Jerome Binde and Jean-Joseph Goux | 0 and 1, Bricks of the Future

Saturday, 25 October 2003 23:33 by: Anonymous

  0 and 1, Bricks of the Future
  By Jerome Bind and Jean-Joseph Goux
  Le Monde

  Friday 10 October 2003

  Galileo upset the science and technology of five centuries ago by asserting that nature is written in the language of number. The new technological revolution proclaims that society is written in the language of information. But what society are we talking about?

  0 and 1 are bricks of the future. Two figures form the alphabet of modernity s most complex phenomenon: the technologies of information and communication. New forms of activity and expression, new work and leisure habits have already made their appearance: old ways are in the process of radical transformation.

  A peasant or a musician, a hacktivist or a courtier share, sometimes without knowing it, the same work tools. As networked information little by little covers the entire planet these upheavals occur on a global scale. These processes are far from completed; great disparities remain, especially between North and South. Where do they lead? How can they be followed and directed? With whom? These questions have pushed the United Nations to organize a World Summit on Information Societies in Geneva in December 2003. It will bring together governments and NGOs, key actors in the private sector and civil society, media, and United Nations system organizations.

  Some will react by saying this question has become obsolete. Why memorize if machines do it faster and better than we do? What good is it to know a theorem or a recipe if all you have to do to access them is surf for a few moments on the Net? These questions are pertinent. But must it be deduced from them that an information society leads to a society of amnesiacs or know-nothings? Must the computer chess victory over a man lead us to doubt the human? No. The terms of the problem must be rethought.

  The question, Who knows? only loses its point if information and knowledge are confused. However, these are two different, however linked, matters, because information is a tool of knowledge. By confusing them, we take the tool to be the hand, the word to be its meaning. Too often forgotten today: information is not knowledge.

  Information is a technique conceived to eliminate all noise from communications. The last document you sent as an attachment was it a photo or a memo? - was transmitted to its addressees- were they 3 or 20? - without any loss. Nothing is lost; nothing is created; everything is transmitted. Perhaps, but to communicate is not to innovate. Calibrating words and messages improves the transmission of meaning, but does not create it. Information s trump card is its limit. Because there is only innovation if there is a search for the new, and there is no research, and hence, no progress, without knowledge, without curiosity and experience, along with the deficits and the traditions it presupposes. If one has nothing to say, one has nothing to transcribe. It s knowledge that gives meaning to information.

  Knowledge includes social, ethical, and political dimensions that are irreducible to technology. A pure information society would be an ensemble of vast linked fluid and efficient networks, but without new creation. The idea of information is not sufficient for the creation of society because the total reduction of noise leads to absolute silence. Meanwhile, society is built on dialogue, not on bits.

  Therefore the idea of knowledge societies seems more precise to denote the phenomena that interest us than that of information society. There s only one information society because there s a single norm for facts and communications. There are knowledge societies because, given their concern with creativity, they cannot economize on diversity or sharing.

  Information itself was born of certain savants desire to share knowledge. Because there is real communication only if individuals and groups share common values and knowledge.

  This assertion ensues from a practical observation. Without shared knowledge, there can be no great economic, scientific, or political successes at any level whatsoever-local, regional, or global. Would the human genome sequencing, a gigantic scientific and financial investment, have been possible without the unique planetary level collaboration which took place? Fair sharing of knowledge will be the source of tomorrow s wealth.

  This is equally true for the City. Without a democratic culture, without the tradition and the apprenticeship of democratic usages and values, information will serve oligarchic or tyrannical regimes just as well as public and participatory ones.

  Knowledge is capital whose potential involves every human activity- science, economy, politics, and culture. That s why Unesco has decided to consecrate its First World Report (publication planned for 2005) to knowledge societies.


  Jerome Bind is the Director of Unesco s Division of Prospective, Philosophy, and Social Sciences.

  Jean-Joseph Goux teaches philosophy at Rice University in Houston, Texas.


  Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.


  Jump to TO Features for Monday 27 October 2003

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