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Date :  2006-03-17
Language :  English
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Six theses about global media

Author :  Endre Kiss

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From the late nineties on, globalisation gradually gained acknowledgement in international technical literature. It wasn’t only recognized and regarded as an autonomous phenomenon, but it was taken as a basis for further novel and comprehensive concepts concerning processes of the present and the future as well.

Thus the technical literature of globalisation, and our researches (the definition of globalisation, and its main existing forms as informatical, mediatized, venture, post-industrial, neo-liberal, and monetarist globalisation, and the globalisation of knowledge) can provide us a solid basis for elaborating new theories of the present and the future.

There are several features of globalisation – most of all, its actorial structure – which lead to the fact that even a coherent theory must face the highly arbitrary nature of the processes of alteration, and the strong limits of real forecast. Concerning the ’reality’ of its object, the exactness of theoretical description will be more like that of theories concerning objects of chaos and non-linear thinking and strategy in general.

This contradiction can be crucial at the interpretation of present changes. We must understand this extremely relevant and totally obvious paradox. On one side, we strongly attack decisive and influential methodological schools, mainly on such a basis that their tendencies are tautological, they take their epistemological schemes as ontologically invariant, so it’s no wonder that we can find these schemes in their field of research, as they had been made ontological before. On the other side, we have to face the fact that this epistemological method, which is being considered excellent and optimal, is inappropriate for getting the most positive concrete results and interpretations all the time, as a result of the arbitrary nature of the actorial side.

The reason of this contradiction lies in the natural and novel holistic relations developed by globalisation. They aren’t developed by methodological confusion; on the contrary, by methodological insight. Here too, appears the eternal problem of the method’s and the object’s reference to one another. There are epistemological objects, which allow only scarce results even for the most perfect method.

Therefore, for the question of change in connection of globalisation, we shall give and get answers of an open and ’non-linear’ style. These answers are emblematic of the transition of ’hard’ directive and communicational processes into ’soft’ style, which is being constantly justified by social empiria.

One of the most difficult intellectual tasks of the whole society is not only to recognize the ’soft’ characteristics of present relations (of which globalisation, post-industrialism, and an imperfect and erratic re-distribution of social capital is characteristic), but also to learn how to interpret and handle them.

By this, we don’t want to make positive judgements (of ontological demands) about the character of reality. All we meant to do was just to point out the mere existence of the tension between the ’sharpness’ of the complete theory and the blurryness of possible answers. ’Uncertain’ might be the most appropriate word to describe this reality, but the terms ’chaotic’, ’non-linear’, or ’soft’ are also acceptable.

Global structures, and the life-forms of particular actors (which can be characterized by the actors’ space time-relations) don’t necessarily co-exist in the same social space time. This issue, which might seem deeply abstract, even esoteric to empirical sociology, becomes one of the most defining and decisive features of the present situation. The fact that present spaces are temporalized, is not a novelty any more. But right in this respect, it does matter what opportunities individuals or particular groups possess to join the actual space time-network of globalisation. Phenomena of globalisation don’t entirely fit the heuristic space of traditional philosophy of democracy, traditional philosophy of bureaucracy, or traditional sociological issues, right because of this space time-structure.


The basis of epistemology was made up by the rules of visualization in not one historical period. Even the most basic terms can tell a lot: we ’picture’ something; our knowledge ’maps’, or even ’imitates’ reality; we develop a ’view’ about the world. Besides, the rules of visual aesthetics can be extended and applied to several other fields as well, by means of analogy.

The approach and the basic perspectives of visual arts determined historical periods. The Dürer-Leonardo da Vinci perspective influenced not only the esthetical and visual cultural attitude of European society for over three hundred years, but it also determined the way they perceived the world. This was followed by the period of partial mimesis, symbolism, and secession, in which the Dürer-Leonardo da Vinci perspective was still present partially, but on the other hand, painters also emphasized that pieces of art are not ’natural’ or ’naive’, but they were created from self-sufficient artistic ideas, from ’artistic intention’. For example, even if the faces of Klimt’s women figures in golden flower-like ornaments suit the mimetic tradition, they can by no means be interpreted as imitations of natural settings. But the same rules of perspective and mimesis ruled long after their decline. The concrete essence of abstraction, of non-figurative representation, and even representation which freed itself even from the partial imitation of partial mimesis, was still made up by the intention ’not to imitate’. The famous perspective in which ’we perceive the world’ is present even in its absence, and it sets everything as its alternative or deconstruction. All kinds of rebellious attitudes against mimesis carried the mark of perspectivist imitation on themselves for a long time, so it ruled even in its negativity.

