Cybersociology Magazine: Issue Five
Admirable Utopian World
by Eduardo Duarte
The discussion about the consequence of the implantation of telematic systems for Brazilian society has been raising many doubts. One of the most frequent is, if through cyberspace we would be building a new excluded generation? In that context, I have set out a constant structure of argument for and against. In which I tried to approach the subject considering the constant negatives of the civilizing process and investing in the necessary inclusion of global citizenship utopia.
The text also approaches the exchange of experiences between the virtual and real ambients as elements that give the possibility of a redefinition of identities and the consequent construction of this new citizenship.
Admirable Utopian World
In times of cybernetic space and real underdevelopment, a lot has been asked about the role of the telematic systems in the construction of the information society. Certain social groups, that until then were not very well represented in other communicational contexts, will now have a more extensive participation. This concern shows in a general question: with cyberspace are we building a new excluded generation?
As can be seen, the old discussion about the inclusion of less favored classes in the production flow and supply of information is a long way from ending. For some, it is still the old cause of giving the control of the means of power to the proletariat. For others, the question calls for a discussion at another level, referring to the possible formation of a global citizenship, where inclusion, implies above all, diversification and enrichment of valuable symbolic tissue via telephone pulses.
In fact, the condition of society underdevelopment raises pertinent questions to the existence of this process. Another question can be derived from the first: Are we not at the mercy of a totalitarisnism of technique, that possess machines, net structure and the domination of languages that makes conditions sine qua non, for fundamental social activities, commercial transactions, access to public information or simple interpersonal activities? If the construction of the information society is characterized like this, the excluded population will be exponentially larger in relation to that of illiterates, unemployed, starving and all the other actual excluded groups.
However, the transition that lives of paradigmatic references in the modern economy, in sciences and politics, is just one more stage in the civilizing process. A radical stage, of serious changes in several sections (perhaps all), but impossible to foresee the end of the tunnel. On civilizing, Arnold Toynbee sees congenital and inevitable characteristics:
"The progress of technology, that propitiated the appearance of civilization required specialists. The contribution of those specialists to excess production was greater than the majority of non-qualified workers. A differentiated economic distribution of remuneration, although not friendly, was perhaps not unjust at first but at any rate inevitable. The 'differentiations' in the distribution of the excess, however, were unjustly large and they also tended to become hereditary. Consequently, social injustice and war were the price of collective wealth. These two congenital social diseases of civilization still afflict mankind today".
Civilization then would be unavoidably excluded and replete of social injustices. For Toynbee we can consider that the unique aspect, in which humanity in fact grew, was in the technological field, but human sociability did not always accompany this progress. Naturally, that in some aspects not connected to technological implementations social contexts were forced to change, but "congenital diseases" still stayed, such as war and social injustices. Therefore independent of any effort that could be shown in this debate, the excluded will always exist. Discussions like these perhaps increase the possibility of new means to produce social progress, but the inclusion process will always have a limit set by civilization. For civilization Aurélio Buarque dictionary indicates:
"2. the group of characteristics, social life, politics, economics and culture of a country and region".
In that sense, it would not be the telematic and derivatives guilty of exclusions or inclusions, but the collective life history of human simians.
The necessity of utopian processes
Well... we seem to have reached an obvious conclusion. Nevertheless, the obviousness sometimes makes us question the limits of our conclusions, and to study possibilities to surpass them, in search of a better situation: these are utopias, that here I intend to approach at two levels, or moments.
At the first level, we can say that our own history brought great changes that took place since our questioning of limits. The results, not every time were healthy for humanity, but they were attempts at escaping from the tedious inevitable ways, creating or destroying civilizations, and the fastening of other roots in its place. As examples, we could mention the advent of Christianity, the catechizes of Indians, the ascension of Nazism, the formation of the Soviet state, the independence of India, and so many other macro and micro historical events of utopias taken to the ultimate consequences. Most of them built by force, leaving irreparable marks, that certainly changed the way of the same civilizations, and they rerouted humanity. Many injustices were done; many wars were authorized and blessed. Civilization executed its inevitable written path perfectly. The world completely reconfigures starting from its utopian experiences. Let us see then: utopia would be part of the civilizing process and certainly, its consequences are not foreseen, by the same fact they would be utopias.
At the other level, not so macro, we can see utopias that make an effort to create inclusion movements. For example: since the appearance of movies, that is a means of mass media communication, they are criticized, for possible psychological and moral damage. Parallel to a great communication industry, many projects were developed in an attempt to create greater social participation in radiophonic, television, and even cinematographic productions, such as experimental films, neighborhood newspapers, pirate radios and TVs. They were alternative products but many ended up being legalized. All these movements were seeking inclusion and participation, but were criticized for not reaching distribution and audience systems or having better participation that in fact could have configured a break in the use of pre-fixed structures.
