Post your reviews as comments to this post and also add your name and roll number at the end.
This entry was posted on March 14, 2013, 5:46 PM and is filed under Readings. You can follow any responses to this entry through RSS 2.0.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
#1 by pulkitmanocha on March 14, 2013 - 7:34 PM
Mythinformation: Langdon Winner
Whale and the reactor, 1986
The future is often depicted by pop culture as a time which exists in a state of technological utopia, a world that is rid of the ills that plague mankind and the inequities and tyranny of evil and powerful men. It is a world where ignorance does not exist as a consequence of the fact that knowledge and awareness have naturally ensued the absolute pervasiveness of technological progress. It promises to deliver us from our problems and lead us into a state of technological nirvana. This vision is so widely held and so fiercely guarded that it seems inexpedient to question such a belief. However, this is exactly what Langdon Winner sets out to do in “Mythinformation” (Whale and the Reactor, 1986), in which he questions the cardinal nature of these tall claims and brings to book the misguided fantasies that have been fed to the masses in such preposterously large amounts by the forerunners of the technological curve. Winner begins by elaborating on the definition of the word “Revolutionary” which to his aggravation, has been blatantly overused by those who claim to have seen the supposedly radical changes that will ensue even the most insignificant technological breakthrough. He mocks society for being constantly overwhelmed by revolutions and derisively refers to it as one that is used to such “revolutions” in highly insignificant products such as the laundry detergent. Media seems to be besotted by the glitzy world of technology to such an extent that it portrays its social impact with such fulgurous and glorious praise that one feels obligated to express awe. One would expect that the primary source of such expression of fascination would arrive from marketers who do so to lure the cash-laden tech-freak to buy their products, but the truth is that the belief in the revolutionary nature of tech ology has been much more widespread. To my utter lack of surprise, Winner asserts that “even the most prestigious journals of the scientific community echo the claim that a revolution is in the works” (p100, Whale and The Reactor). The sole exceptional studies that aim to critically examine the positive and negative developments to society because of such technological progress are highly unpopular and insignificant to the general populace. The masses, it seems, want to be fed the sweet sugary story rather than the inconvenient truth which has been expressed with great passion by essentialist visionaries such as Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society) and Martin Heidegger. Winner acknowledges that there is an utter lack of any attempt to critically understand the significance of technological progress and that the people in the computer industry are in no way to blame for the pervasiveness of such an ahistorical perspective due to the inherently fast-paced nature of their work. The ceaselessness of the growth and developments in the computer Industry leaves little time for its members to ponder over such nontechnical questions. I concur with his observation and believe that the burden of interpreting, analysing and understanding its significance lies not with the members of the IT industry but with the philosophers and sociologists. Winner goes on to question another major claim made by the proponents of technology and its benefits; “Technology is responsible for the dissemination of knowledge. Knowledge is Power, ergo technology will usher in a paradigm shift where the common man is empowered and society is more egalitarian and transparent”. There is an almost unequivocal belief that the widespread application of technology will decidedly lead to a new age where people are not only informed and aware of everything it is that they need to know but also have access to valuable information which brings major corporations under public scrutiny, thereby increasing transparency. The increase in transparency will not only be for major corporations but also political leaders, government activities and the bureaucracy which will force these organizations to work for the amelioration when placed under the lens. It will supposedly lead to a complete overhaul of the democratic process for reasons that seem very axiomatic and obvious to media and the general public.
