Sunday, 30 November 2008

Castell's Take Two

One of the big questions faced by users of digital technology is the debate between "virtual reality" and "reality". Such is the debate that it often seems that virtual reality is somehow considered a totally alien environment possibly to the extent of being somehow "evil". Castell's put forward quite a reasoned argument I thought on this subject and it is worth quoting in full.

The Culture of Real Virtuality
Cultures are made up of communication processes. And all forms of communication, as Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard taught us many years ago, are based on the production and consumption of signs. Thus there is no separation between "reality" and symbolic representation. In all societies humankind has existed in and acted through a symbolic environment. Therefore, what is historically specific to the new communication system, organized around the electronic integration of all communication modes from the typographic to the multisensorial, is not its inducement of virtual reality but the construction of real virtuality. I shall explain, with the help of the dictionary, according to which: "virtual:being so in practice though not strictly in name," and "real:actually existing." Thus reality, as experienced, has always been virtual because it is always perceived through symbols that frame practice with some meaning that escapes their strict semantic definition. It is precisely this ability of all forms of language to encode ambiguity and to open up a diversity of interpretations that makes cultural expressions distinct from formal/logical/mathematical reasoning. It is through the polysemic character of our discourses that the complexity and contradictory quality of messages of the human mind manifest themselves. This range of cultural variation of the meaning of messages is what enables us to interact with each other in a multiplicity of dimensions, some explicit, some implicit. Thus, when critics of electronic media argue that the new symbolic environment does not represent "reality," they implicitly refer to an absurdly primitive notion of "uncoded" real experience that never existed. All realities are communicated through symbols. and in human, interactive communication, regardless of the medium, all symbols are somewhat displaced in relation to their assigned semantic meaning. In a sense, all reality is virtually perceived." The Rise of the Network Society pp403-404

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Manuel Castells premonition?

Better late than never I get to read the 1996 publication from sociologist Manuel Castell's - this one the 2nd edition from 2000. Note the dates - there will be more to come from this book but it is worth quoting at the outset the following from Volume I:

"...the global economy was politically constituted. Restructuring of business firms, and new information technologies, while being at the source of globalising trends, could not have evolved by themselves, toward a networked, global economy without the policies of de-regulation, privatization, and liberalization of trade and investment. These policies were decided and enacted by governments around the world, and by international economic institutions. A political economy perspective is necessary to understand the triumph of markets over governments: governments themselves called for such a victory, in a historic death-wish. .....

Any individual decoupling from the global economy implies a staggering cost: the devastation of the economy in the short term [Iceland?] and the closing of access to sources of growth. ...Barring a catastrophic meltdown of the financial market, the process of globalization is set, and it accelerates over time." pp147

He did not believe it would happen but how prescient.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

An Englishman's view of Sweden

Andrew Brown wrote an interesting book on life as a British emigre to Sweden. for an outsider this is always an interesting read. Certain elements of a different culture always benefit from interpretation. You have to give Alan a pat on the proverbial back for a couple of lines in his book. the first one to some degree follows on from the previous posting when he writes on page 100 about, "...the geometric elegance of the curves." Ah! so its geometry I am seeking!

And back to page 14 he talks about, "...mornings by the lake, the whole world felt enamelled in perfection." Does that ever capture the imagination.