Passaparola - the power of knowledge - Michel Serres

The power of knowledge

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.
Michel Serres

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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 | Comments (9) | Comments in Italian (translated) Post a comment | Sign up | Send to a friend | | GrilloNews | listen_it_it.gifListen |
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Hi, Me and John Waddington, I am pleased that you two have made peace and found a common ground. Love To All (LTA) :) ooxx

Posted by: wolly wally | May 2, 2013 02:18 AM

Italy was a great nation in Roman Times. Why do the nowadays' politicians not link back to those times of honour and trust?

Posted by: Peter Rittler | May 1, 2013 01:52 PM

I would like to catch your attention on the real cause of this crisis: "the infinite economic growth".

The biggest error that economists do is believing
in "relaunch" the economy, producing and consuming more and more. It does not.
We have to exploit this crisis for think at a new
economic system.
The actual economic system is inadequate for resolve the problems of desperate families and small and medium-sized enterprises.
In this video you can listen to some intelligent solutions:

Posted by: Fabio F. | April 30, 2013 05:57 PM

Carmen P. wrote about Lions and it reminds me of ‘Henry V’ by Shakespeare: “But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger’. One can find easier Shakespeare than Henry V.

Posted by: Paolo M. | April 30, 2013 03:19 PM

Comunicato chiarificatore ricevuto dal coordinatore dell'ANFiP
Riteniamo giunto il momento per spostare l'attenzione sui rischi recati dalla facile suggestione delle tendenze involutive coinvolgenti l'astrusità della discriminazione politica. La svolta in su, se non esaurientemente radicata e sorretta dalle più nobili tradizioni risorgimentali e democratiche, abbraccianti in un'unica prospettiva l'unificazione perentoria di tutte di tutte le forze e di tutte le tendenze, dopo sei, anzi sette mesi di guida alfanolettica, rischia di precipitare il paese nella sua totalità - e anche nella sua ruralità – nella più cieca e vieta sottomissione agli assertori del rinvio, in luogo della risoluzione dei problemi, persistendo a tutt'oggi tutte le premesse escludenti lo accreditamento della graduatoria politica, che si rifiuta fermamente di essere scavalcata dalle note e faziose tendenze integraliste del massimalismo storico.
Pertantamente, allo scopo di rafforzare le istituzioni demografiche, demoscopiche e democratiche, sempre più minacciate dalle forze eversive presenti nella società che è sempre percorsa, precorsa e percossa dalle tautologie settorialistiche, vogliamo chiarire perentoriamente, testimoniare, testificare e testicolare la nostra imperturbabile determinazione di avvalerci di tutti i mezzi a nostra determinazione per sconfiggere gli sconci, gli sconcreti e gli sconcerti che le forze oscure del disordine organizzato vanno perpetrando in nome di una nefanda ideologia quasista e basista, sempre procedendo chiaramente e consapevolmente entro le strettoie e pastoie buro-pluto-costituzionali, concludendo infine con uno slogan riassuntivo e chiarificatore che suoni da incitamento a mantenere risolutamente i vantaggi e le prebende, finora duramente carpite e conquistate con metodologie assolutamente lecite: “Anteponiamo sempre, amici, la contrattazione vantaggiosa per il profitto personale e corporativistica a gli interessi più o meno nebulosi e remoti, ma vasti, della comunità e del pro gesso sociale della nostra amata Repubblica.”. Più pilu per tutti.

Posted by: John Waddington | April 30, 2013 10:37 AM

I read with a lot of interest your comment.
In effects the M5S contains so many ideologies some times diametrically opposite for their colors.
And it's also true that this blog is a valve of outlet.
It has picked up the bad moods and the thoughts of many of us.
Italians felt for many years misunderstood, ignored, stamped on by a political system that almost exclusively has provide to the affairs of the caste (like Berlusconi) but he has not been the only one, only the examples more eclatantis.
The lamb days are ended?
Welcome Lions
* I tried to do my best with english translation.
And' is a pleasure to read you.

Posted by: carmen p. | April 30, 2013 09:40 AM

anti monopoly media Berlu... TV is still very powerful...