Winner also question the much more fundamental and implicit belief that knowledge and information sharing will necessarily result in empowerment. The belief that dictatorship imposes secrecy to restrict freedom ergo an increased availability of information will necessarily foster democracy is logically flawed. He suggests that at times it “brings merely an enlightened impotence of paralysis”. I could not agree more. There is a significant difference in being aware about something and acting upon it. Sloth is an inherent trait in humans and the computer has been unquestionably responsible for nurturing this trait to a great extent. Convenience has effectively killed initiative and active participation. Winner elaborates on this using the example of two movements; Ground zero and Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. On one hand Ground Zero relied on mass communication systems to reach out to the masses and on the other hand, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign used direct face-to-face approach in reaching out to people and urging them towards their cause. As one might expect, the latter was much more successful in garnering support than the latter. It is not hard to see why Ground Zero failed. People tend to use the cyber world for primarily recreational purposes, not for serious social activism. Moreover, Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign understood the importance of reaching out to people in an actively interactive way which led people to relate to the cause and therefore support it with much more enthusiasm. Langdon Winner effectively destroys the argument that information is equivalent to knowledge which brings power to the masses and nurtures democratization. His thoughts and ideas echo that of Jeffrey Sconce who observes this delusory digital mania with a lot of contempt. He is visibly dismissive of the hype that exists over the “next big thing just around the corner” and the new digital innovation that will apparently bend the course of human history and possibly redefine our very identities (“Tulip Theory” New Media: Theories and practices of digitextuality, 2003). He compares such a mania to the one that existed around tulips in the seventeenth century, one that is destined to fall. Sconce and Winner share the notion that this blatant belief in the digital bubble is overblown and highly misplaced. Yes, people are bound to indulge in “flights of utopian fantasy” when introduced with new technology but that does not justify the undeserved delusory frenzy that constantly exists around it. Winner attributes the increasing plasticity of society to technological progress as it has drawn the individual away from social and communal life to one that is indulgent to the inherent technological fetishism in each of us. It has fragmented society into the lowest denominator; the individual. Accessing Facebook on the new IPad is much more appealing than the deserted playground which once used to be the field for interacting with and meeting new people. The idiot box captivates one with almost hypnotizing power and draws one from society into a completely fictitious and glitzy world. Winner exhibits abject disappointment with the credulousness of the human society and its tendency to be lulled into a state of absolute and blind fascination to technology without giving an iota of thought to its potential ramifications.
#2 by kriti12050 on March 14, 2013 - 8:15 PM
This article on ‘Mythinformation’ implicitly questions the very idea of computer advancement as a ‘revolution’. Continuing his attacks on technological determinism, Langdon Winner weaves on the prevalent myth– increased access to electronic information results in a better place for mankind. The article attempts to explain the term ‘revolution’ and elaborates the undue exaggeration on just the positive side of it. He inquires the social goals of computing by what he calls ‘computer romantics’. He also stresses on the lack of thought in the social and political ramifications by the self styled computer revolutionaries. He associates this technological boom largely with the “hasty” journalism. Winner draws a parallel between the steering force behind this constant development in information technology and that behind the political uprisings of nineteenth century Europe. The advocates of computerization believe that a glorious transformation is ready to wipe across the face of the world and these futuristic ideas are usually accompanied by good news. It was believed that ‘this’ revolution could turn out to be better than the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution improved living standards and aided in wealth distribution then. While computers promise similar, the impetus behind their development is interest in economic benefit. It is in no way concerned with increasing individual democratic power. Winner cites articles which present ‘happy theories’ about the rise of computer. He builds on the argument that the metaphor of ‘revolution’ is being completely misused for describing ‘this movement’.
Winner argues that technology can elicit positive social change, however it won’t just happen as a by product of its presence. The transformations accompanying advancements in computer technology may have a democratizing potential—but this potential has to be identified and worked on. It will not just happen automatically. While the proliferation of electronic information claims to trigger growth of the upper class, elites, doctors, lawyers, scientists and business executives, it poses as a threat to the employment of common man. The ‘machine’ would replace human labour for doing the tedious job efficiently. Technology will replace people’s desk-work and new jobs will come from “menial service occupations paying relatively low wages” (pg 106). Ultimately technology would then prove beneficial to only those who are capable of taking advantage of it, such as transnational business corporations, bureaucrats, and intelligence agencies. This would lead to the rich becoming richer and the powerful would usurp more power. Winner brings to notice the ‘faulty’ key assumptions of political ideology. He argues against the ideal of ‘information equivalent to knowledge equivalent to power’ and uses this approach to call computer enthusiasts’ political hopes as simply ‘utopian’. Long lists of services like interactive television, electronic mail, teleconferencing, online stock exchange, yellow pages etc are suggestive of this ‘utopia’.
