A . The Paradoxes of NICTs common to all contexts
I will start on this trivial note: NICTs considerably increase and multiply the mediums of human communication — the quantity of communication —, but they do not (necessarily or proportionately) increase the quality of human exchanges.
They allow access to much more educational, scientific and cultural contents (1) through efforts and means that are becoming simpler and simpler, but do not (necessarily) allow us to “know better”.
They allow access to an immense amount of contents which would otherwise remain inaccessible, but in an order which has only a tenuous link to ‘‘knowledge’’ and ‘‘culture’’ in the sense of the humanities tradition. On the contrary they favour an unlimited access into a disorder which dissolves the order of culture and knowledge to the gain of an encounter which does not even recognise itself, which does not reflect.
They allow access to an infinite amount of contents. But this ‘‘infinity’’ oppresses the amateur user and / or renders him euphoric. It starts by reducing his critical faculties and distressing him rather than ‘‘serving’’ him, as he would have hoped. This euphoria, this oppression, this distress are so frequent and powerful that they often only do a disservice to the user, distancing him from his topic of study or research rather than bringing him closer to it (2).
Thus NICTs create a quantitative diversity with ambiguous results: for what does this greater quantity (of images, words, music, etc.) that they favour provide? What do they supply, on the one hand, and what do they remove, on the other?
It could be said that NICTs create a "untamed diversity", as crude as it is abundant, which has nothing to do with culture. A diversity which is diametrically opposed to the idea of culture: a diversity which is nothing but that and which is not yet culture – which could become culture but is not culture straight off. A diversity which initially remains formal and even illusory, and which would, at the minimum, require some form of pedagogical domestication, if not real philosophical questioning, in order to contribute to ‘‘the order of culture’’, to ‘‘return to’’ or simply ‘‘enter’’ into this order, to contribute to its enrichment or promotion (which constitutes the usual educational and cultural target).
Actually, the paradox appears harsher still: as, in an initial period, that of the false ‘‘appropriation’’ of NICTs (by those who start using them, often with enthusiasm, and regardless of the ends, personal or professional, that they pursue), it can be observed that they nearly always start by ‘‘destroying culture’’ instead of ‘‘producing’’ it. They destroy, first of all, as they substitute without moderation quantities of neither controlled nor rationalised knowledge and images for that which previously occupied their “new users” space-time — that is the fragments and layers of “traditional cultures” which simultaneously always required a lot of time, a proper space dedicated to them and precise transmission rituals, not only to be detected but also, and especially, to be understood.
Now, NICTs often start by destroying ‘‘culture’’ as they produce a ‘‘substitution effect’’ – as an economist would say –, because they occupy an intrusive place in our lives which are hardly expandable. Because they make us ‘‘lose’’ or abandon a ‘‘known’’ heritage, and we only "gain" something hypothetical – a promise which would be impossible to realise without mediation and demanding training. Their initial effect is to substitute a reign of unexpected encounters, random information, exotic knowledge… for a slow, voluntary and rational approach to scientific, artistic, philosophical — cultural contents. They open a horizon of contents which is certainly larger and more ‘‘diverse’’ from a strictly mathematical point of view, but which, instead of producing ‘‘more culture’’, as is supposed and could be envisaged, they produce something else, which is not yet known and which is initially recorded in the order of deficiency (l’ordre du manque) rather than of plenitude. In fact, when they are the object of an excessive, non-mastered use, and not introduced by true pedagogues, as is often the case, NICTs come into conflict with the very idea of culture, with its finesse which requires a (demanding if not transcendent) meaning for every step of acculturation, without which it could not be qualified as "cultural", but only as of the order of teknè. An idea of culture which, even within a basic utilisation of NICTs, is rapidly dissolved (indeed straight off) to the profit of the pure pleasure of discovering a technology engendering all the illusions attached to its supposed qualities and in particular the incessantly reactivated illusion of "newness".