So, the basis of epistemology was made up by the rules of visualization in not one historical period. This goes for contemporary visuality and visual arts as well. Picture and knowledge both refer to objective entities as their actually existing references.

But this is not the case concerning today’s mediatized art and (keeping on with the analogy) epistemology. This turn was a bit overdriven by McLuhan’s famous phrase ’the medium is the message’. By this, the picture loses its reference. The medium carries the message in the original sense, but it’s often being carried by a row of completely different media, thus made hardly recognizable. A society which had become vacant in an intellectual sense, one which had no new messages (hopefully because it had reached a level of perfection where it couldn’t have any new messages) immediately made McLuhan’s phrase its motto, so it put the emphasize of its activity on performative mediatization, which communicates in the style of jabbering disc jockeys. But in this period, the development of media has not yet overshadowed the object, i.e. the reference.

The situation has changed a great deal in the electronic mediatization of the past decades. But this didn’t take place in the way outlined by McLuhan – although it’s still popular. Although the grade or intensity of mediatization doesn’t abolish the reference to the object, but it rises onto an equal level with it. The media doesn’t abolish the reference or the message, but it emancipates itself so it gets on the same level with them. The emblem of the present situation is the world as a computer screen. The multitude of numberless symbols, windows, thumbnails, ads, ornaments and numbers, which all find place for themselves on the screen, embodies this new symbiosis of the object and the medium. In the beginning, the screen of the computer imitated the screen of television; now the TV-screen imitates the computer screen, as its eclectic loadedness stands for the social importance of real objects and messages.

So, the medium doesn’t abolish reference, but it constantly ’encroaches’ it. From this point of view, we might understand why the vacant society found McLuhan’s statement so flattering. For the medium’s victory over thinking, the exciting DJ’s triumph over the hard-working scientist excuses thinking from all judgement. But, of course, this is not the situation in the case of the new symbiosis. In this case, the mere fact of co-existence was interpreted as victory; as if stepping in the ring already meant the victory of one of the two boxers.

The equal and practically inseparable co-existence of the object wrapped up in the message, and the medium, is a great change for arts. For up to this time, the ’artistic’ thing about art was right the fact that the message and the object made the representing medium invisible. A perfectly performed piece of music perfectly condemned acoustic and phonetic mediatization for oblivion, with all of its set of means, and all its conventions. This is impossible in the case of such an apparent and inseparable co-existence and co-appearance of the medium and the object. A possible path of development for this apparent co-existence is simulation, which hardly differs from the public co-existence of object and mediatization for the first sight, but it in fact extends the creative force of the medium into several possible new directions without representing any actual references.


Another important way of interpreting the present situation is what we could call the paradigm of the globalisation of communication.

This paradigm takes communication – which is legitimately considered global – its defining basic starting point. The triumph of communication techniques has always involved the possibility of self-sufficient interpretation, for it has always been obvious that the development of communicational infrastructure joins more and more actors into communication, it gets new chances and even new rights, and the outcomes of its endogenic dynamics can never be “final results” (what we might take with resignation, remembering the time when we still had time for something else than learning the latest communication techniques).

Global communication is also the foundation, basis, infrastructure, and bearer of information- and knowledge society. This is not a wrong simile, but it’s not entirely perfect either. For the possibility of global communication is never just a condition or frame; the practice of global communication generates objects as well. To put it different, even if global communication alone doesn’t induce any senses – as it has no semantics of its own – by the mere act of providing a basis for the practice of global communication, it induces objects, and calls for special semantics. But these objects and this semantics are very hard to define, for these objects are not objects of global communication in a sense like the stage messages of VladimirVisotsky or Yves Montand were contents and objects of an individual actor. On the other hand though, the messages of Vladimir Visotsky or Yves Montand didn’t remain unchanged during the process of global communication which carried them. Therefore this phenomenon – of course valid for all forms of objects and messages to the same extent – could be defined as the specific constitution of an object of global communication. In this we might recognize facts of the specific co-existence of functional and non-functional spheres in another new shape, which are hard to define theoretically, yet they are actually most common facts.