The institutions of information age must be constructed “in ways that maximize human freedom while placing limits upon concentrations of power” (pg107). The author argues that computers can’t guarantee democratization, social equality (rather sarcastically refers it to the great un-equalizer) and cultural renaissance. The entire essence of democratic system lies in participation of society as a whole, voicing concerns and opinions. However, technological advancement has made monitoring of electronic information possible from any corner of the world which has ultimately led to a decrease in the level of active participation by people. The prospects for participatory democracy have never been brighter with this interpretation of computer technology. Winner quotes J. C. R. Licklider as looking forward to “an information environment that would give politics greater depth and dimension than it now has.” pg(105) He talks about the issue of invasion of privacy as computerization has intertwined with our daily lives to an extent that we rely on the machine for our most basic needs. He voices his concern over the fact that technology has pared away the face to face communication which once provided buffers between individuals. Satellites, telecommunication and free flow of information have led to recasting of the basic political order as these offer a means to achieve transcendence of space and time.
In this article Winner takes an acerbic perspective on computer ‘revolution’ and supports it with strong evidence. Eventually computerization has started haunting the modern society. I feel that if companies which develop these technologies are allowed to operate according to their will in their own direction, the outcome won’t be empowerment of any individual. Winner has illustratively elaborated on the long term consequences of computerization. But this probes my mind with a question- Why is technology associated with de-socialization, when there are millions of users on social networking sites? Seeing the extent to which we are dependent on computers today, there is just one thing I wonder- How did we ever manage life without the computer!
#3 by prateeklohchubh on March 14, 2013 - 8:27 PM
In his analysis of Mythinformation, Langdon Winner addresses the idea that social processes and positive social change naturally occur as a result of computer technology, but on the contrary Technology can elicit powerful positive social change, but it won’t just happen as a byproduct of its presence.
Winner begins by questioning the word “revolution”, investigating the history of revolution to ultimately ask “what is a revolution, really?”. He compares the main purpose and driving force behind the constant development in information technology with those of previous political revolutions in the nineteenth-century Europe and also with the Industrial Revolution. The leaders initializing and guiding the political revolutions intended to transfer the power to the common man through the establishing democracy. The Industrial Revolution aided distribution of wealth and improvement in the standard of living. While computers always have and still promise to improve the standard of living, but is it really the case? The impetus behind the development of computers is an interest in economic benefits and the “thrill of invention”. By citing numerous technophile articles, all of which present and predict an optimistically enthusiastic aspect of the rise of computers, the author builds up an argument that the metaphor of “revolution” is completely misused for describing “this movement”, But even so, technology has become a form of life which we approbate with a smile.
The ‘computer romantics’ are particularly enticed by the idea of electronic information access facilitating participatory democracy, but this notion is based on faulty assumptions such as People are bereft of knowledge, Information is knowledge, Knowledge is power, Increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Winner argues against these “computer romantic” ideals of “information=knowledge=power”, and uses this model to reveal computer enthusiasts political hopes as being simply “utopian”. But in reality, Technology will only beneﬁt those already capable of taking advantage of it, such as transnational corporations, public bureaucracies, and intelligence agencies. He claims that these articles do not question the intention of these changes and the long-term implications. While the evolution and proliferation of these “information machines” promises to be a great catalyst to the growth of the upper, elite class of people. Hence Winner quite relevantly argues that computers do not promise democratization, social equality and cultural renaissance.
Winner doesn’t completely hate technology, he agrees that there are some domains in which quick information access is quite necessary, but he does question whether it needs to pervade all aspects of life. Thus to conclude, The institutions of the information age must be constructed in ways that maximize human freedom while placing limits upon concentrations of power, as he presses out his concern towards issues such as surveillance and privacy, De-socialization, Transcendence of space and time.