For indeed ‘‘new technology’’ means first and foremost "illusion of this newness", along with all that it would be expected to bring with it: a new deal, new horizons, new landmarks, new opportunities, ‘‘new knowledge’’… in short, ‘‘new cultures" ?… It also means : "illusion of simplicity", in all respects – the ease of accessing information of all natures which up until now seemed inaccessible; the ease of communicating with the entire world with no other restraint than one’s own energy ; the ease of modifying established roles, in particular those of ‘‘old’’ professional or scientific hierarchies (everyone progressively becoming a master or scientist). Finally, it means: "illusion of democracy", which would be naturally attached to these NICTs. An illusion of ‘‘democratisation’’ which their accelerated distribution would be supposed to favour, swept along in a movement of continual progression and related to the spreading of their benefits within societies (3).
For those people who only have an operating, functional knowledge of NICTs — especially those who have experimented with them in contexts without adapted pedagogical support —, NICTs nearly always create a mass of illusions of this type, especially pernicious to procedures called ‘‘self-learning’’ (“self-education”, “self-training”…) to the evolution of citizens’ relation to knowledge, in general, and the acculturation process of pupils and students, in particular. They put a large quantity of knowledge on an equal footing, hardly structured into a hierarchy if at all: considerable databases approached in a crude and naive manner, without critical distancing, which produces i) a substitution effect of qualified and controlled knowledge, and ii) a feeling of abundance and satisfaction which devalues the established pedagogical mediations.
In this sense then it can also be put forward that often ‘‘NICTs initially destroy culture.’’ Now, aggravating circumstance, a large number of NICTs users rarely go beyond this ‘‘initial period’’, delivering themselves to them as if they constituted per se an exclusive source of works and knowledge. Confusing, as is so often the case, the means and the ends, they expect their quest to be achieved by the sole use of these mediums. But throughout this substitution process NICTs contribute to corrupting — if not reducing to nothing — critical prudence, application and vigilance. They provide ‘‘knowledge’’ which is just as virtual as the mediums and channels that supply them. They substitute the illusion of a false luxurious diversity with no limits for a true, desired and mastered diversity. A purely quantitative (and finally a-cultural) diversity instead of this qualitative diversity which determines the very idea of “culture”. And it is even more by this, than by the substitution effect, that cultural diversity is destroyed.
B. NICTs, development and cultural diversity
“NICTs are a wonderful driving force of development” (4): this is the conviction widely shared by the political leaders of all countries and many experts (5) – as many from the “North” as from the “South”. Our intention here is neither to invalidate nor validate this affirmation in general, but to examine the more complicated links which are in place between NICTs, development and cultural diversity. In fact, the “logical” extension of the previous conviction of “culture” would in turn infer this other idea that NICTs would be a wonderful driving force of development and therefore of cultural diversity. That is the attractive hypothesis which everyone would probably wish to validate, a hypothesis which is the object of an intuitive agreement, but which cannot exist without bringing up several fundamental issues regarding its actual potential to keep the encouraging promises that it formulates.
An initial problem is no other than the precise conception that we have of “cultural diversity”, of the meaning that we attribute to it in the assertion stated – that is to say, yet again: a conception and a meaning which is either primarily “quantitative” or primarily “qualitative”. In fact, when we say NICTs and development, we are principally interested in the positive macro-economic effects which the former would be expected to bring to the latter. “More NICTs” in a developing country would mean “more global growth” (6), without signifying however that this “supplementary” growth is equitably shared out in the country concerned nor designating that this growth also corresponds to a “qualitative jump” – a better distribution of the growth and not just a global rise in the GDP or other indicators of wealth. Following this thinking it appears necessary to know (to understand and to measure…) which type of “progression of cultural diversity” this supplementary economic growth (that we claim is generated by the extended distribution of NICTs in the country(ies) or region(s) concerned corresponds to. Now, according to the facts (in particular as can be seen in the least developed countries), the result in question is more than subtle. For if these NICTs (in particular the Internet and mobile telephones) indisputably enrich political, economic and intellectual oligarchies, their introduction and distribution into the societies of the least developed countries is contemporary with the estrangement (if not the disappearance) of traditional socio-cultural practices which maintained and perpetuated a “real” qualitative diversity. In particular, it is a matter of collective rituals of discussion and exchange which are of considerable historical importance for the societies concerned, rituals which these days are neglected and unrespected, indeed scorned faced with the increase of “new methods of communication” (cf. Abdoulaye Elimane Kane’s analyses on the subject of “the tree of discussions” – “l’arbre à palabres” – and “the kinship of wit” – “la parenté à plaisanterie” – in West Africa.)
