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Andrew Feenberg

Last updated March 31, 2013 - 12:55pm by Mark A. McCutcheon

Andrew Feenberg, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Technology, Simon Fraser U

"Dialectics of the Digital World"

Abstract: There seem to be three main approaches to understanding the impact of digital technologies on the future of modern societies. Some speculate that digitalization will have an impact comparable to the invention of agriculture or the industrial revolution, flattening social hierarchies and unleashing mass creativity. Others argue that digital communication will destroy higher culture and contribute to the stupefaction of the population initiated by the mass media. Finally, there are skeptics who demonstrate that nothing much has changed by tracking the reproduction of familiar patterns of power and wealth in the organization, control and impact of supposedly revolutionary technologies such as the Internet. All three of these approaches cannot be right but there may be some truth in each of them. This paper proposes a partial synthesis, arguing that there are indeed epochal effects associated with digitalization, but not of the sort or the scope characterized by major changes in production technologies. These more modest changes may have implications for culture, but it is still too early to tell whether they will confirm the trend set by television or counter it with new forms of cultural activity and participation. The claim that new communication technologies have simply confirmed the old inequalities is only partially true. It would be astonishing if corporations and governments found no use for technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, but that does not mean that nothing has changed and that the technologies have had no significant democratic impacts. This paper will develop the argument through a discussion of some key examples.