Posted by: Cures Riches | April 30, 2013 05:42 AM

SUBJECT: Can people live, or at least exchange views without swearing ?

The fuck they can't!

This is actually not so much O.T to the above Beppe's Michel Serres post as one may think and could be definitely of interest to some here, but not only……
this may be of interest to most Italians and their fighting and hating each other.


We have guy A, who when he sees some of the various Italian
politician fools on Tv gets physically angry and physically sick, and sticks up the middle finger to them.

We have guy B, who besides doing what guy A above does, once every so often,
probably a few times a year when he has had a few glasses of wine too many,
will just stare at these politicians on Tv, and a few tears of anger will slither down his face.
These are just very short moments which end in him grinding his teeth.

These two guys do not agree on quite a few things
These two guys have different points of view concerning Italian politics
These two guys love Italy and most of it's people
These two guys would love to see a change happen in Italy

These two guys are not of Italian origin

But these two guys do wonder from time to time, how come
that they can love the country of Italy so much whilst many Italians themselves
do not seem to love their own country at all.

These two guys are :
A- John Waddington
B- Me!

Hold yer horses ! This is NOT the usual tirade.

For all of those who may be curious as to whether myself and
John Waddington did after all contact each other via email to sort our crap out.

We did.

Here is what I know today and didn't 10 days ago…..
but the hell am I going to let you into ALL the details.

Suffice to say,
after several email exchanges with John, I have come to understand some of his
political views, [ you'd all be surprised ]
and now know that he is not a troll or an infiltrated regime puppet.

On the contrary, John is a great bloke with interesting and steadfast ideals full of conviction
[ no, not that kind of conviction which Berlusconi deservers ]
and has a whole load of stuff to say, which in my opinion if he said in different 'colours',
at least sometimes, would make people really listen up to what he has to say.
And I have taken the liberty of telling him this.

The same obviously goes for myself, and despite my credo that
quando ci vò ci vò, I will try to keep myself under control.

BUT attention please, very important…… in no way am I suggesting that John
should modify his colourful expressionism, . yep I have drastically changed my stance on this one…..
and believe that everyone here should feel free to write exactly as he wishes.
Which, much more than any other media in Italy and this
includes Il Fatto Quotidiano, this part of Beppe Grillo's blog
does allow.
Here anyone is allowed to state almost anything.

[ yesterday I discovered that comments with a full h t t p : / / address will get moderated.
so just don't write the h t t etc. prefix of an url if posting web links here, and your comment will go through straight away
or are there any other latent rules … moderator ? automator ? ]

John and I are not of the same political views but it would
be incorrect to assume that we were on a 100% collision course.

My political stance is that Italy needs a change and that Beppe Grillo
and the 5* movement are the only last hope.
Also, I believe that one of the main problems in Italy are the press and the media,
for the most part of which I consider them to be the scum of this Earth.

I will leave it up to John if he wishes to expose further
here his views and what exactly they are.
[ with more precision* John ? To let the others here fathom your stance out ? ]
* like give it to them even in Braille so that they cannot misunderstand you.

This does not mean that when I read complete rubbish here that I will not flame,
and this includes flame John too when I feel the urge. And I am sure I will get the same back.

The moral of this fable is that if John and Me! can agree to disagree,
without smashing each other's heads in, and if you read some of our previous posts
we were not far from there…… then you Italians could do the same.
[ no, not the Italian politicians because all they would do is collude, cheat, pretend and inciuciarsi / incularvi - as is now happening ]
But just the people.

Whatever the governing outcome, my own very deep felt conviction is that most Italian citizens deserve to be once again living in The Bel Paese, REMEMBER ? sun, tourism, craftsmanship products, innovation, strong economy, foreign investment and friendly people.

And not have to live inside the personal scrap yard playground the politicians have transformed your country into.

And I'd like to believe that at least on this one, myself and John are in complete agreement.
[ Batti un colpo John and let it pour down on me ] 

Rise and rise again until lambs become lions


Posted by: Me! | April 30, 2013 03:39 AM

M5S people love web and everybody knows it: however, the issue above does not tell the speed of web knowledge is more than its ease and this knowledge can be easily idealized.

Posted by: Paolo | April 29, 2013 08:16 PM

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