The second question is even more awkward: it calls upon us to ask ourselves whether every normative path of development does not systematically (or “necessarily” ?) diverge from the proper course of cultural diversity conceived as a human project to perpetuate daily. Whether, even, it is reasonable to expect from the development administered according to the dominant paradigms (national and multilateral), anything other than a movement of “continual reduction of cultural diversity”, which would spread to the profit of an increasing “harmonisation”, “homogenisation” of practices and cultural contents (7) on a world-wide scale. If “development”, beyond the normative wishes of progress with which it is associated, does not correspond in fact to a profound socio-political desire towards simplification and a qualitative reduction of diversity – a desire which would be realised through the production and distribution of a “veil of diversity” (spread by the transnational “Major companies”, suppliers of more and more cultural products) and which would have as its duty the mission to render “acceptable” such a reduction in “true diversity”. In fact, the evolution of the observable situation in the most industrialised countries proves this hypothesis of a “veil of diversity” – a presentable, if not convincing veil, which occults a worrying regression of creative and distributive activities.
A third interrogation brings us back to the specific links (of causality, in particular) between NICTs, progression of knowledge and cultural diversity capable of being evaluated over a long period of time within the framework of the “developing world’s” societies (8) – that is to say beyond this preliminary time that we call “the initial period” (the period of familiarisation to NICTs following their discovery). In fact we have every reason to be cautious about the short and medium term effects of the irruption of NICTs in these developing societies. The observations carried out especially emphasise the increase in (multiple) inequality that these new methods give rise to – between the so-called “global village” of those who communicate quickly and well with their counterparts worldwide (“the new communicators”) on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the masses with no share in the share-out of NICTs, still more excluded from discourse and access to the Centre, and also to other Peripheries of the planet with which they do not enter into dialogue, and cannot, despite NICTs, because they are by no means shared out fairly. Assuming all that, it is difficult to extrapolate the future situation from this current norm, a time when NICTs would have supposedly penetrated into the most geographically and socially remote fringes of the societies concerned.
In fact, beyond this simple perpetuation of present divides, it is not impossible to envisage a different scenario according to which:
1. the “veil of diversity” of (at present hegemonic) cultural industries would vanish (following the disintegration of these industries faced with the social, economic and political contradictions that they confront?) ;
2. those currently excluded from NICTs would attain a level of domestication in NICTs that would allow them to recreate the proper methods of their diversity, as we can see now with the proliferation of NGOs which testify to a mastery of NICTs which is sometimes superior to that of governments and large companies;
3. NICTs would therefore effectively give rise to the “democratisation effects” which we ritually attribute to them for the future – without relying on more proof other than that (by nature disputable) concerning the access to a facilitated and homogeneous consumption of certain categories of goods and services in the developed countries and beyond.
C. So, what should we do?
We will, one more time, make use of the famous “Aesop’s tongue” to suggest that NICTs can themselves also be “the best and the worst of things”. The commonly shared intuition is that they can be the best of things – and this does not lack grounds –, for the reason of “all that they allow us to do” in a remarkably simple, easy, inexpensive way etc. The proof: this considerable mass of information, knowledge, works, junctions, memories and archives which they can give us access to in record time, whatever the climatic, economic or political conditions in force.