In the opinion of some people, so much effort would not be needed because the diffusion of means, equipment popularization, offer multiplicity and self technological development would naturally include new characters in the usufruct of these means. However, it is good to remember that we are not talking about the power to buy a TV itself. I don't speak about just having purchasing power, but above all of having the potential to transmit messages in the system. It is in that aspect that I h ighlight the importance of the pirates' experiences. They are utopian because they look for a new configuration in information production scenario.
The global citizenship
We could consider that in times of cybernetic space and real underdevelopment the construction that some call digital citizenship has assumed the role of one of the great utopias of this end of century. A utopia in the two moments that I presented: has the magnitude of a world event, as the historical examples mentioned above, without the need to spill of blood, and it also allows localized experiments of less wealthy communities' inclusion. Perhaps for some very optimistic ones it is an attempt of archetypal redemption of the excluded civilization in essence. However, in fact we cannot forget that cyberspace can also be just an engine, that demonstrates the great technical progress of civilization in spite of humanity. Moreover, that so much as it can include, it can also generate islands of exclusion.
However, what would that digital citizenship be? This expression has been used in some on-line forums and discussion lists in Brazil. A lot has been said on this matter without knowing for certain if the concept was formally created. I notice that the idea approaches a lot of the cibionte concept, of Joel de Rosnay. Those two concepts have in common the formation of a new social conscience, the idealization of an organic society centered on its ecosystemic relationships, where human's dimension for himself gets influenced by human's relationships with the universe, and of the components of the universe to each other, understanding a wide tissue of relationships and possible connections then for life. It would be the understanding of the formation of the complex spirit and interdependence of all the other life instances. The idea of the cibionte is the one that the individual brings with himself the capacity to consider the importance of events that happened on the other side of the world, as inter-linked in his own existence, direct or indirectly, without losing the conscience of the region in which he is inserted, that is to say, his action space.
A regional context that changes references with the global. It is certainly a way of looking for a correlation in the technological progress of civilization to the growth in humanity, reaffirmed Toynbee.
In any way, personal computers linked to the net, and small inter-linked nets form a great planetary communication system. These with a much lower cost than a television station or print media, allow any individual to emit opinions and build messages that can be accessed in an action ray as vast as the planets' phone cables. It also gives possibility of an easy accompaniment of any small or grand event, to be seen by many diverse opinions, not only the ones of news agencies. That participant observation in the virtual field has, with no doubt, had an invaluable importance in the decentralization of information. When I speak about that phenomenon, I don't just limit myself to the Web ambient, but to cyberspace in a general way. The formation of liaisons of emotional relationships among users of the net who would probably never have the chance of knowing each other in any another way. This way, discussion lists, news groups, MUDS, e-mail are instruments, or better, socialization spaces, an ambient where the flow of symbolic transfers and participation, set up the structures in a way of cultural expression: the cyber-culture. A dynamic expression formed by diverse and old cultural inheritances, co-existing under the formation of net software languages, but original in its manifestations. The co-existence of such diverse ideas doesn't imply an integral harmony. Probably partial, since everybody is entitled to the same availability and also to confront their beliefs.
In this Admirable New World, "realities/imaginations" of completely differing coexistence in reality meet, or better they collide. As for example, pedophile groups, terrorist tactic manuals, instructions for cultivating marijuana plants in apartments, sadomasochism practices, virtual shopping of vampire artifacts and an infinity of other things that went "during centuries forgotten" by the Jewish-Christian orientation in the Western world. Activities that never stopped being exercised by groups, naturally marginal, of the most distant societies, and that through media segmentation, and more radically through the Internet, they have opened their covers and they have become available for the worldwide "bourgeois" society through electronic addresses.
These activities certainly demand their public right of existing, and certainly, they gave us the knowledge to know our own potentialities, independent of the moral vision that we have of them.
On the other hand, I believe that cyber-culture, is not a phenomenon restricted to the virtual world of computers. Because we have been learning to live together with the heterogeneous by other means. A few decades ago, regional accents fascinated us; they made us see other Brazilians as distant strangers. Nevertheless, knowledge about the world has grown beyond the small tribes. Means of communication gave us the chance to shorten the time and to make all space the same distance, that is to say, the sensation of being nearer. Diverse cultures and languages are inside our houses through satellites, magazines, books, movies and radio. However, not only technology abbreviated spaces, to travel physically became a possible dream in our economy. Brazilian middle class are travelling abroad more now than at any other time. This makes us see what is coexistence with others and we look for experiences that are more distant. This also composes the cyber-culture. Naturally, trips through the modem are more popular for they are much more feasible, but the flow of diverse cultures that we cross are not an exclusive phenomenon of cyberspace, but the result of a gigantic revolution of human simians' habits.
