at least recognizing and explaining the trajectories, which are themselves uncertain and confusing, as well as the numerous discontinuities in a global process of change that, in turn, has been casting radical doubts on paradigms, methodologies, analytic instruments and culture (organizational and non). The cognitive technological civilization has at last begun, after much delay, to realize the importance of a thinking style and a politics that can no longer afford to have a close-minded and particularistic outlook, especially in an era where signs of insecurity, uncertainty and vulnerability of every kind are on display, an era where dramatic conflicts are taking place, that fuel the illusion, not only among the political classes and leaders of the nation states, of the prospect of finding simple and immediate solutions to complex problems, but also – and above all – that reinforce the rationales of exclusion and of perpetual emergency. All of this without considering, on the other hand, the new asymmetries and inequalities that are paradoxically becoming more and more blatant, right here in the era of maximum technological expansion and of extraordinary scientific discoveries.

A hypertechnological era, ever more subject to entropic and chaotic driving forces that, beyond the undeniable accelerations and advances in every field of human and social praxis, should have defined and determined ideal conditions in terms of control and predictability of behavior, processes and systems. A phase of radical global mutation which, as has already been underlined, forces us to reformulate our thoughts on categories, codes, languages, instruments, identity, subjectivity, cultural norms and models, (open) communities, relational and communicative areas, environment and ecosystems. Never before has technological innovation, with all the risks/opportunities that it implies, brought the social actors and organizations to the brink of making a further, irreversible quantum leap.

This step-by-step attainment of evolutionary self-leverage casts radical doubts on traditional models and categories, obliging (?) us to revise the very concept of “Person” rethinking humanity and its somehow ambiguous interaction with all that is technical and technological: an interaction that must give rise to a complex synthesis, whose perspectives, developments and implications cannot yet be evaluated. Caught between utopia and dystopia. Between the forces of interdependence and fragmentation. Between inclusion and exclusion, within asymmetries running along discontinuous trajectories.

We find ourselves within the interconnected/hyperconnected society that “is a hypercomplex society”[1], in which the management and processing of information and knowledge have by now become our main resources, a kind of society where the exponential growth of opportunities for connection and information transmission – the fundamental factors of economic and social development – do not yet correspond to an analogous increase in the opportunity for communication, which we define as the social process of knowledge-sharing that entails equality and reciprocity (inclusion). Technology, the social networks and, more in general, the digital revolution, despite having determined a paradigm shift in the setting up of the structural conditions, allowing the interdependency (and the efficiency) of systems and organizations, and having intensified the intangible flow between social actors, have not yet been able to guarantee that the interactive networks that have been created will generate genuine communicative relationships, based on, that is, truly shared, symmetrical rapports. In other words, the network has constructed a new ecosystem of communication (1996) but, although it has designated a knowledge zone, it cannot by itself assure horizontality or symmetrical relationships. Again, the difference comes down to who and how: the people and the uses that they make of technology, beyond the potential interests at stake. For the same reasons, we will henceforth be using the term “connection technology” instead of “communication technology.”[2]

Between Neo-Positivism and Techno-Enlightenment

Between neo-positivism and techno-enlightenment, we are living in the age of the triumph of technologies, in which the “Subject” appears to have succeeded in dominating nature, controlling the ecosystem and organizing his surroundings according to his own laws and based on their utility. In reality, however, these objectives have not been fully reached and, above all, they have not been clarified, although said subject seems to be aware of having made a quantum leap, a leap that has passed the point of no return.

Scientific development, along with the new connective technologies, have deeply modified economic, social and political conditions , as well as the rapports among the former nation states, at this point overridden by the flows and dynamics of globalization: the protagonists of this great digital revolution[3] that has transformed the world economy are the media in general and the Internet in particular, which, having nullified the space-time barrier, and thus the distances that separate us from the rest of the world, have created the structural conditions for the coming of the new ecosystem of communication based on the rationale of continual connection.

Never before has the image of the Global Village – prophesized by McLuhan[4] – come back so clearly to haunt us, which – albeit in a context dominated by rationality and by the logics of control and surveillance[5] – seem to feature an entropy that disequilibrates the balance of the so-called “infosphere.”[6] A “global village,” increasingly interdependent — this is by no means the first time we make this point — that resembles more and more closely a hypertechnological and hyperconnected – but above all – a hypersurveilled mass society.