The appearance of new and new technical bearers of global communication is mainly characteristic of the present. But it’s important to remind that the universal nature of global communication is definitely present from the beginning of modern age. The opportunity for long-distance and widespread communication provided by the networks of daily press meant real universal communication according to the terms of that age. It ceased the closed circuit nature of local communication extremely quickly, and it brought cultures and regions closer to one another. The fact that it lost its roots and it got a chance for a new, autonomous identity, are both consequences of this yesterday universal communication. As a special and still hardly analyzed consequence of this stage, it transformed the environment and the opportunities of literature, the leading cultural medium up to that point. For it reduced the importance and potential of sectors of information and knowledge only a writer could access. Even if this measure is not of totally exclusive importance, it’s clear that in this respect, globalisation – still ‘just’ universal but not yet global that time – played an important role at the development, the differentiation of all other kinds of literature and ‘highbrow culture’.

The formations of information- and knowledge society are joined to the phenomena of global communication also in a respect that they embody needs which were – and are possible only on the basis of global communication. Information- and knowledge society as needs, make it clear that global communication is also a representative of the world of globalisation and functional systems, which leads to the living paradox of generating needs. For global communication makes information- and knowledge society possible as new needs, and also as definite forms of global communication. Yet at the same time it strongly pressurizes society, so it would satisfy this new (and totally legitimate) need in an institutional way. So it generates new needs, but it can’t satisfy them. This shall be the task of individual actors of society, and thus another field of knowledge society and its theoretical approach.


There’s a ghost hunting Europe; the ghost of information society. What is common in the first part of this statement – a quote from a sarcastic Hungarian cult-movie about the communist era – and the whole sentence, is the way of perceiving the phenomenon in question: the vision of an invisibly lurking revolution: ordinary and mysterious, pragmatic and mythological at the same time. In this approach, the new world is present already, while it also means the far future; it revaluates and alters present relations already, still it doesn’t sweep them away with spectacular gestures.

The truth about this shockingly apposite ghost-metaphor is made more evident by the objects and outlines of several relevant transformations, which come together with the development of information society. These transformations move towards the soft direction of relations and connections from the ‘hard’ kind of direction – again, on a metaphoric level. Before the hegemony of informatics, economical organizations preferred ‘hard’ forms of direction and organization; the whole industrial economy and management was built upon them. While the logistics of a pizza delivery company can be built up by ‘hard’ means, it’s impossible to imagine an online content provider as an economical undertaking with such ‘hard’ principles.

This means, the ghost of informatics modifies known and acknowledged, moreover, ruling forms of economical rationality. The term ‘transform’ wouldn’t be the most suitable expression, as there are no pre-informatical and ‘informatical’ kinds of economical rationality. The metaphoric pair of ‘hard and soft’ is still the best for describing the subject-matter of this change. The ‘hardness’ of economical rationality before the age of informatics has become a curriculum, and its spirit influenced labour codes and sanctions. This was the ‘hardness’ in which spirit the manager or the management put concrete economical regulations for the profit of economical activity. The rationality of economical activity related to information technologies and informatics in general is not a new kind of rationality, but it’s not ‘hard’ rationality either, and it can’t be that any more. Such a transformation of relations is the most important background dimension of all kinds of significant economical activity, which are already built upon the dimensions of informatics and informatics-based knowledge in an organic and relevant way. But it’s right the ‘softening’ of classical economical rationality – as it gets into these ‘soft’ relations – what makes up the specific features, and also the specific difficulties of every economical activity of this kind.

Without any doubt, the transition of processes and connections from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ is connected to several new characteristics of society based upon knowledge, which have not yet been analyzed in detail individually. So we are quite positive to state that ‘recognition’ – the recognition of interests, needs, new opportunities of economy and efficiency – has become almost equal to epistemology. The new attitudes (in the ‘soft’ sphere) don’t wait for the final form of epistemology and its lengthy social introduction, but – although half-made and only partially consciously – they become part of the economical activity. Sad as it might be, but this process shall also influence scientific research sooner or later; the shine of final and verified scientific achievements shall be overshadowed by a winning streak of half-made and partial recognitions and ideas in social practice.

