Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'New Ways of Being Together.' (the Multimedia Explosion: Quo Vadis?)

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

'New Ways of Being Together.' (the Multimedia Explosion: Quo Vadis?)

Article excerpt

Communicating means sharing and establishing relationships. This being so, the extraordinary growth of the contemporary media, which is being accompanied by a transformation of cultures, identities and modes of exercising power and authority, is leading to the invention of new ways of being together.

The history of civilization is intertwined with the history of the gradual departure from rural areas that had been occupied for thousands of years, with the dematerialization of the instruments and products of human work, with the promotion and rapid distribution of signs (foremost among them being currency), with growing desacralization and increasing mobility as part of the phenomenon of urbanization. The peasantry no longer gives society its direction; culture has ceased to be synonymous with agriculture.

Communication, modernization and rationalization advance hand in hand. By destroying the rural base of society (by the year 2000, one half of the world's population will be living in cities), the modernization that began in Europe in the late Middle Ages has taken people away from the fields and brought them into the orbit of historical time. According to Max Weber, historical time is fashioned by three great "machines": the market economy; activities which require calculation and analysis (techno-science); and the bureaucratic nation-state.

This threefold opening may also be experienced as a loss of roots. Admittedly it has enabled contemporary individualism to blossom, but only at the cost of a radical revision of old forms of identity. People no longer live on stable ground. With the onset or progress of communication technologies, we are witnessing a transition:

* from the vertical to the horizontal: the media which open up the world are irresistibly eroding the old transcendent values. Hence the advance of secularism; but after the Church, education and the state are experiencing the same levelling process;

* from stock to flows: in banking, in companies and in the knowledge-based economy, wealth is now measured less in terms of fixed capital assets than by the capacity of operators to mobilize those assets and bring them into circulation; currency itself has become increasingly abstract and impalpable;

* from content to relationships: it is no longer enough for a product to be good; it must also find a buyer. On the market, the value of an object is governed by its appearance; it is not substance or content that count but attraction or visibility. The public relations imperative extends to all who take part in public life - politicians, show business or cultural stars, to wherever "what you are is what you are seen to be";

* from heteronymy to autonomy: people who are called upon to express themselves and be themselves without fear or favour are ideal participants in this slow process of detachment and analysis. But this utopia of modern times cannot keep its promises. People do not receive their identity from themselves but from a place, a family or some other symbolic upstream factor. People are territorial beings who have everything to fear from a culture which has lost contact with the soil or is exposed to the onslaught of unbridled communication.

Are we heading for cultural standardization?

The more a message circulates, the more it is liable to lose its particular savour or information content. Thus the new imagery of communication which has become a world of its own can engender an indifferent and superficial cosmopolitan subculture, whose emblem might be the smiling face of Mickey Mouse. When we sit in front of our television sets and play with the globe as Chaplin did in The Great Dictator, we get an overview of the life and death of others that cannot be called knowledge. All television viewers know something about Bosnia and Rwanda, but that awareness does little to change the course of history. In this case the communication window merely engenders a feeling of powerlessness and shame. …

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