Considering the complexity of such a metamorphosis and the new situations that it implicates, whose solution cannot be met simply through acquired experience, an in-depth analysis of the possible ramifications correlated to the coming of the technological network civilization is sorely needed. As discussed elsewhere (1996), we are talking about an anthropological transformation, evidently capable of changing our way of understanding reality and the world system, yet whose possible consequences are no less dangerous all the same.

The subject (the new subjectivity) appears to be ready – once again – to steal fire from the gods. This potential for action, this capacity to shape reality through reason, science and technology, is perceived by the subject to be nearly unlimited. Nevertheless, the impression it makes is that there is a very low level of awareness regarding the intents behind the choices and the actions. To put it differently, the fundamental problem is that “with certain developments of our powers the nature of human action is changed, and since ethics is concerned with action, it should follow that the changed nature of human action calls for a change in ethics as well; this not merely in the sense that new objects of action have added to the case material on which received rules of conduct are to be applied, but in the most radical sense that the qualitatively novel nature of certain of our actions has opened up a whole new dimension of ethical relevance for which there is no precedent in the standards and canons of traditional ethics.

The novel powers I have in mind are, of course, those of modern technology. My first point, accordingly, is to ask how this technology affects the nature of our acting, in what ways it makes acting under its dominion different from what it has been through the ages.”[7]

Within the interconnected society, the network and the digital media guide and accelerate the process of change, where communication and information have by now become “primary needs,” capable of impacting social stratification on a local and global level. On top of that — as we anticipated quite some time ago — democratic regimes are basing their lives and praxes more and more often on “rules of engagement” that are defined and constructed (other than carried out) not by the legislator, but within the educational and professional institutions, places where information and knowledge are constructed and processed socially (see, in particular, the concept of the Asymmetric Society we have proposed).

The so-called electronic highways and the social networks, with their new communicative and connective environments, have created an authentic world cybersystem, a site of expanding and connected intelligence – in the past, we have spoken about the new ecosystem (1996) — made up of virtual communities[8] which are in constant contact with each other, at least potentially, within a setting dominated by the continuous flow of information and intangible goods. In this regard, Pierre Levy has hypothesized the coming of a new collective intelligence coordinated in real time, and the opening of a new anthropological space, the knowledge space (think of the open source model), which, in order to shape itself as opportunity, must be open and, above all, built collectively. Thanks to the new media and to social networks, new collective forms of intelligence and cybersociality[9] with extraordinary cognitive capacities are destined to develop, produced by the exchange and sharing of knowledge, by the fusion of diverse cognitions and creativity found in social systems.[10] According to Levy, with the help of information technology, it will be possible to distribute and potentiate intelligence in every place and moment.[11] The scenario that unfolds is both complex and fascinating. Although, of course, the digital revolution also carries a number of risks that must be carefully evaluated: if on the one hand, the digital media and connecting technologies offer the (individual and collective) social actors possibilities for actions and transformation of reality as yet unexplored, on the other hand, fundamentally important issues regarding the organization and the realization of truly open, inclusive societies demand our attention. These are questions that must come to terms with the necessity of guaranteeing, or at least attempting to guarantee, equality of starting conditions.[12] The new forms of inequality clearly concern culture and knowledge. The analogy used by Luciano Floridi is effectively descriptive: “[The information society is] . . . like a tree with weak roots, further and healthier growth at the top might be impaired by a fragile foundation at the bottom.”[13]. . . An imagery that well portrays the analytic efforts we have carried forward in essays prior to today’s.

It is precisely for the above-listed reasons that the new technological civilization calls for choices that will turn out to be decisive for the economic-political structures of humanity, insofar as it will be the strategies we adopt that will determine whether we can bridge the abyss which divides the world in two: a rich developed North on the one hand as opposed to a backwards South on the other.

The fundamental problem is as follows: how to unite technological progress and civic sense. The philosopher Koslowski clarified this issue a few years ago: “[. . .] the demand for making the industrial society ethical and cultural – and making ethical and cultural its social branches of economy and state – is a response to the discovery that the modern, by its nature, carries risks.”[14]

We are dealing, therefore, with unavoidable questions linked to the rather widespread and deeply rooted conviction, on the part of both individuals and society, that technological progress can, per se, contemporarily bring us moral and cultural progress.