Prateek Singh Lohchubh
#4 by alakhdhruv on March 14, 2013 - 8:33 PM
Winner, Langdon, 1986, “Mythinformation”, from The Whale and the Reactor: A
Search for the Limits in an Age of High Technology, University of Chicago
Press, pp. 3-18
(Citations to this chapter are directly referred to by their page number(s))
The essay comments upon Winner’s idea of ‘Mythinformation’, or the idea that
increased access to computational devices will improve social and political
In his article titles ‘Mythinformation’, Langdon Winner discussed the social
and political impacts of an increasing computerized society, and the resultant
‘revolution’ which is being heralded. He addresses alleged claims of
increasing democracy due to spread of information, labeling it as
‘mythinformation’ – hence the title. He further analyzes the role of
information, and further changes that will be faced by the easy and
unrestricted availability of information.
The so-called computer revolution, Winner writes, is quite different from the
kind of revolution that took place earlier. For one, he compares the tendency
of earlier revolutionaries to reflect upon their actions and their goal, and
the apparent lack of tendency to do so by today’s ‘drivers’ of technology. He
also comments upon the hyperbole found in media – even established ones – over
the ‘computer revolution’; serious reflection existed, but in journals that
were unlikely to shape public opinion. Computer enthusiasts also have been
criticised over their reluctant to study the changes in society and political
structure, brought about by their ‘revolution’. The shift from an industrial
society to a focus of information services has also been described as
‘ahistorical’, refusing to study past events.
This idea shows Winner’s lack of understanding of the role computers are
intended to play. Computational devices are meant to function as
‘exaggerators’ of social interactions, and not replace them. This can be seen
much more easy in today’s society, which one major example of this being the
reliance on social media to communicate. The computer revolution was meant to
be a social revolution, and not a political revolution, making it useless to
compare it to revolutions of a deeply political nature. Those revolutions were
meant to be disruptive of some social order, while this one is meant to stretch
and amplify certain functions, but not to change its foundations in any way.
Thus, ‘computer enthusiasts’ have seen political change and spread of
democracy as side-effects of this revolution, something that Winner mentions
later. The rise of scientific study is primarily a result of the
inherent curiosity present in humans, and a desire to understand and study
nature. Computing augments that desire with an ability to show that in action.
This contrast shows itself in the people that Winner compares (pp. 102); the
earlier revolutionaries are inherently political, while the recent computer
scientists were leaders in their fields, two in artificial intelligence and
one in electronics, and all were guided by a sense of curiosity and desire to
understand and implement systems. Marvin Minsky, a leading figure in the study
of intelligent systems, is also a philosopher, but with a focus on cognitive
sciences, i.e. a study of how the brain works.
Winner then talks about the central idea in his article, that of
‘mythinformation’. In particular, it discussed the relation between social
change and democracy, and the increase in computerization. It was claimed that
the spread of computational devices, especially personal computers, would
serve as a great equalizer in society. This is similar to the idea that
placing a gun in every person’s hand would enable them to fight against their
oppressors; however, the organization with the greater gun-power would still
win. Today, large corporations and people with large wealth are now in a
position to adopt greater computing power, thereby completing the analogy.
Winner then criticizes the assumptions about information, summed up in the
‘formula’, “information = knowledge = power = democracy” (pp. 113),
criticizing each level of the comparison. Also, he finds faults with the claim
that increasing access to information would be a progressive step, claiming
that enlightening and invigorating human minds is a much more important task.
Here, again, Winner misses its augmentative nature. In todays world of
interconnected networks, finding relevant information is sharply contrasted
with the practice of limiting access only to certain people found in earlier
times. Access to academic and political information to readily available over
the internet, enabling people who would not have got a chance earlier. The
process of ‘enlightening and invigorating’ human minds in certainly important,
but not more than the spreading of knowledge, rather, it supplements it. This
task can also be helped by access to computing devices, with the large
availability of educational material on the internet. The role of computing
devices in propagating democracy can be seen in the rise of the role of social
media in various civil movements (like of Syria), and internet based
movements, like the group Anonymous. Another example would be a site by the US
government where the public can open and vote on proposals.
The final topics suggested by Winner are the most accurate ideas and
challenges presented in this article, particularly the attack on privacy due
to electronic surveillance. Online privacy is a larger concern today than ever
before. Another interesting topic is the rise of Multi-national Companies,
with large money reserves, and no geographic limitations. I do not agree with
Winner saying that the decline in face-to-face communication is a bad thing;
rather, the rise of the internet was a good thing. Social media enables people
to communicate regardless of location, class, race, and sex; things that used
to lead to rampant discrimination earlier. I do not condone the complete
abolishment of personal communication, but the advantages of electronic
communication must be recognized.