One of the most important differences between hard and soft conditions and processes is the fact that in ‘hard’ conditions, revolutions and essential and decisive new pieces of knowledge constituted the differences between society’s actors; in ‘soft’ conditions, ‘recognition’, an overview of opportunities, the act of stating even the most negligible differences, and using the scarce advantages coming from them, become of higher value beside epistemology. The revolution of recognition is connected to the revolution of informatics at numerous points. As communities, professions, or sorts of knowledge build up tightly bound networks, we perceive the great revolutions and ‘hard’ changes only when they have already infiltrated the tightly bound networks – to put it simple, their qualified existence doesn’t yet grant their acknowledgement. But attitudes, innovation and direction of the ‘soft’ type – as they’re originally included in the network – can get anywhere quickly. A well-built network overvalues even small recognitions coming from it – even contrary to outstanding achievements of epistemology, if they come from outside of the network. Every network outlines its own empty spaces which shall become the latitude of recognitions and innovation, while a great but isolated achievement of epistemology has to find its own space and its latitude within it first, so it can be recognized at all.

Knowledge is a ‘soft’ factor, for it’s shoreless and unlimited; it increases infinitely. It’s also ‘soft’ because in the sphere of increasing knowledge, the deepest of deep dimensions of invisible (even for the bearer of knowledge) transmission processes are being outlined; we might transmit our knowledge from one field to the other totally unconsciously; our knowledge and abilities might differentiate with us even if we don’t use them. Knowledge is a ‘soft’ factor also because it has the ability to infinitely increase in its depth as well; the increasing inner differentiation of knowledge has only biological limits (in an ideal case). For this ‘soft’ character of knowledge, the same features of the present create new and new opportunities to run-out, as for informatics; these are conditions of globalisation and post-industrialism.


The term ‘archivation’ on the internet, i.e. building ‘archives’, surely doesn’t belong to the terms which strike the thoughtful reader (in a positive sense). But with a more thorough examination, we may find immediately, of what a great importance this activity is.

The original concept of archivation is a classical post-modern idea. It comes from the sixties, and it got its final form in the seventies. One of its inventors was the Argentine writer Borges, the other one was the French philosopher Foucault. Although they both relied on one another, the meanings they gave to the concept of the archive were totally contradicted to each other. Borges didn’t specify the basic concept of archivation: it could be meant as extreme relativity showing in some concrete distribution of knowledge, as well as the unexceedable relativity of all knowledge, the inter-cultural relativity of knowledge, or as the impossibility of all archivation, i.e. the impossibility of the integration of knowledge, or as the essential integration of knowledge as well, right for such an absurd reason that knowledge is impossible to integrate – but we can’t accept this. All this multitude of variations was enriched by one more meaning, according to which the measure that makes archivation impossible by inescapably tearing pieces of knowledge apart, and then still draws the consequence of essential archivation, is simply the unchangeable passing of time. Foucault – with a rough simplification – put this consequence as the all-time arbitrariness of all knowledge, and the concept of archivation built upon it. But these two totally different views – and this is typical of the philosophy of the past decades – developed before the PC, i.e. electronic networks, so these views are the controversial ancestors of today’s problem of archivation. Therefore the basic concept of archivation has still kept this relativistic starting thesis which stands for the unsolvable nature of the difference, while electronic archivation is an inevitably positive and constructive undertaking – just for its technological opportunities alone. Nevertheless, the PC ‘tamed’ the original concept, mainly concerning Foucault’s approach, whose history of science omits and ‘devaluates’ knowledge-integrating sciences of the 19th century, like the history of ideologies, or hermeneutical sciences, i.e. trends to which the archivation of knowledge shall inevitably get in the new conditions.
So, the post-modern concept of the archive was developed before the PC; it carried the mark of a paradox, and it tried to construct its own concept of archivation from the apparent impossibility of the integration of knowledge. But the revolution of informatics symbolized by the PC intervened, which made the impossible possible; the impossible from which the first decisive measures of a paradox and de-constructivist practice had been drawn already. The PC alone didn’t make construction out of deconstruction, but it covered the technical opportunity of the archive up in the veil of a certain arbitrariness; all kinds of knowledge can be integrated, but it legitimated the basic concepts of integration in the spirit of arbitrariness as well. The archive is the encyclopaedia of contingency; the great Encyclopaedia of the 18th century wasn’t that.

