From Global Village to Global Mind

By de Kerckhove, Derrick | UNESCO Courier, February 1995 | Go to article overview

From Global Village to Global Mind


de Kerckhove, Derrick, UNESCO Courier


While television has turned the planet into a village in which we are all neighbours, telematic networks abolish time and space and suppress traditional bearings of personal and collective identity

If books, especially novels, fostered and sustained the development of private minds in public space, television has done the reverse, bringing a public mind to private spaces. Television screens are collective extensions of our individual minds. Instead of information being processed by a single person, namely me, the television screen presents me with information processed by a collective of which I am an integral part.

"Live" TV, or "real-time" TV, is a kind of collective eye which allows my eyes to look at reality processed for me and for every other person watching at the same time. Whenever something happens that is internationally newsworthy, a huge thoughtwave made up of millions of people grinding the same information at once forms and reforms itself every evening and sweeps over the nations from one time zone to another. Even in its standard programming, TV is a form of collective imagination, averaging people's hopes and fears on the basis of a regular public-pulse-taking through ratings.

Such thoughts may have occurred to American journalist Bill Moyers when he called his four ground-breaking shows on the workings of television "TV, the Public Mind" (1989). Of course, Moyers was really thinking about U.S. television, and at that time Hollywood and the Big Three U.S. channels still seemed to present a united front and a coherent vision of the world. Two questions are raised when the notion of television as a form of public mind is examined more closely. First, is the public mind uniquely dependent on TV, and if it is, then what happens when TV and TV audiences fragment as they are doing today? Second, is TV generating a public mind beyond the confines of the United States, and if so, who is running the show? According to French culturologist Augustin Berque, "If the world said OK to the crusade against Saddam [Hussein], it is not only because the world drinks Coca Cola. It is because, to a large extent, the meaning of today's world finds its source, its creation and its distribution in the United States."

There is no doubt in my mind that television has done a lot to expand a sense of global destiny beyond the confines of North America. Trips to the moon, royal marriages and the Olympics, among other world coverage shows, have served to provide a common focus for the attention of hundreds of millions of people of different cultures. Cheap Hollywood movies and soaps have proposed to do the same on a day-to-day basis. Thus it is quite true that the public mind of the world has been more or less grounded in the country where the greatest expertise in television was found. But this may be changing very quickly. Just as quickly, in fact, as the world itself is "changing its mind".

With the U.S. military controlling all news delivery via the American news channel CNN, the Gulf War was perhaps the last occasion when a single television channel was given full range, albeit under duress, for the one-way production of meaning. The era of television as the principal supporter of the mass creation of meaning may be over. At least three new technological factors are undermining the hegemony of television and especially of American television: interactivity, digitization and networks.

Interactivity, the recovery of psychological autonomy from TV

Television had already begun to "disintegrate" in the mid-1970s with the invention of the zapper. Zapping in and out of a commercial was the first step in giving power to the people over the screen. The second step was the widespread distribution of videorecording equipment. By recording one programme while watching another, or recording a programme while doing something else, the private user was becoming an informal "editor", taking revenge over the content/time constraints of television broadcasting. …

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