This article was written in 1986, way before the boom in personal computers
and the internet, so many of Winner’s ideas do not apply today. Those were
also the early days of computational devices, so exaggerations and undeserving
praises were expected. It seems that Winner took them too seriously, without
waiting for it to die down, as it eventually did, somewhat.
 Not Steve Jobs.
#5 by archittaneja on March 14, 2013 - 8:36 PM
In this reading the author tells about the myths that have surrounded the “computer revolution” as it is called by many computer scientists and engineers. Beginning by shedding light on the metaphor “Revolution”, the author tells us about the misconceptions that have surrounded this word over large periods of time. He tells us how the term “revolution” is being considered extremely positive and how it is being believed that it would change human lives for the better.He states that the beautiful dreams that come along with the idea of revolution have overshadowed the negative consequences that might follow. For example the books articles and the media specials aimed at a particular audience are usually content to depict the dazzling magnitude of technical innovations and social effects. But Winner rightly says that “the prevalence of such superficial unreflective description and forecasts about computerization as a revolution cannot be attributed solely to hasty journalism”(pg 100).Winner rightly argues that “it seems all but impossible for computer enthusiasts to examine critically the ends that might guide the world shaking developments they anticipate”(100).
Winner then goes on to argue that according to the view that stands today “the computer revolution will, by its sheer momentum, eliminate many of the ills that have vexed political society since the beginning of time, inequalities of wealth and privelages will gradually fade away. Obnoxious forms of social organisation will also be replaced and the proliferation of electronic information will generate a leveling effect to surpass the dreams if history’s great social reformers”(pg 104) and all this utopian views fall under mythinformation according to him.He believes that the cultural renaissance that was expected is nowhere to be seen.The current developments in the information age suggest an increase in power to those who already possess power , an enhanced centralization of control to those who are already prepared for control.Rightly stated “Far from demonstrating a revolution in patterns of social and political influence ,empirical studies of computers and social change usually show powerful groups adapting computerized methods to gain control”(pg 107).
Winner believes that the concept that “knowledge is power” is highly misleading because there is no direct positive link between knowledge and power especially if power is meant in a political or social sense. Considering the factors that influence the phenomenon of power, knowledge definitely stands as one of them but definitely not the most important. In the odd belief system that stands today, Winner argues, why is the term “information” considered so crucial. According to him, we already have enough evidence to believe that the information upheld today is not knowledge in the ordinary sense of term. “Enormous quantities of data ,manipulated within various kinds of electronic media and used to facilitate the transactions of today’s large , complex organisations is the model we are urged to embrace”(pg 113), and rightly so because the current dilemma that the computer organisations of today face is data overload which only can dealt by speed as speed conquers quantity. He very correctly acquaints us with the fact that “information itself is perishable” by giving us the example of the stock market where the value of a share may lose its importance if that information is not delivered at the correct instance. “Thus rapid information processing capabilities of modern computers and communication devices are a perfect match for such needs , a marriage made in technological heaven”(pg 114).Thus efficient management of data is the telos of modern society and it is the fact to which mythinformation adds glory and glitter.
Going with the consequences that have been predicted for the computer revolution, there are three areas of concern. The first one is to monitor the activities that go on in the digitized world but considering the magnitude and the scale on which these activities are carried out , it becomes all the more difficult to keep track of these activities. The other consequence of computerization is the alteration of human sociability. Due to the presence of electronic information, workplaces where human interaction took places are hard to found. For example the computerized bank tellers have done away with small local branch banks. But the most significant challenge posted by computerization is still that will the basic structures of political order will be recast. Winner beautifully concludes this topic by presenting us the believes of many observers that have forecasted that “the computer revolution “ will be guided by wonders in artificial intelligence but the course which is currently being followed is influenced by something more familiar to us : the absent minded.
