Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

New Technologies and New Paradigms in Historical Research

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

New Technologies and New Paradigms in Historical Research

Article excerpt


During this last century mass-media and multi-media communications underwent progressive growth and evolution, so that, today, they are pre-eminent with respect to printed matter, not only in broadcasting news but also in propagating more structured and organized information. While many authors are still persuaded that meaningful knowledge comes off only from personal reading of printed materials, today researches in education (at least most of them) show a revolution in didactic activities, where cooperative and constructive experiences make extensive use of multimedia and computers. Good examples in this field are the materials used in distance learning courses. They were originally made by printed matter sent by mail to the students. Pictures, movies and multimedia information replaced the previous materials when television and computer networks became easily available. They changed the way people could learn and interact with scientific and disciplinary knowledge.

Many scholars attribute the reasons for such a revolution to the structural characteristics of the new media and specifically to electronic media (i.e. every kind of analogical and digital communication media using electronics to spread information), with respect to printed texts, because of their directness, effectiveness and immediateness, while transmitting all kinds of information, or, to repeat the same words used by D. de Kerckhove (de Kerckhove 1995)--these media talk to the body more than to the mind--, they wrap up information addressees with their messages.

The great changes in human behaviour induced by new media forced many researchers to carry out deep studies to analyze their influence on human history and evolution. It's important to remember here, for the implications they have in what follows, M. McLuhan's and D. de Kerckhove's contributions.

McLuhan is famous for at least two symbolic assertions characterizing his work: first of all he says that every instrument mankind created in the history can be thought of as a prosthesis, i.e. a tool to improve human abilities and to multiply the ways of understanding phenomena; second, he asserts that the medium is the message, thus carrying to the extremes the influence communication media can have on people, much more than the contents of the messages themselves.

As a pupil and heir of McLuhan, de Kerckhove continued his research and enriched his assertions with new contents.

A common opinion concerning the characteristics of the phase today's mankind (or at least a part of it) lies in seems to join many scholars (including the above). They point out the presence of media extending in space and time individual capabilities and skills, so annulling the answering time to external stimulation. In other words we can say today human beings, while using communication media, have acquired at least two new senses: distance seeing, letting them see distant events just when they happen, and distance acting, letting them modify events in the same manner. If this is the end act of the human evolution it is perhaps too early to say but it's undoubtedly a step of the human evolutionary route having no comparison with any other event until now. The importance of finding a key to understand this phenomenon lies in the following reasons: 1) the overcoming of the optimist-pessimist dualism (the former one supporting a total democracy governed by media, the latter one persuaded that new media will delete the ego and homologate the masses); 2) the influence of hyper-sensitization and over-exposition to new media on future scenarios mankind will deal with.

In any case, the roots of today events are very deep: they start from language invention, pass through alphabet discovery and printing invention and arrive to today's new media.

Language is for de Kerkchove the first example of human software and the first tool human beings used to create, model and dominate matter, to share their experiences and to build more and more complex social structures (Calvani, 1997). …

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