Tag Archives: ideology

Who Needs Information?

Radio KAOS

Pink Floyd has been with me all my life. My dad was listening to “Animals” when I was born. In the first 17 years of my life, I was involuntarily introduced to all of their other albums. Ever since they helped be overcome the worst moments of homesickness in the U.S. at the age of 18 – in particular “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” – I have started to discover them for myself. Much to the liking of my dad, of course. When I asked last.fm to play me some Pink Floyd-like music the other day, it came up with “Who Needs Information?” by Roger Waters, a solo piece by one of the band members. Listening more closely, I thought it provides a very interesting perspective on communication – and the ever so timely warning that more information won’t solve all the world’s problems. Continue reading

Che Guevara – What is it about his picture?

che

Right, another quick film review then. We went to see “Chevolution” the other night, a documentary about the famous photograph of Che Guevara. The film does a fairly good job delivering the historic facts about the picture’s origins (it was taken by Alberto “Korda” Diaz in 1960) and how it became the most reproduced photograph of a human being. Unfortunately, some of the people asked to comment on the image’s cultural and political significance are not doing a very good job at that and rather deliver some lofty polemics. Here are some of the deeper insights I distilled from “Chevolution”. Continue reading

Facebook – an act of the devil?

Archbishop fan group

Will they ever get it? I don’t think so. Since social networking sites like Facebook have become so immensely popular, critics from all corners of society have renewed their claims that the Internet is isolating, alienating, and inevitably leading to the end of healthy community life. The latest in line this morning: Archbishop Vincent Nichols (see BBC article)

His criticism is so old it’s almost too boring to repeat. Facebook leads young people to seek transient relationships, as many of them as possible to boast about them. And when these loose relationships collapse, young people go and commit suicide, according to the Archbishop. Moreover, they forget how to interact face-to-face, loosing their ability to interpret a person’s mood and and body language. In other words, once again the end of society.

Not every friend is a friend

I do not know if the Archbishop has ever signed on to Facebook or if he was thoroughly briefed about it before making his claims. I find it unlikely, as he contradicts both the experience of most Facebook users and the current status quo in terms of academic research on this topic.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on online communication myself over recent weeks. During the interviews I conducted, all interviewees made it very clear that they use Facebook to talk to a few close friends on a regular basis. The rest of the people on their friend list are those who they just met once or were never really that close to. It’s like collecting business cards. You got the person’s details and if at any point in the future you need to contact her, you can.

Critics like the Archbishop should realize that not every contact that’s labeled a “friend” on Facebook is a true friend. In fact, many people I talked to said they started a number of separate friend lists to distinguish between those who they care about and those they aren’t that close to.

Integrate, mix, replace

Many academic an journalistic articles, as well as my interviewees, also suggest that online interaction is very closely integrated with offline interaction. If we only looked at Facebook communication, our social life would indeed be pretty sad. But Facebook is there to supplement everything else that went on before, to mix with it, or in some cases to replace it – but only partially.

Facebook and other social networking sites may even enable relationships to be maintained that were previously lost. Those students I spoke to (in addition to my own experience) all came to the UK from abroad. They say that through social media they find it much easier and cheaper to stay in touch with their friends from high school or their families back home.

Technology, the culprit

Finally, critics like the Archbishop make it sound like social networking sites dropped to the face of the earth as the source of all evil. I see that they make for an excellent culprit. But if we want to lament the decline of community life (which we have some reason to do), we should look somewhere else first. Facebook et al. only reflect and perhaps emphasize social trends that have been ongoing for quite some time, such as individualization, globalization, social exclusion, and some others.

While I wrote this, I was wondering about the Archbishops motifs to voice his criticism about social networking sites. Does he think that those who no longer go to church are now surfing the web instead? Does he find it hard to compete for the attention of young people? Does he hope they would come to his church if Facebook was outlawed?

As a side note, I find it worth mentioning that Mr. Nichols has a Facebook fan group with 222 members. Not sure whether he knows about this or how he feels about it.

40 years after the moon landing: what’s the point?

Apollo 11, 1969

I just came across this beautiful and brilliant op-ed in the New York Times by Tom Wolfe about the deeper meaning and purpose of the Apollo moon landing missions – and indeed everything NASA has accomplished since then.

I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here’s his argument in a nutshell. The idea to put a man on the moon, as we all know, was fundamentally driven by the ideological and military contest between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Once this contest had been won (with Apollo 11, 40 years ago)… it had been won. Now what? NASA engineers, politicians, and citizens started to wonder what the point of all of this was.

Wolfe argues that human space travel has been going through an existential crisis ever since (with the exception of the Chinese, perhaps, who still try to boost their national ego). Why spend all this money on a space station, not to mention a 10 billion dollars a year mission to mars program?

And this business of sending a man to Mars and whatnot? Just more of the same, when you got right down to it. How laudable … how far-seeing … but why don’t we just do a Scarlett O’Hara and think about it tomorrow?

The problem for Wolfe is that NASA never hired enough philosophers to inject legitimacy and meaning into space travel (the last one they had was Wernher von Braun, a “former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent”). And so with nobody telling us that space travel is there to migrate all of human kind away from this slowly (or not so slowly) degenerating planet, we just remain puzzled why on earth (no pun intended) it’s so important to have some dude from Florida (or whereever) walk around on the surface of Mars.

May I add to this that something else has changed since the late 1960s. I think we’re also not as crazy anymore about human progress based on technological inventions (i.e. machines). When everyone’s talking about organic food, energy efficiency, and climate change, it’s just not fun to think about shooting rockets into orbit, is it?