The old fashioned kind of media like the press, radio and television could be defined as “few people send, many people receive”. On the Web, as many people send as those that receive. When you have the kind of media where few people send and many people receive, the media in question is at risk of being appropriated by just a few people. Where there are many people sending and many receiving, the risk of appropriation diminishes.
We all witnessed the power of television, but the fact remains that there were few senders and many receivers. For example, the tongue has the potential to be the best or the worst of things. This is our job. The most important thing of all is that knowledge must be spread as widely as possible.
The Passaparola of Michel Serres, French philosopher and author of "Non è un mondo per vecchi. Perché i ragazzi rivoluzionano il sapere" (Literally: “This world is not for old people. Why the youth is revolutionising knowledge”)
My name is Serres, Michel by name. I was born in south-western France, in a decidedly working-class area. My father worked in construction and I must say that when I was very young, the majority of my friends were actually of Italian origin.
I was born in 1930 so I’m now more than eighty years old. I taught for forty years and I am still teaching, now at Stanford University in California. This university is located in the middle of Silicon Valley so I have had quite a bit of experience with everything that has anything to do with the new technologies.
We could well do a comparison between the old way and the new way of teaching. These days, the professor or teacher has to take into account that there is already a certain kind of knowledge out there, knowledge that is already public and published. After all, it was much the same sort of thing when the printing press was invented back in the Fourteen-hundreds. There was already quite a bit of widespread general knowledge around at the time. These days, what with Wikipedia and all the other search engines, the sharing of knowledge has increased exponentially.
How much is too much? You know, when I was little and I used to read books, my grandmother would say “Poor Michel, he’s destined to go mad from all that reading!” She used to say that reading was dangerous. These days people are saying that browsing the Internet is dangerous. The reaction is exactly the same and the only difference is the new technology.
You are right to raise the issue of reality versus virtual reality and the difference between the two. This is the difference. These days we have virtual friendships and relationships. This is a fact. We have to ask ourselves whether or not this is something totally new! Well, yes, it is something new, but not totally so. When I was young and I could already go to the cinema and fall in love with an actress that I had never met in person. So this was actually a virtual relationship. This had already happened in novels. For example, Cervantes’ Spanish novel, “Don Chisciotte”, tells of someone who is absolutely crazy about chivalry even though he had never been a knight. So virtual reality may be a relatively modern concept but it is certainly not totally new since we have seen this same kind of experience in the novels. In a certain sense man is also virtual since most of his actions are virtual.
So now there is this new kind of knowledge, this new way of thinking and indeed a whole new world. I’m not so sure that we can call it progress, but what I can say is there has been a complete change, a world-change if you will. Will it be better or worse, you ask? Now that’s difficult to say.
With these new technologies, relationships between individuals change, and that for a very simple reason. I am a professor. Years ago when I used to walk into the classroom – about 30 years ago – I could safely assume that my students had no prior knowledge of the topic of my course. Today, instead, I safely assume that most of my students will certainly, or at least probably have done an Internet search on the topic of my course, which means that there is now a kind of equality between me and them because they are so much better informed than their counterparts used to be in the past. This means that the teacher-student relationship has changed quite a bit. Let me give you an example: when you’re ill and you think you know what ails you, before going to see the doctor you first browse the Web to find out more about that ailment. In other words, you are questioning the doctor’s knowledge regarding that ailment. These days, doctors are obliged to assume that you have some knowledge regarding the ailment. See what I mean? The doctor-patient relationship is busy changing for this very same reason! All professional competence-based relationships are busy changing!
Now I’m not saying that all information alone is knowledge. Knowledge is something that is far more profound and as such it has to be cultivated and sought for. There has nevertheless been a explosion of information that affects society as a whole and that is totally new. This is the novelty that I talk about in my book.
Listening to someone talking and getting information off the Web is not the same thing by any means. When you do an online course on the Web, you get the knowledge content but without any of the physical presence. Once again, the same is true of books. When we read an ancient book, we can almost feel the presence of the long-dead author. Let there be no doubt as regards the novelty of what is happening now.
You may well be right in saying that it is something specific to the youth but in actual fact my book talks about anyone for whom the new technology has become something perfectly normal and every day. These new technologies have already been in daily use for the past thirty years now. What this means is that here in Italy, as in France also, we began using computers back in the ‘90s, actually somewhere between 1985 and 1990. So it’s no longer just the young people because the people I talk about in my book could well be now be 30-35 years old, so it’s certainly not only the younger generation, but also all those people who are coming into the job market at this moment.
Since I already mentioned the age group of the people who are totally immersed in the new technology, I think that it’s safe to say that those who fall outside of that age group actually merely “dabble with” or “utilise” these machines. Youngsters and children instead actually live in a world that revolves around these machines, whereas those that “dabble with” the machines are strangers to that world. Those who are immersed in the world of machines are insiders. This is the main difference between the two generations we were talking about. This is an excellent comparison, but why? Well, because if we look back to the invention of the printing press in the Fourteen hundreds, during the Renaissance in other words, we could say that the people of the Middle Ages lived in a certain kind of world and then, all of a sudden, along came a generation that entered the world of the printed book. It was a whole new world with a totally different system of knowledge!
My book entitled “Petite Poucette”, which is the one that you have translated, attempts to capture a snapshot of the relationship between these two different worlds. It truly is exactly the same as what happened between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period and we realise that this passage will affect people of all ages, even the littlest ones who were born into a world that is more so that of the adults and the elderly.
This is a very good question and one that I am not yet able to answer. I believe that the great philosopher of tomorrow – and I sincerely hope that he will be from Italy or from France – will be the person that is able to resolve this matter. If the truth be told, at the time of the invention of the printing press the idea emerged that perhaps there would be a new way of thinking because suddenly there were books available. Since the advent of the Internet, there has been a new sense of freedom and a new way of relating to others. What will this do in terms of political transformation, you ask? I think I can answer that question, at least partly. Will there be a political transformation? The answer is yes, there will. The second question is what will be the nature of that political transformation? I don’t have the answer to that question. I have no doubt that there will be a political transformation but I cannot say how big or small it will be.
This phenomenon is a double-edged sword. I believe that it will enable democratic gatherings, and I quote the example of the Arab Spring, an example of a democratic awakening that occurred thanks to the Internet. There is however another risk. It is true that the same technology can be used to accentuate autocratic or tyrannical regimes. Therefore, as is so often the case, it’s a kind of double-edged sword.
It allows people to get together and express the of the will of the people and the wishes of the majority. But then it also enables a new kind of public representation. In other words, the old fashioned kind of media like the press, radio and television could be defined as “few people send, many people receive”. On the Web, as many people send as those that receive. When you have the kind of media where few people send and many people receive, the media in question is at risk of being appropriated by just a few people. Where there are many people sending and many receiving, the risk of appropriation diminishes.
We all witnessed the power of television, but the fact remains that there were few senders and many receivers.
It’s not for me to say that this or that is good or bad. I believe that it is important to take a realistic view of the world that we are entering and to do whatever we can to make it better. It’s not necessarily good nor bad in itself, it’s merely a means to an end.
I sincerely hope that the level of trust that there is in the Internet will always be tempered with prudence. Whenever a new technology emerges, it is invariably a double-edged sword. We said earlier that the tongue can be either the best or the worst thing on earth. It has the potential to be the worst or the best. It’s up to us to ensure that it becomes the best. Our job is to make this technology work for good.
The most important thing of all is that knowledge must be spread as widely as possible.
Every word counts.
Spread the word.
Posted by Beppe Grillo at 05:27 PM in Information
(9) | Comments in Italian (translated)
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