By -Archit Taneja
#6 by Meenakshi on March 14, 2013 - 8:39 PM
– MEENAKSHI S. (2012058)
Langdon Winner, a professor of political science at a polytechnic institute invented the word “mythinformation”, in order to display the feelings of the era. He begins his article by highlighting the expansion of computers and the impact of computerization in every sphere of life. He discusses how the computer can be a means to promote equality, knowledge and power. He also adds that a number of philosophers and scholarly scientists are lured towards the modern era of computers. Those engaged in promoting and establishing a world full of computers, according to Winner are often busy in making their both ends meet, earning huge profits and handsome salaries. He asserts that these intellectuals are so engrossed in the technical and the economical aspects of their study that little or no time is left for them to delve deep into their area of study and analyze its historical perspectives and significance. He then justifies the scholars and understands their need to be “on the crest of the next wave as it breaks” and their struggle to keep themselves up to date, he goes on to compare their situation to a game and quotes “You win the game, you get to play another. You win this machine; you get to build the next”.
The never ending dominance of electronic information systems and computers over the human activities in this modern day life is same as what steam powered engines were to the industrial age, as asserted by Winner. The reducing cost and increasing convenience of these technologies have led to the enormous shoot in its usage and a huge quantity of valuable information is accessible by people around the world. This will eventually lead to a world with minimal discrimination between rich, advantaged and their respective counterparts, as imagined by Winner. The computerized world would believe in knowledge and will consider it as the ultimate power, which will destroy the “social class dominance and centralized authority”. Winner is very optimistic in believing that “the computer revolution will, by its sheer momentum, eliminate many of the ills that have vexed political society since the beginning of time”. Through technological means people can interact with their fellow citizens and in one way promote democracy. These benefits to the human society with the adoption of computers and easy access to the electronic media will ensure better living space for the humans, which the writer calls as mythinformation.
Further Winner talks about computer romanticism and it being merely the latest version of the revolution brought by computers. He further highlights the main assumptions on which computer romantics is drawn upon: “(1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power”. Reading further a question arises that are we appropriately educated? Are we living in a world with well-informed minds? Alas, in many parts of the world the answer to these questions is negative. To this Winner adds that the computer enthusiasts do not promote facilities which can contribute in eradicating the problem of illiteracy and poor education. Further he elaborates the point “knowledge is power”, Winner agrees with the view point that the one who has great deal of knowledge can, acting wisely gain power but simultaneously accepts that power is a much wider phenomenon and knowledge is a mere aspect of it. Then he elaborates on the common misconception in the minds of the computer enthusiasts. He believes that democracy is important but considering it as the first and foremost source of distributing information is wrong.
Winner then talks about television and its role in the modern politics. He believes that with the improvement in the digital media, improved the television, declined the scope of face-to-face politics and decreased the public participation in voting. Winner fears that because of telecommunications and availability of political knowledge in a computerized form people would never bother to conceive this knowledge based in first-hand experience. This, according to Winner has changed the whole notion of democracy. This situation leads the writer to believe that one day computers would become a “potent equalizer in the modern society”. Winner claims that the political expectations of the computer enthusiasts are mere fantasies and their belief that computerization will move the society towards a better future is a mere assumption.
In this world where almost all our major needs are highly dependent on computers, it is very likely to observe people with very high hopes for the next-gen computers to come. Winner argues that as electronic instruments and their use in our daily activities is increasing, it becomes technologically feasible to monitor these activities to a great extent which can be further classified as a threat to privacy. The electronic gadgets can achieve numerous conveniences at a much lower cost but its misuse can “develop systems capable of a perpetual, pervasive, apparently benign surveillance”. This computerized world is thoroughly changing the society; this is the point where technological determinism comes into picture. It analyses the development in the society on the basis of technology only and discarding the impacts of this development in the long run. The increasing dependence of people on electronic gadgets can make the human race indebted to the technological innovation forever. It will eventually demolish human race generation after generation and we can do nothing but to stand helpless. Before this situation destroys the human race we should initiate and lead the society through the path of technological developments.
