In a wired world, many of the big Internet service providers like America Online (AOL) have encouraged people to embark on a voracious desire to get connected, but for the most part, to exchange business. These providers have extolled the commercial energy of the Internet and unquestionably impacted not only the economy but increasingly shaped our world and how it works.
In the meantime, entire libraries and other archival materials were digitized and made available to all researchers across disciplines; Wikipedia and other web-based encyclopedia of collective knowledge; blog posts, videos, music, etc., are shared online and people seemingly have a lot to say to each other through social media and other interfaces. But, “if living in the digital age teaches us anything,” as Douglas Rushkoff concludes, “it is that we are all in this together. Perhaps more so than ever” (144).
While we think of the digital age as a defining feature of human progress and civilization, internet users tend to tailor their efforts of understanding the essence of these technologies and how they function. In the words of the French sociologist, Edgar Morin “On donne des connaissances sans enseigner ce qu’est la connaissance” (We disseminate knowledge without teaching what is knowledge).
A society that looks at the internet as a way to increase communication without learning the biases of technologies we are using, “is instead finding itself disconnected, denied deep thinking, and drained of enduring values”, as Rushkoff asserted (10). In other words, if we are trained with basic skills on how to consume popular spreadsheet, word processing, and browsing a particular software, do we still need to acquire knowledge of programing in order to become “conscious participants” in the digital life?
It seems that consumers don’t care about the “mechanics” of digital technologies and how they function until they unpredictably encounter an error or the system stops responding to orders and intentions. “We spend much more time and energy trying to figure out how to use them to program one another instead.” (17) It becomes challenging and starts questioning the limits of the human body: “Where does my body end and the tool begin? The digital age challenges us to rethink the limits of the human mind: What are the boundaries of my cognition?” (16)
These questions press the pause button to grasp what all this means and how these devices work. Here Morin’s “connaissance” kicks in and starts deciphering the work of programmers of digital technologies—software, computers, networks, etc.
Digital technology does not operate on a plane entirely divorced from individual experience. It is rather embedded in a system monitored and coded by the instructions of the so-called “techno-elites”. The latter monopolize intentions and purposes and as such in order to access to the real power of any media age, consumers need to understand the new medium and its implications on the future of human lives and species. In this vein, Rushkoff states: “if humanity is going to make this leap along with our networked machines, must be a wholesale reorganization of the way we operate our work, our schools, our lives, and ultimately our nervous systems in this new environment” (11).
Because if we embrace the new literacies of this digital age without learning how they work, we’ll continue to abide by the rules of the “rabbis” of technologies and “remain one full dimensional leap of awareness and capability behind the few who manage to monopolize access to the real power of any media age” (14).
At the end, while understanding the biases of the new media opens up new lines of creativity and differentiates between our intentions and the machines’ purposes, one still wonders whether digital humanities can transcend the “servant” role of yesterday’s news and reestablish communication between the humanities and the public.
Douglas Rushkoff, To Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For a Digital Age.