The Myth of the Information Age

The Myth of the Information Age

We ought to be skeptical about being witness to the dawn of a new age: the Information Age. Here are some reasons to doubt that a new era has been ushered in:

Equality

The new Information Age is an epoch of equality? Like the tracksuit, which can be worn by the young and the old, by men and women, by the rich and the poor; has the computer homogenized and leveled the unequal and discriminatory world characteristic of past ages? In, for example: chat forums, it is, granted, at first glance difficult to distinguish the gender, age and class of a poster. But, don’t we see these sort of posts:

And isn’t the web rife with racist and misogynistic sites?
But more importantly, the class which was in the past prevented from seeking higher education is still locked out. Although the underclass may take interest in using computers to explore Internet content, are they still not culturally dissuaded from pursuing an interest in the form of computers? Any one can learn HTML, but college and university level computer science courses cost money. And isn’t Computer Science a male dominated field?

Capital, Mass Production and Means of Production

It is said:

Any computer user can now produce, with minimal capital, more copies of a product than a hundred thousand factories. But let’s not forget the source of these very computers: factories; where computers are produced by workers and financed by capitalists.

Is the same “invisible hand” not at work on the Internet? Are the mechanisms that order market economy somehow different in cyberspace?

Furthermore, another of the characteristic elements of the Industrial Age: mass production, is very much alive and well on the Internet. Spam mail being just an insidious example. As Kirkpatrick Sale wrote: computers are the locus of contemporary industrialism. Computers and information organize industry more efficiently than ever before.

And, just as means of production has really not altered, means of resistance has changed just as little. Virus’ infecting Microsoft like “Concept,” “AccessiV,” “Laroux,” and “Melissa” are created in the same spirit of sabotage that infected industry throughout the Industrial Age.

Information

Availability of information is supposed to mark this era off from that which proceeded it. Frankly, many major library systems continue to offer far vaster and much more complete information than the entire wed does. And even if information were more available via computers:

Legitimacy

As the web is the easiest and cheapest way to get published, there is some truth to the claim that the DEM writers of the canon have, to some small degree, been invalidated, at least discussed works and University reading lists could give this impression. The classics are irrelevant to our time. Or are they?

Nearly every business and organization hosts a website. However, it is not possible to perform many civil functions online. File tax reports yes, but vote or marry: no. A book has a perceived legitimacy simply by the fact of its apparent greater reality than a web publication does. Further, web publishing is so often oriented towards such a narrow fragment of society that it can only act as a sort enforcer of a self-fulfilling reality for that particular sub-culture that ever has contact with the work. Idiosyncratic prejudices are hardly something unique to our time.

This is only the vaguest sketch of a criticism of the so-called new age in which we live: the Information Age. Claims that such an age exists at all, or can be distinguished in any significant way from the Industrial Age, might be highly dubious.

Not to the sites banging on about how calling manhole covers ‘manhole covers’ is misogynistic and how calling a black person ‘black’ is racist…

I’ll have a lot more to say on this tomorrow. I’ve been sick all week with some horrendous flu-like beast and so don’t have the energy for a proper response right now.

Gorgias,

How are they still locked out? In the past they were presumably prevented from not having the resources to access such information, and now they do.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean electronic copies of a product? Like through copy & paste? Or physically produce something, in which case you’re still going to need the same level of materials as before. If a person in a print-press wants to make a 10’000 page book, or if a computer user wants to, you’re still going to need that amount of paper. Technology has obviously made production methods easier, but does not mean it can produce more copies of a product then before. Just that it has become more efficient in doing so.

And libraries are constantly digitizing more and more books and resources to become more widely available. I think it’s really a question of convenience. The more information we can find at our fingertips, the more beneficial it will be to us, the less likely we will be to go and search in the libraries for it.

The web is still in its infancy. I’m sure in the future greater technological advances will help where it is deemed it can improve the function of the duty; like in voting for example. After all, is a physical document any more significant than an electronic one? What was there before the written word and why did we make the progression? I think of such advances as merely tools to use where it is more convenient to do so.

Regards Tommy

The greatest thing about the information age (and it may be a curse) is a point that you brought up - our shortcomings cannot be attributed to lack of information.

 If mankind is to perish, he is going to choose to, at this point.  Let us have what we will consent to.

Computer science PhDs are not cheap.

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I don’t know. Is “means of production” something different when it is simple to make infinity digital copies almost for free? The music industry is struggling with this question now.

Yes, it is more real.

Gorgias,

Why do you need to know the inner workings of a computer in order to benefit from it? Do you need to study the intricacies of physics before you learn to walk?

Well this is why I asked if you were referring to digital/electronic copies or physical copies.

Obviously if you are talking about digital copies, which it sounds like you are, then how can you compare what a computer can store to what a factory can? They are incomparable as they are dealing with a different medium of exchange. Likewise, how many physical copies of a said product can a computer make in comparison to a thousand factories?

Oh really? I guess then according to you, since I only see you by looking at computer screen that makes you less real? Interesting…

Yes, it does make me less real.

Bill Gates, computer enginer/capitalist…

It’s a long subject, but yes, how do digital copies affect “means of production” and other Marxist theories…?

Sorry I haven’t got back to this yet - it’s flagged for a proper response soon, I promise.

In the meantime check out Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

bid.berkeley.edu/bidclass/readings/benjamin.html