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Next: Commenting on Laci Turi's Up: J. C. Nyíri: The Previous: My Heraclitean fantasies

I recommend a threefold categorization ...

I recommend a threefold categorization of knowledge involved in digital technologies and networking: (1) knowledge of how to acquire and use digital technologies, (2) knowledge and experience of the past, (3) knowledge in use, that is the access to, and communication of, knowledge.

1. It is a common experience these days that people who consider themselves ``the older generation'' find it more difficult to learn the use of a new technology than do the ``young folk.'' However, we have to admit that individual differences here are far more significant than those related to age-groups: some older persons are more successful in learning and using new technologies than others. I believe that instead of overemphasizing the importance of age, we should focus on analogy: those who can find analogies easily are able to acquire new technologies faster; and those technologies that offer analogies with their predecessors can be learned more easily than those that claim to be radically new. In other words the knowledge that is most urgently required in the age of digital technologies is neither theoretical nor practical: it is in fact analogical - both on the designers' and on the users' side.

2. I agree that the experience of the past is changing these days. I can also understand the archivists' fear when finding that with digital(ized) documents there is no ``here-and-now'' feeling any more: bits and bytes are eternal, they hardly need conservation. But let us recall that this experience is not new: it has been known at least since the invention of printing: already the ``traditional'' printed edition of a manuscript text creates a radical distance in comparison with the ``archived'' feeling of original manuscripts. Moreover, writing itself is a technology for freezing an oral tradition into an eternal presence - in other words what we are facing here is perhaps an impact inherent in communication technologies as such.

However, digitalized texts do have a feature that has not been experienced earlier and that I am worried about: present-day digitalized texts are based on the same quasi-phonemic writing systems that were developed before the age of silent reading and writing. The system successfully survived the period when the interpretations of signs were no longer assisted by the ear, because additional markers were introduced to assist the eye: spaces between word-units, punctuation marks, etc. However it can hardly survive the digital period, when the interpretation of signs is assisted neither by the ear nor by the eye, but is assigned to automated processes working simply on the linear sequence of signs. Human languages are systems so complex that they cannot be represented in a one-level linear structure: human readers employ their three-dimensional sight and vast personal ``lexicon'' to understand the complex linguistic systems behind the simple writing system, but sequence-operated machines are not able to do this. Since present-day text retrieval tools are simply incapable of reliably navigating in huge digitalized text archives, what we may lose is not the experience of the past, but in fact the knowledge of the past.

3. From what I said about the accessibility of machine-readable quasi-phonemic texts it follows that the technology of writing faces serious problems these days; it could even be said perhaps that the technology of written communication is in a crisis. Meanwhile, however, the technology of audiovisual communication is getting more and more sophisticated: new storage and transmission systems offer higher quality, more interactivity, and more precise access through better segmentation. Just to mention a few promising systems: the interactive compact disk (CD-I), the high capacity digital video disk (DVD), real-time digitalized sound through the network (RealAudio), and hyperlinked images and videos on CD-ROMs or on the World Wide Web, etc. In other words, while the traditional technology of written communication seems to be in a crisis, the development of audiovisual communication is unlimited. No doubt, audiovisual communication can be just as concise or complex as its written counterpart, and it can be a narrative medium as well (compare: traffic signs, great paintings and movies respectively): however, it is not suited for conveying the type of abstract, theoretical knowledge that we usually call European science.


next up previous
Next: Commenting on Laci Turi's Up: J. C. Nyíri: The Previous: My Heraclitean fantasies

hh
Fri Jul 25 22:00:35 MEST 1997