This immense horizon of possibilities that NICTs open up – a movement almost unanimously considered as “an historic opportunity” is not however, as has been emphasised, an absolute guarantee of the conquest and appropriation of knowledge (ancient and modern), neither of a “preservation and promotion of cultural diversity”, such is the aim described by the Universal Declaration approved by the UNESCO General Conference on 2nd November 2001. It can even be seen as contrary because if this horizon naturally brings positive hopes, such hopes can be reduced to nothing if the use of NICTs on a worldwide scale stays widely unequal, exclusive and especially: unthought through in the majority of its applications and consequences. That is why, taking as the point of reference the proposed UNESCO’s medium term action plan following on from the Universal Declaration of 2001, a plan which must grant an essential place to the role of NICTs (9), the current priority seems rather i) to steadily deal with the risks that they harbour (by inventorying these risks and making them known in the best way possible), whilst ii) developing, through adapted educational methodologies, not only the technical mastering of these “new” tools, but also, and particularly: a true philosophy of their use, whatever the objectives (pedagogic, artistic, scientific, social, economic, political, etc.) for such a usage.
What appears crucial, from the point of view of the evolution of knowledge and humanities, and especially in respect to the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, is to train true pedagogues of NICTs, and pedagogues who are simultaneously technicians and philosophers. Pedagogues knowing how to relate the new tools available to the needs of their future users; pedagogues capable of developing the users’ technical mastery of NICTs, and equally capable of making the present and future potentialities of these tools understood (10). This is the essential priority, in particular in the developing countries which do not – or hardly – have at their disposal, as the more industrialised countries do, the web of these powerful “pedagogic relays” (televisions, newspapers, advertising, services, associations, NGOs… !) which contribute – albeit in an insufficient way – to the “permanent education” of NICTs users, whether they be novices or experts.
Any national, as well as multilateral, cultural policy and any educative policy foreseeing (in a manner which is normative from now on) a programme of action specifically orientated towards the extension of NICTs equipment and the largest possible availability of NICTs to citizens (especially students) should therefore integrate simultaneously a true pedagogical strategy in regards to NICTs, the only thing to resolve the paradoxes and contradictions in the medium and long term emphasised earlier in this presentation. What seems absolutely necessary today, and even critical, as much in the developing countries as in the industrialised countries, is not “More NICTs at all costs” but firstly: “More teaching, more education about NICTs” – and a teaching and education culturally adapted to the meaning of these new tools, to their virtues and their potential, their risks and their limits. During the time to come, the success of any global distribution strategy of NICTs would lie firstly, and above all, in the conception and circulation of the educational and pedagogical strategies which must precede and accompany it.
(1) “The globalisation of communications, facilitated by the spectacular development of information technology, has considerably increased exchanges of cultural goods. Information has become a driving force of the world economy, nourishing the cultural industries which have found a golden “money-spinner” in the distribution of films, discs, video cassettes, CD ROMs, web pages, that is, of all the contemporary symbolic imagery. Thanks to technology, which reaches all the socio-economic classes, societies have been invaded by an unprecedented cultural supply.”
MONTIEL, Edgar, & DOBREE, Patricio, “Cultures (Rencontre des ---)” (“Cultures (Meetings of ---)”), an article from the Dictionnaire critique de “la mondialisation” (Critical dictionary of Globalisation), Paris, GERM/Le Pré aux Clercs, 2002.
(2) “Cyberage, as the Information Age or simply the Internet, is the hydra-headed child of communication technology issuing from the inventions of the telegraph, telephone, radio, television and computer. As a means by which computer from all over the world can connect, the Internet is capable of instant global broadcasting and is, therefore, a device to disseminate great quantities of information. The Internet is, moreover, a medium for interaction between individuals anywhere in the world. These three capabilities, global broadcasting, information dissemination, and enabling individuals anywhere in the world to communicate with each other, combine with their own inherent possibilities and those of societal institutions and human psychology to comprise the basic components of the term cyberage.”
in CHA, In-Suk, “Cyberage” an article from the Dictionnaire critique de “la mondialisation” (Critical dictionary of Globalisation) Paris, GERM/Le Pré aux Clercs, 2002.