#7 by ananyaharsh12018 on March 14, 2013 - 8:39 PM
“Myth Information” refers to a piece of information that is created using misconceptions and myths. Langdon Winner explores the scope of this term in computer industry contrasting it with a political revolution. Written in 1986, this chapter of Whale and the Reactor argues about a revolution in the field of computer science in an era where people gained access to personal computers for the first time. The advent of personal computers was hailed as a revolution that would change the life of common people, enabling them to establish equality within society. Winner argues that a political revolution has goals, means adopted to pursue the goals, an aftermath of the revolution and a final conclusive analysis whether the revolution remained true to its purpose (Technology: Reform and Revolution, Winner Pg 99, Pg100). Thus everything new that is developed in computer industry cannot be termed to be a revolution. Unless a change satisfies the protocol for a revolution, discoveries in computer science or computer hardware should not claim to be one.
Winner talks about a new aspect of information. According to the claims of computer revolution, age of digitization and communication has made possible for anyone around the globe to access vast amounts of information at any instant of time. Although information is made available to people, mere presence of information does not imply that people are literate enough to gain knowledge from that information. “Knowledge is power” is a statement and concept used by people but is highly misleading (Technology: Reform and Revolution, Winner Pg 109). Opening up of libraries at a place will provide information to people, but the question remains, “will they actually refer to it”. This question must be asked first, before stating that knowledge provided to people through computer network will bring equality in society because “knowledge is power”. Equal access to knowledge will not give equal power to people because knowledge is not utilized equally by people.
Computer romanticism disables people to perceive the negative effects of changes in computer industry on society. Technology is replacing people at jobs pushing them to work at low wages in menial jobs. Technology, in truth, benefits people who are already capable and waiting to take advantage of it. Large enterprises, corporations, public bureaucracies and intelligent agencies gain a lot from new technologies. These people actually utilize the computational power of hardware and software each tidal wave of development computer industry produces. Technological somnambulism prevails in this sector creating a false image that the so called computer revolution brings equality in society. Concept of “network nations” (socialization between people of different nation without geographical and political factors disrupting it) and unlimited possibility of growth of personal creativity and human mind, due to less time being spent on calculations and mechanical tedious work, are pseudo. Although these changes have happened, but they do not present the true nature of positive changes that computer revolution brings about in our lives. Social networking has as many side effects as it has positive ones. In many cases personal creativity and development of mind are limited to the field of computers only, as in case of entrepreneurs of computer industry. Thus instead of being an equalizer, computer revolution is proving to topple the balance in society.
Involvement of technology in politics is another topic that is debated by Winner. The idea that technology can establish democracy in its true sense, by making people participate in the decision making of society, is preposterous. Instead increase of technology in democracy would lead to passive participation of people in politics rather than a more active participation. Winner states an example to illustrate this point. “Ground Zero” and “Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign” were two groups formed by activists to stop nuclear arms from being developed by countries (Technology: Reform and Revolution, Winner Pg 111). Ground Zero’s approach to use mass media to communicate itself to people initially gained popularity but was later ignored and its efforts diminished. Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign used a completely different approach. The idea to interact with people directly had a deeper impact on people, of the campaign’s efforts for society and they were able to gain public support and pressurize political officials. Thus Winner believes that technology does not drastically change the way democracy functions and in many cases might regress its functioning.
Winner is not a critic of technology in every social aspect. He agrees to the fact that military, stock exchanges and intelligence agencies require quick access to huge amounts of information for the benefit of society and people. Technology has also played a huge role in medical advances during the recent decade. But he also argues that technology intercalating in every aspect of life, is a point to ponder upon. “Minority Report” (sci-fi, 2002), is a movie that depicts extensive use of technology in our daily lives. People depicted in it are uniquely identified using retinal scans. Such an attempt has been made by the government of India by introducing the “Aadhar” card, which is a unique identification of every citizen in our country. Now the question we have to ask ourselves “Is this a revolution in technology or a way for the government to gain a greater control over its people”. And hence we come back to the point that Winner argues about, technology entering every aspect of our life.