A revolution that isn't only taking place in the social plan, but above all it operates in the individual, that's where the relationship of the internaut with cybernetic space is so important. The experience of the crossing and combination of the imaginary colored smoke contributes to the formation of an ample think-tank about humanity. There, are the seeds of formation for a global citizenship. Where certainly it will become easier to understand and participate in contemporary subjects that have been assuming international prominence in the media over the last months, such as the seismic disturbance of the Asian stock exchange crash and its worldwide chain reaction.
This still seems to be a complicated example to understand in detail because it involves a series of economic concepts driven only by specialists. But the general phenomenon of the "domino effect", in which the Asian stock markets crash, alters the monthly interest rates of credit card purchases in Brazil, already starts to be part of the understanding of a global economic organism interfering in the management of a domestic budget. This is one of the most emergent aspects of the reflex of the global action on local thinking.
But how many other aspects of the global-local relationship, not so emergent, subliminally perhaps, appear out of field studies of monographs and dissertations, of specialists' books in the most diverse disciplines that bend to contemporaneousness? That's why they become such valuable discussions about the amplification of the number of social groups participating in the reformulation of contemporary social thinking. Greater the amount of cultural agents involved, greater the diversification; larger the restructuring of individual and collective values; larger the possibilities of constructing a global citizenship, that without doubt passes by the two moments of utopias that we spoke off previously; and finally, greater are the chances of humanity's growth facing the technical progresses of civilization.
On the other hand, also observe that eac h new instrument of seeing the world implies a new conscience before its use, so that which enriches us doesn't deprive us. Nevertheless, this conscience grows in direct proportion to the understanding of the need to use it. That is to say, which Prof. Ronaldo Bispo called levels of developed complexity starting from organic and systemic necessities.
"In agreement with the perspective adopted here, the theory of systems, inclusion can be understood as connectivity. Connectivity for its turn can be understood as the acceptance or repulsion selection of new connections. (In a systemic approach, everything is systems, therefore telematic and individual nets are equally systems). It happens that there are at least three types of connections: ones that favor, indifferent ones and contrary ones. Knowing that connectivity has as properties cohesion and communication, being cohesion for its time is understood as a coalition of elements or system structure construction, that signifies, how it happens and serves the inclusion of men - telematic nets? The complexity of a system increases at the rate of its need to problem solve. As we solve problems, above all survival ones, we became more complex and have internalized permanence conditions. The problems of the environment and those that in our turn we place ourselves in measure our complexity. A connection or a healthy and productive inclusion would be that one that could respond a real need of complexity survival, and nevertheless it could guarantee internal cohesion.
In my opinion, it doesn't suit the academy or science to discuss how or why to take teleinformatic to those "excluded", just as before the church did with the Indians and Illuminism with incautious ones. There are no criteria that can determine the value of complexity increase. In the beginning, complexity increase is neither good nor bad. Nobody has asked any of us what do we discuss in web lists, what we would like is that the net solves this for us. Only through our conscious and complex connection are we capable to interfere minimally in the direction that all this will take."
I unfold the point raised by Bispo in other questions: to what extent is the discussion of inclusion just one more intellectual exercise of university professors and researchers? To what extent can we say that the telematics can aid in poor communities' life? Would we not just be projecting our needs (fruit of our inquiries and levels of complexities) for the whole world, without knowing the world in fact (and its infinite complexity levels) do they need that? Is the idea of global citizenship construction not a new catechizes form and totalitarianism? I still raise other observations: what is the certainty that one can have that the general population is interested in the "marvels" of cyberspace? For the growing interest of the middle class, that cannot be considered excluded of anything?
In that case, we have a great cyber-culture standardization, since it is basically formed by urban users and middle class of the whole planet. How about the relationship to all those other outlawed groups in current societies? What is the certainty that we have that cyberspace answers to the levels of interest and complexity that they live?
One of the frequent critics made about the efforts of popularization of the Internet, is the that we could be wasting time, money and disposition to solve other needs, that would be come before information needs, such as: education, feeding, health, security and habitation. Despite of all the political and technological fights faced by public and private organizations, the civilizing process maintains thousands of people excluded from their basic satisfactions. The Organization of the United Nations registers that the current world food production would be enough to feed one and a half times the population of the planet, and yet hunger still razes populations in Africa and Latin America.