First, however, it is necessary to clearly describe the nature, the effects and the possibilities of the new media and the new digital ambience: in doing so, our analysis must take into account the fact that the two opposing categories — apocalyptic and integrated — that were originally theorized as extreme positions (today known as techno-skeptics and techno-zealots), gradually becoming more deeply delineated and diversified, lately have begun to blur.[15] Dichotomies and polarizations that should be left behind once and for all.

It has been possible, however, to pick up some leitmotifs, some points of convergence: value judgments aside, all theories apparently admit that mankind, more or less consciously, is beginning to formulate a new conception of itself, in the wake of a long process of transformation that has already landed on the far side of an authentic quantum leap — and this idea, as we will see, is kept well in mind by those who are formulating new proposals in ethical fields.

So it would seem, from the literature on the media (digital and non), that a synthesis is being sought, however difficult it may be to achieve.

Many authors seem to side with the “apocalyptic”, nearly Luddite position, whereas the optimistic point of view on technology’s ongoing effects, on the part of other authors, is almost at a level of technological fundamentalism. Still others, more impartial, have tried to find a more balanced and mature position at the midpoint between the two extremes, choosing a sort of third path. So, what do they have in common with the matter we are discussing? In all likelihood, the common feature could be withheld judgment, and this withholding is, in all probability, an ethical suspension, regarding identity, subjectivity, social rapports, relations of power, asymmetries. On the other hand, within complex modernity, social systems appear to be more and more characterized by the dynamics of conflict and by a limited rationality that leaves every debate open and unsolved. In this context, communication, which, as we have described from the beginning as a social process of sharing knowledge (1996), places itself in a strategic centrality in every dimension of the praxis.

The hypertrophization of bureaucratic apparatuses, the gradual diminishing of public spaces and of democratic evolution – founded on the principles of transparency[16] and access, on the concept of popular sovereignty and, from a cultural perspective, on economic individualism – the latter forced upon democratic individualism[17] — have reduced the functional area of the public sphere to a mere question of “representation” and to the role of handmaiden to the power system. The evolutionary process in newly born democratic regimes, often culturally founded on the concept of sovereignty of the people – meant as hegemony or predominance of the majority –and on the omission of a clearly defined rapport with the founding principles of liberty and equality, has also brought about a radical politicization of this concept, which, branching into political institutions and in new social solicitations in search of public recognition and of a functional translation into rights and norms, has since been developing as an autopoietic system. At this stage, we have lost, as Habermas[18] has said, that level of mediation between system and living world based on communicative action, which could critically define the social petitions and opinions that are generated within civil society and the living world, bestowing, not only public relevance, but also full legitimacy upon them.

(analysis and reflection continue in the future articles)


 

[1]We have defined and analyzed in-depth the dimensions of the hypercomplex society in P. Dominici, La comunicazione nella società ipercomplessa: istanze per l’agire comunicativo e la condivisione della conoscenza nella network society [Communication in the Hypercomplex society: Demands for Communicative Action and for Knowledge Sharing In the Network Society], Aracne Ed., Rome 2005, and in P. Dominici, La comunicazione nella società ipercomplessa. Condividere la conoscenza per governare il mutamento [Communication in the Hypercomplex Society. Sharing Knowledge to Cope with Change], FrancoAngeli, Milan 2011

[2]See: P. Dominici, Dentro la Società Interconnessa. Prospettive etiche per un nuovo ecosistema della comunicazione [Inside the Interconnected Society. Ethical Perspectives for a New Ecosystem of Communication], FrancoAngeli, Milan 2014, p.9. I would like to add that “such a far-reaching revolution, linked to multiple variables and concauses, forming a unique occasion for social change and innovation, could reveal itself to be yet another opportunity for elites and exclusive social groups, owing to many factors: the digital divide, the cultural divide (which has too long been underestimated, as have the variables of functional analphabetism and educational poverty), asymmetries, lack of long-term system strategies. To meet this social hypercomplexity, apart from a renewed focus on rights and rules, what is needed is an analytic approach to complexity, avoiding reductive and deterministic explanations, as well as a new ethical sensitivity. Considering that today, as never before, technology has entered so deeply into the synthesis of new values and new criteria for judgment. The social actors are on the brink of a potential and irreversible quantum leap, but the issue is not only to notice and observe the scientific facts, but above all to become aware that communication is, overall, a behavior that generates other behaviors and produces value. In doing so, furthermore, it is essential not to confuse means and ends, instruments and content, communication and connection.” See also: P. Dominici, Per un’etica dei New Media. Elementi per una discussione critica [For a New Media Ethics. Elements for an Analytical Discussion], Firenze Libri Ed., Florence 1998, monograph in which, among other topics, I speak about anthropological transformation, the new ecosystem and the sharing economy and society.

