Matthew Hutson, English 111, Brown University (1998)

Digital manipulation of data has scattered authority and redefined authorship. Anyone can untraceably modify digital information during any stage of transfer between original source and end user. This is a dramatic change, but it still adheres to our traditional linear way of thinking. The implications of digital manipulation shatter this concept of source-to-viewer into a complex web of relationships. How can anyone take full credit for any piece of artwork, when the ideas going into that piece derive from innumerable life experiences and cultural influences? Even scientific paradigms rest not on the shoulders of individual genius, but on the Voltron-like shoulders of an entire scientific community, and this weight disperses further into the roots of the entire society and environment.

With analog information, we can trace a piece of art back to its original and thus define more easily the influences and assign more explicitly the credit. In analog societies the individual, whether human or divine, is the central source of knowledge and change. The identical reproduction of bits eludes claims to ownership and speeds the process of data dispersion. Individuals become little more than single nodes within a complex network of societal relationships, neurons within an emerging global consciousness.

Around 1900, Paul Valery predicted this facilitated intake of cultural information:

Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.

Sven Birkets warns that this rapid give-and-take of information discourages depth of thought. In his Gutenberg Elegies,

He goes on to lement the inevitable loss of . . . individualism in the midst of an increasing "electronic tribalism," or "hive life," and he identifies the consequences of our Faustian contract in the realization of his "core fear"--"that we are, as a culture, as a species, becoming shallower" (228). In our embrace of technology and its transformation of our culture we have sacrificed depth, "adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral connectedness" (228). [source]

I feel, however, that a defining aspect of this "depth" with which we have become familiar is the strength of one's ego boundary. In the West, we have built up individualism to the point where collaboration and fluid movement among one's environment has gained the stigma of shallowness, insincerity, or unoriginality. Breaking down the walls that separate each of our minds is an uncomfortable yet undeniable effect of free comunication. Condidering culture as one unified organism, I don't see where Birkets found the notion of shallowness. The more we collaborate with each other, the further we can travel. Newton said something about standing on the shoulders of giants; the only difference that present technology creates is that our giants grow less hierarchicaly and more organically. Ironically.

Analogue/Digital OV Cyberspace OV InfoTech