However, passing again to the other side of this discussion and rehearsing some answers, I would say that the complex systems are organic structures and that they exist in all human simians, independent of social condition. The aspect is not only that those favored possess more complex systems than the more poor, the condition of the complexity is ecosystemic. Perhaps we have not realized how much we have been hyper-structurized since before the existence of hyper-media in the format that we know. This seems to be a human species condition that is beyond classes. What the new technologies does is to present this dimension through virtual telematic systems, that is to say, new supports. However, the condition of complexity, is independent of the machines, and capable of being shared by everybody. I don't think it should solve the questions of hunger, education, work and employment to then introduce cyberspace to the population. One thing doesn't depend on the other. The imaginary psychic function is a human characteristic. Not that the other questions are not urgent, they are and very much so. I don't just believe in a hierarchy of needs and I think that the complex dimension of the Internet hyper-structured systems is not a discouragement to those excluded.
To try to answer to these questionings already implies another posture for society. Everything depends on the spirit. To think of inclusion doesn't imply and it doesn't necessarily lead to a catechizes, when the intention is not that of teaching absolute truths, but of sharing truth and lies as versions. The point placed by Bispo is important to avoid distortions in the process of totalitarianism by the groups that dominate economically the techniques as a captivity of seductions: spontaneous will of connectivity is necessary, generated by the permanence of systems that structure your needs in that direction. I also believe in the systems' complexity levels, but think also a minimum role of allowing us knowledge and of favoring discoveries and developments of those systems suit us. Concerning the uses of these tools, they will be defined and redefined by collective practice. This certainly already implies a change in spirit in face of what we are presupposed to know and a clear notion of limits about that knowledge. They are new roles that appear for educators, researchers and politicians: the role of stimulating the participation option in an emergent cyber-culture in an ample and unrestricted way, also taking into account the understanding of an inevitable simultaneous and reciprocal movement of inclusion and exclusion of the civilizing process. These are new roles for old utopias.
There is still another aspect to be considered in the argument in favor of inclusion of the largest number of groups in the use of telematics: the possibility of reconstruction of individuals' identities starting from their relationships through cyberspace. Based on the principle, that the individual doesn't have isolated experiences in virtual and real. Both ambients nurture the imaginary universe and they interfere in its relationship with the world; that defines and redefines ones self-reflection. The real and virtual dimensions co-exist, showing simultaneously in different intensities, depending on the type of relationship, one settles down with the other. That is to say, the question of alteration int erferes fundamentally in identity formulations and reformulations.
The sensation of to be and to do, as well as the feeling of participation in the virtual space cannot again signify an important feeling of participation and social interference. This can become an exercise in citizenship with effects on real life.
The North American researcher and psychologist Sherry Turkle describe s an interesting experience, that can be used in this discussion: when analyzed, possible personality reconstructions through the characters' existence in virtual communities. It would be what she called psychological moratorium. The virtual communities would give chance to individuals of try and live psychologically ways of being, chosen starting from unconscious needs. Those needs would reproduce instants of dissatisfactions along life, escape routes and compensation can be seen when the individual has the chance of being another person. For the researcher, this would be like retaking and signifying again important moments of each one.
If it is possible the reconstruction of experiences of the self-being through the existence of different personalities, why not to be possible the reconstruction of collective experiences? To think about the collective implies in thinking as well of the public right of existence of the other one, as said above. For the largest antagonists to co-exist in cyberspace, the alteration demands a frank disposition of tolerance and understanding, or then scorn and indifference, but not the prohibition of the manifestation, in spite of several censorship attempts. The other one and its fantastic and ghostly manifestations are present, in spite of our moral representations.
In the same way as censorship and instruments of social control are projected in cyberspace. The diversity of representations allowed in that ambient can bring great contributions for the experience of collective existence. Because of that, both spaces real and virtual are nurtured reciprocally with its values. I expect this tension doesn't create a loser or a winner: nor the cyberspace numbs the users, nor the Real chains the virtual bugs, but that tension allows symbolic traffic. Besides that, it is a connectivity attempt that increases the system waves of complexity. I believe that we have more to learn from indefinitions and oscillations of force than with winner polarities.
Well, to study the contemporaneousness it is something close to mere speculation (Oscar Wilde). It is very difficult to analyze processes that were still incomplete, and that suggest new epistemological constructions. The importance of the study of the contemporaneousness in this case of telematic systems is that it can indicate us critics and methods of applications, suggesting or even foreseeing the signs o f utopia. These point us in the direction of action projects in order to face a future that is still incognito and a wide development of installation of telematic systems in our country. In this text I have tried to discuss the utopia of a global citizenship as a work hypothesis, believing in the wealth of change of experiences among the virtual and real ambients as an entrance door to an infinity of epistemological possibilities in all areas of knowledge.
Eduardo Duarte ([email protected]) is PhD student in the program of Social Science in São Paulo (PUC-SP), Brazil. He holds an MA in Anthropology, is a member of The Center of Complexity Studies (Brazil ) and is an assistant teacher of the Department of Social Communication of UFPE. He is currently researching virtual communities in Brazil with special emphasis on the relations between real and virtual communities.
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