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Civilization Of Illiteracy, The
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The spectacular but unsettling reality of faster cycles of change, breakdown of traditional values and institutions, and many other symptoms of technological innovation-what makes these necessary is the subject of this thought-provoking book. All the good intentions of educators, scholars, politicians, and policymakers will fail if they do not recognize why literacy as a dominant framework of human activity is no longer adequate. The current dynamics of human activity is without precedent. It is not the result of technology, but of deeper forces of change. The answer to the failure of many seemingly eternal institutions-government, family, education-is not improvement in the traditional sense, but a fundamentally new perspective. The digital paradigm underlying the new civilization provides a basis for this perspective. But it will be misapplied unless understood within the broader framework of the driving forces behind human activity.
From the Publisher
Mihai Nadin is an author who knows digital technology like few others in this world, but who does not talk technology in order to explain the characteristics of the civilization of illiteracy-as he provocatively calls it, and which the public probably will, too. Behind the label, we see a civilization unfold, one in which media complement literacy. The language of the Internet, interactive multimedia, and virtual reality will become the new languages of human interaction in a world whose activity ranges from the nano-realm to the intergalactic AUTHCOMMENT: This book is as much about language and literacy as it is about everything pertaining to it: family, politics, the market, war, sports, old and new media. It is about the process of cutting the umbilical cord that binds people to literacy. We live in a world of a dynamic never before experienced in history. In this world, many new literacies, of shorter duration, override the need and possibility of one encompassing literacy. The sense of permanence and eternity that this literacy instilled prevents us from making the best of technological progress. It is no wonder that it is disintegrating. The new literacies provide means for human interaction appropriate to achieving probably the most radical forms of individualism and the most intriguing means of social interaction. We are in for a ride that can only get more exciting. Those who insist on bringing along the baggage of their literate prejudices will get sick at each curve in the road. And they'll miss the many rainbows along the way.
From the Author
This book is as much about language and literacy as it is about everything pertaining to it: family, politics, the market, war, sports, old and new media. It is about the process of cutting the umbilical cord that binds people to literacy. We live in a world of a dynamic never before experienced in history. In this world, many new literacies, of shorter duration, override the need and possibility of one encompassing literacy. The sense of permanence and eternity that this literacy instilled prevents us from making the best of technological progress. It is no wonder that it is disintegrating. The new literacies provide means for human interaction appropriate to achieving probably the most radical forms of individualism and the most intriguing means of social interaction. We are in for a ride that can only get more exciting. Those who insist on bringing along the baggage of their literate prejudices will get sick at each curve in the road. And they'll miss the many rainbows along the way.
From the Inside Flap
In comparing Nadin's work with critiques of contemporary civilization, such as Marshall McLuhan or Jacques Derrida, I find Nadin's approach is based on a broader basis of factual observation. The Civilization of Illiteracy is the most impressive manuscript I have seen in the course of my scholarly life of over half a century. Professor Victor Terras, Brown University
About the Author
Professor of Computational Design, a unique program he developed, in Germany, Mihai Nadin has had a distinguished career in electronics, philosophy, the arts, semiotics, as well as in digital technology, in Europe and in the USA. His books, short stories, articles, and lectures range from fiction denouncing authoritarian regimes to the cinema and theater, to human-computer interaction, visualization, and new paradigms for individuals and society. Unusually insightful, his ideas are years ahead of current research, as his book Mind-Anticipation and Chaos and now The Civilization of Illiteracy demonstrate.
Excerpted from The Civilization of Illiteracy by Mihai Nadin. Copyright © . Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
(From Book 5, Chapter 2, Unexpected opportunities) Cognitive resources arise from experiences qualitatively different from those of the Machine Age. Digital engines do not burn coal or gas. Digital engines burn cognition. The source of cognition lies in the mind of each human being. The resources of the Machine Age are being slowly depleted. Alternative resources will be found in what was typically discarded. Recycling and the discovery of processes that extract more from what is available depend more on human cognition than on brute force processing methods. The sources of cognition are, in principle, unlimited. But if the cognitive component of human practical experiences were to stagnate or break down for some unimaginable reason, the pragmatics based on the underlying digital process of the Age of Cognition would break down. To understand this, one need only think of being stuck in a car on an untravelled road, all because the gasoline ran out. Compare this situation with what would happen if the most complex machine, more complicated than anything science fiction could describe, came to a halt because there was no human thought to keep it going.
In the current context, the dynamics of cognition, distributed between processing information and acquiring and disseminating knowledge, stands for the dynamics of the entire system of our existence. Embodied in technologies and processing procedures, cognition contributes to the fundamental separation of the individual human from the productive task, and from a wide variety of non-productive activities. It is not necessary that an individual possess all knowledge that a pragmatic experience requires. This means, simply, that operators in nuclear power plants need not be eminent physicists or mathematicians. Neither do all workers in a space research program need to be rocket scientists. A programmer might be ignorant of how a disk drive works. A brain surgeon does not know how the tools he or she uses are made. Each facet of a pragmatic instance entails specific requirements. The whole pragmatic experience requires knowledge above and beyond what the individuals directly involved can or should master. Instead of limited knowledge uniformly dispensed through literate methods, knowledge is distributed and embodied in tools and methods, not in persons. The advantage is that programs and procedures are made uniform, not human beings. For example, data management does not substitute for advanced knowledge, but a data management system as such can be endowed with knowledge in the form of routines, procedures, operation schemes, management, and self-evaluation.
Burning cognition, digital engines allow us to reach efficiency that is higher by many orders of magnitude in comparison to the efficiency attained by engines burning coal and oil. But the experience introduces the pressure of accelerated accumulation of data, information processing, and knowledge utilization. To understand the intimate relation between the performance of the digital engine and our own performance, one has only to think of a coal-burning steam engine driving a locomotive uphill. The civilization of illiteracy is a rather steep ascent, facing many obstacles-our physical abilities, limited natural resources, ecological concerns, ability to handle social complexity. To pull the brake will only make the effort of the engine more difficult, unless we want to tumble downhill, head first. Feeding the furnace faster is the answer that every sensible engineer knows. This would sound like a curse, were it not for the excitement of discovery, including that of our own cognitive resources.
Analogy aside, what drives the digital engine is not abstract computing cycles of faster chips, but human cognition embodied in experiences that support further diversification of experiences. It has yet to be the case that we had enough computing cycles to burn and we did not know what to do with the extra computing power available. On the contrary, human practical experiences are always ahead of technology, as we challenge ourselves with new tasks for which the chips of yesterday and the memory available are as inappropriate as the methods and means of literacy.
If, by using only one-tenth of our cognitive resources, we reach the level of possibilities open to us, it is not too hard to imagine what only one more tenth might bring. The civilization of illiteracy, with all the dangers and inequities it has to address, is only at its beginning. That its duration will be shorter than the one preceding it is another subject.
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