[3]L. Floridi, Information. A Very Short Introduction, 2010; Italian translation: La rivoluzione dell’informatione, Codice Ed., Turin 2012; from the same perspective, previous to Floridi, see also A. Toffler, The Third Wave (1980); Italian translation: La Terza Ondata, Sperling & Kupfer, Milan 1987.In this case as well, the literature, scientific and non, is extremely eloquent; see in particular: M. Castells, The information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, 3 vols, Blackwell, Oxford 1996-1998; M. Castells, Communication Power, (2009); Italian translation: Comunicazione e potere, Università Bocconi Editore, Milan 2009; G, Boccia Artieri, Stati di connessione. Pubblici, cittadini e consumatori nella (Social) Network Society [States of Connection. State, Citizens and Consumers in the (Social) Network Society], FrancoAngeli, Milan 2012; L. de Biase, I media civici. Informazione di mutuo soccorso [Civic Media. Information for Mutual Aid], Feltrinelli, Milan 2013, and by the same author: Homo Pluralis. Essere umani nell’era tecnologica [Homo Pluralis. Being Human in the age of Technology], Codice Edizioni, Turin 2015; D. Graeber, The Utopia of Rules. On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, Melville House, New York 2015; Ippolita, La Rete è libera e democratica (Falso!) [The Web is Free and Democratic (Not!)], Laterza, Rome-Bari 2014.

[4]M. McLuhan, B.R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21rst Century (1989); Italian translation: Il Villaggio GLobale: XXI secolo, SugarCo., Varese 1992

[5]Aside from the much-loved classic by M. Foucault, Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la Prison, Italian translation: Sorvegliare e punire. Nascita della prigione, Einaudi, Turin 1976; English translation; Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison, Pantheon Books, New York 1977; see also: Lyon D, The Electronic Eye. The Rise of Surveillance Society (1994); Italian translation: L’occhio elettronico. Privacy e filosofia della sorveglianza, Feltrinell, Milan 1997; and by the same author: Surveillance Society. Monitoring Everyday Life (2001); Italian translation: La società sorvegliata. Tecnologie di controllo della vita quotidiano, Feltrinelli, Milan 2002.

[6]At the onset of the 80s, Alvin Toffler was already speaking about the coming of an “Infosphere”: this concept is highly utilized today but often erroneously attributed to other researchers. Personally, for various reasons, I have always preferred to use the term “new ecosystem” of communication (from 1995 on).

[7]H. Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung, Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979; Italian translation: Il principio responsabilità. Un’etica per la civiltà tecnologica, Einaudi, Turin 1990, p. 3; English translation: The Imperative of Responsibility. In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1984

[8]H. Rheingold, The Virtual Community (1993); Italian translation:, Comunità Virtuali, Sperling & Kupfer, Milan 1984. We also recommend, by the same author, Smart Mobs (2002); Italian translation: Smart Mobs. Tecnologie senza fili, la rivouzione sociale prossima ventura, Raffaello Cortina Ed., Milan 2003.

[9]On the concept of cybersociality see: F. Casalegno, Le cybersocialità, nuovi media e nuove estetiche comunitarie [Cypersocialities. New Media and New Community Esthetics], Il Saggiatore, Milan 2007

[10]The concepts of connection and collaborative intelligence are of interesting relevance to this theme; we had spoken about shared knowledge (2003 and 2005), developed collectively and in an intersubjective manner.

[11]P. Levy, L’Intelligence collective: pour une anthropologie du cyberspace, 1994; Italian translation: L’intelligenza collettiva. Per un’antropologia del cyberspazio, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1996; English translation: Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace, Perseus Books, Cambridge, Mass. 1997. For other stimulating points by the same author see P. Levy, Cyberculture. Rapport au Conseil de l’Europe [Report on Cyberculture for the Council of Europe] (1996), Italian translation: Cybercultura. Gli usi sociali delle nuove tecnologie, Feltrinelli, Milan 1999; further along these lines see also: K. Robins, F. Webster, Times of the Technoculture: From the Information Society to the Virtual Life (1999); Italian translation: Tecnocultura, Dalla società dell’informazione alla vita virtuale, Guerini & Associati, Milan 2003; A. Marinelli, Connessioni. Nuovi media, nuove relazioni sociali [Connections. New Media, New Social Relations], Guerini & Associati, Milan 2004.