(3) “Mr. Marc Furrer (Observer from Switzerland) : By the expedient of the usage of NICTs, the divides between rich and poor, town and country, old and young, men and women, North and South can be reduced (…) some aspects such as freedom of information, pluralism, transparency and respect of human rights should equally be taken into account and the NICTs must be a means of promoting democratic values.” in the UN, “the United nations presented as an unavoidable partner for federalising the synergies of promotion of NICTs in the service of development.”
18/06/2002. Find it at www.globalisations.org, under ‘Declarations’.
(4) “Mr Pier Benedetto Francese (Italy) declared that NICTs are a driving force of the 21st century and an irreplaceable instrument in the growth of the global economy and the democratisation of public life. (…) Mr Turner T. Isoun, Minister for Science and Technology in Nigeria, underlined that information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer unprecedented opportunities in terms of cultural exchanges and social, economic and political development.” in UN, id.
(5) “Philippe Quéau: (…) new technologies are a source of development and an indispensable instrument of competition.” In Le Bien public, “The cultural exception must also be valid for the Internet”, 21.06.2001. Find it at www.globalisations.org under ‘Declarations’.
(6) “M. V. K. Nambiar (India) declared that this special meeting was of a great importance for the developing countries which are expecting a lot from NICTs in order to fight against poverty and raise their quality of life. These technologies will, in fact, open new perspectives of growth and development and will allow millions of people to have access to the biggest advantages. The rapid progress in the field of NICTs shows us the possibility to jump stages in order to arrive at development.“ in UN, ibid.
(7) “It is the profitability criteria of the most powerful cultural industries which dictates the standardisation of our symbolic universe. The homogenisation of tastes, languages and values allows cultural industries to create vaster markets for the distribution of their products.”
in MONTIEL, Edgar, & DOBREE, Patricio, id.
(8) “Fundamentally, the digital divide is not measured by the number of people connected to the Internet, but by the simultaneous effects of connection and non-connection. Because the Internet (…) is not only a technology. It is the organisational instrument and structure which distributes the power of information, the creation of knowledge and the capacity to network in every area. And the developing countries are therefore trapped in its spider’s web. To not be connected to the Internet, or to be superficially connected, is to be marginalised in the world wide networked system. To develop without the Internet today would be like being industrialised yesterday without electricity.”
in FORTIN, Pascal, “Géographie de l’Internet et fractures numériques (La Galaxie Internet 4) – (Geography of the Internet and digital divides) Homo Numericus, 09.04.2002. Find it at www.homo-numericus.bonidoo.net/article.php3?id_article=135
(9) “9. Encouraging "digital literacy" and ensuring greater mastery of the new information and communication technologies, which should be seen both as educational discipline and as pedagogical tools capable of enhancing the effectiveness of educational services.
10. Promoting linguistic diversity in cyberspace and encouraging universal access through the global network to all information in the public domain.
11. Countering the digital divide, in close cooperation in relevant United Nations system organizations, by fostering access by the developing countries to the new technologies, by helping them to master information technologies and by facilitating the digital dissemination of endogenous cultural products and access by those countries to the educational, cultural and scientific digital resources available worldwide.”
in UNESCO: Main lines of an action plan for the implementation of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity 02.11.2002.
Find it at www.globalisations.org under ‘Declarations’: “General Conference adopts universal declaration on Cultural Diversity”
(10) “In order to work on the network and especially to develop the aptitude to learn in an economy and a society organised around it, a different type of teaching is necessary. Its fundamental principle is clear: “it is no longer about learning but about learning to learn.”
in FORTIN, Pascal, id. And also: “The first task to be done is to introduce the NICTs into schools, but also to teach the teachers in order to obtain a young generation which is connected and open to the new society of information.” in UN, ibid.