Therefore, archivation can be the new science of knowledge. The analysis of this fact brings an unexpected difficulty, as it’s hard to talk about knowledge tacitly in the sense it’s required today; for up to this time, sciences including philosophy, have hardly analyzed knowledge as it is. They have always analyzed one aspect of knowledge in a sense that this knowledge was the one true knowledge (or on the contrary, its truth content was doubted). The real face of tradition shows up in this case: the all-time right and true knowledge simply extruded general problems of knowledge from the field of theoretical interest.

The great project of archivation carries all the conflicts and contradictions which have articulated so far between mediatization and its use, and between the system and its accessibility. We must emphasize that it’s about immanent inner contradictions (not the several possible criticism from outside, so now we don’t force outside criteria for judging these important dilemmas). It’s obvious also in the case of archivation, that technology makes unlimited access possible, while market interests point towards limited access. As we can see, (fine) literature on the web is personal and impersonal at the same time; it breaks away from the traditional term ’author’. Despite the several new opportunities lying in the archivation of knowledge, intellectuals stick to the traditional author-role. As we can see, the archivation of knowledge creates a most comprehensive collective memory ever, which can be completely destroyed however (to bring it ad absurdum, the web multiplies the measures of written archivation).

Archivation leads to the ‘socialization’ of all knowledge, but socialization is being actualized by individuals, in individual ways. Archivation can lead to the socialization of all knowledge independent from any authority, while the organization of knowledge can’t take place without any sense-giving which therefore requires social authority (to put it in a totally abstract way). Archivation might seem to exceed philosophy, but it reproduces it as well.


Information- and knowledge society outlining in connection of globalisation, approaches the phenomena of media and mediatization in a new way.
It makes Marshall McLuhan (who was misinterpreted anyway) obsolete by its act of providing contents. McLuhan never meant it literally that ‘the medium is the message’; only narcissistic showmen could take it seriously. Nevertheless, the original thesis of McLuhan wittily apprehends the new great challenge of the research of globalisation (and information- and knowledge society as well): the theoretical issue of the interweaving co-existence of functional and non-functional spheres.

Behind the fierce discussions about the media stands the explicit – or sometimes tacit – presumption that the media is power itself, the fourth branch of authority, and every decision is brought the way it is because of the attitude of the media. We don’t agree with this, but we see that this powerful but false appearance could evolve because there are three giant conceptual systems mixed up in the discussion, each one of them quite complex on its own.

The first one is the discussion evolving from McLuhan’s starting point, and it’s quite widespread in technical literature about the media. Not only was the thesis ‘the medium is the message’ brilliantly provocative, but its truth content was self-evident as well. It’s a pity that even serious research didn’t aspire to a more complex, ‘post-McLuhanian’ analysis of possible relations of the media and the message. A society which is becoming intellectually vacant, running out of new, non-manipulated messages, is likely to get stuck at the cultic interpretation of McLuhan’s phrase ‘the medium is the message’. The situation has changed a great deal in the electronic mediatization of the past decades. But this didn’t take place in the still idolized McLuhanian way. Although the measure and intensity of mediatization doesn’t dissolve the reference to the object, but it rises on an equal level with it. The media doesn’t dissolve the reference or the message, but it emancipates beside them. In this co-ordinate relation, new structures are being outlined. In classical communication, the message made the medium transparent; it overcame and abolished it. That’s why it was so late that we developed a sense and knowledge for mediatization. McLuhan’s provocation (‘the medium is the message’) against this naive state was totally adequate, but it shouldn’t be taken literally; we recommend to presume a specific co-ordinate relation. The medium doesn’t devour the message, and the message doesn’t make the medium transparent; their existence is simultaneous and co-ordinated. Of course, in the present state of interpretation, this approach of co-ordination can’t give a self-sufficient answer for the ‘Big Secret’ yet, i.e. whether the media has political power over society or not. Nevertheless the co-ordination solves the consequence about the direct political influence of the media, (illegitimately) drawn by many from McLuhan’s thesis. There is a thesis of a special relation of uncertainty following theoretically essentially from this approach of co-ordination: the medium is the message, and at the mase time it isn’t; its presence doesn’t dissolve, but it doesn’t dissolve the message either.

The reasons and components of this fact don’t need to be discussed in respect of all details, for the development of Hungarian media can be summed up in one thesis. And this is the self-fulfilling prophecy which has been determining politics from the early nineties on, as – free after McLuhan – the medium is everything; not only does the media determine political fights, but it is doing that perpetually. This presumption proved to be an exceptionally influential self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only is it believed by many today, but sometimes it even proves to be true.

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