[12]Inherent to these themes is also the so-called capability approach: A. Sen, Inequality Reexamined (1992); Italian translation: La diseguaglianza. Un riesame critico, Il Mulino, Bologna 1994; M.C. Nussbaum, Giustizia sociale e dignità umana. Da individui a persone [Social Justice and Human Dignity. From Individuals to person(s)], (intr. by C. Saraceno) Il Mulino, Bologna 2002; and Not for profit. Why the Democracy Needs the Humanities, Princeton, Princeton University Press (2010),); trad.it. Non per profitto. Perché le democrazie hanno bisogno della cultura umanistica, Bologna, Il Mulino 2011

[13]L. Floridi, (2010) op. cit. p. 8

[14]P. Koslowski, The Social State in the Post-Modern, UC Berkeley, Berkeley 1996

[15]We mention, for the record, the famous text which set off the initial debate on media and industrial culture. The conceptul categories are from U. Eco, Apocalittici e Integrati. Comunicazione di massa e teorie della cultura di massa, Bompiani, Milan 1994; English translation: Apocalyptic and Integrated, published in the collection of essays edited by Roberto Lumley, Apocalypse Postponed [Apocalittici e integrati], Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1994

[16]For a analytic reading on this question, with relative implications, cfr. Byung-Chul Han, Transparenzgesellschaft, (2012); trans. It. La società delle trasparenze, Nottetempo, Rome 2014; English translation: The Transparency Society, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford 2015. There are several analogies with P. Dominici, La comunicazione nella società ipercomplessa. Condividere la conoscenza per governare il mutamento [Communication in the Hypercomplex Society. Sharing Knowledge to Cope with Change], FrancoAngeli, Milan 2011, in particular with respect to the analysis of certain dynamics that are typical of the interconnected/hyperconnected society and of the digital revolution: on the one hand, the possibilities of knowledge access and sharing (inclusion and exclusion); on the other hand, surveillance, the illusion of total control, the strategic centralization of the unstoppable processes of information hoarding that do not always elicit knowledge, quite the contrary.

[17]N. Urbinati, Liberi e uguali. Contro l’ideologia individualista [Free and Equal. Against the Ideology of Individualism], Laterza, Rome-Bari 2011

[18]J. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Bd. 1 Handlungsrationalität und gesellschaftliche Rationalisierung; Bd. 2 Zur Kritik der funktionalistischen Vernunft, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1981; Italian translation: Teoria dell’agire comunicativo: Vol. 1 Razionalità nell’azione e razionalità sociale; Vol. 2 Critica della ragione funzionalistica, Il Mulino, Bologna 1986. English translation: The Theory of Communicative Action , Vol. 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, (1984) Vol. 2 Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason.(1987) Beacon Press, Boston 1984 -1987


 

N.B. Feel free to share and reutilize this published material, provided that you have the courtesy to always quote authors and sources, even when mentioning conceptual categories and related functional definitions. Let us share knowledge and information, but let us attempt to interrupt the vicious and non-virtuous cycle of the “cut and paste” routine, perpetrated by those whose know-how consists merely of “using” the work of others.

Citations should be made, in the first place, on the principle of honesty, and secondly, because our work (our intellectual production) is always the result of the work of many other people who, like OURSELVES, study and carry out research, helping us to be creative and original, providing us with orientation for our working hypotheses. The texts that I am sharing are the fruits of labor (passion!) and research, and as you will have noticed, they always include many citations. It is with regret and a certain amount of perplexity, therefore, that I continue to observe how this working method, which should characterize all intellectual production (not only academic and/or scientific categories) is being followed less and less frequently by many authors and scholars.

I still say that the rewards of sharing are well worth the bitterness for the dishonest behavior on the part of many. My contributions are the concepts, the studies and the topics of research that I have been conducting for twenty years: the principle of sharing carries many risks, but coherence means practicing what you believe in.

#QuoteTheAuthors

Picture: Maurits Cornelis Escher