Ananya Harsh Jha
#8 by Talha Ahmad Siddiqui on March 14, 2013 - 8:39 PM
The article by Winner, Langdon, MythInformation is an eye opener for everyone associated with the field of computer and specially us, the budding computer science engineers of the twenty first century. In this article, Winner talks about the myth of information which is prevalent in today’s society, the myth that an extensive acceptance of computers and communication systems along with simple access to digital information will create a better world for human beings. As the meaning of the word myth suggests, the story contains elements of truth but not that the entire reality.
The article begins with the comparison of a revolution as happened in old times with the so-called “revolution” in computers and communication systems. Some people refer it as “the computer revolution” others cite it as “information revolution” or the “network revolution”. But one thing that is evident from all this is that whatever name we assign to the “revolution”, the use of computers has completely transformed all corners of our society. It is also a common consensus that the “computer revolution” is going to affect us intensely and in some cases, even more than the Industrial revolution.
In the next segment of the article (Pg 99-102), Winner explores the metaphor that we associate with the revolution of computers. At first the author talks about the points one has to keep in mind while deciding whether or not the revolution is worthy of our approval and also the means the revolution has chosen to pursue the goals. The author then talks about the various advantages that the revolution has led to. The computer has affected us in every possible way it could. Nowadays computer can be found in offices, factories, schools, colleges etc. Even the education system is completely transformed with the introduction of computers. Thus one can conclude from this point of view that it is a very “happy story”. Even though there are people who criticise it but they are hardly given any attention. A very important point that we miss with this is that we always want to know what’s new with computers, what’s the latest development but we never want to know what could go wrong with this. We always analyse the positive side neglecting the big picture. The metaphor of revolution that the computer enthusiasts use, looks upon only a single point, that is, the introduction of computers is a boom, one that the society must welcome as good news. They never try to examine the additional meaning. Also it is a noticeable fact that in today’s busy world, people who are actively involved in the IT field are only worried about the profit they generate, the intellectual awards they receive, the pleasure of owning big and powerful machines etc. Thus this leaves them with very little time to think about the “historical significance of their activity” (Pg-102). One thing that we are sure of is that the computer revolution itself is unaware of its own consequences.
Next the article talks about all the good things about the computer revolution and what the world has to say about it. Many believe that politics is a secondary concern for computer enthusiasts. But this is, unfortunately, a false belief and politics plays a crucial role and is of utmost importance. Then the author discusses the common myth that how the revolution can diminish the difference between the rich and the poor and how the widespread use of computers and communication systems will produce a society more democratic than ever. It promises the dream that a “global village” will be fulfilled in a worldwide burst of human creativity (Pg-103). Some people believe the fact that the computer can make a boring job interesting; it can reduce the workload and give us leisure time and increase the opportunities for young and enthusiastic people. With the introduction of Facebook and other networking sites, we have become a “Network Nation” where everyone is connected and vast amount of information can be shared. The author then comments that according to this view, the computer revolution will gradually fade away the difference between the various classes, brighten the prospects of democracy and give politics greater depth and dimension that it now has. This Winner refers to as the “democracy of machines”.
In the later part of the article (Pg 106-113), Winner deals with a different approach for the computer revolution. Here he questions whether we see the democratization happening and the social equality as a result of computers. The current trend that we are following does not result in any kind of equality between the rich and the poor but on the contrary makes the rich richer. I fully agree with the author as nowadays those already in power are becoming powerful rather than the division of power which the computer revolution was believed to promote. The point which most of the computer scientists and socialists claim to be true, that the computer revolution helps in the progress of the society, is unclear. However the progress of the society is solely dependent on the people’s efforts to conquer many problems to achieve the goals. As the author suggests, if the problem of illiteracy is lack of supply of information only, then the best possible solution to it could be to build libraries and encourage people to visit it frequently. But the computer enthusiasts do not believe in the creation of libraries instead the electronic sharing of information. Thus this is a beautiful example to illustrate the fact that a fascination with a particular kind of technology causes one to ignore what are evident problems and obvious solutions. Although it is true that the use of computer and might help to solve most of the literacy problems but to not look at the obvious solutions is stupidity. Another false belief that people agree upon is that democracy is one of the most important concern of information sharing. But that is not the true sense of democracy and what distinguishes democracy from any other political form is an acknowledgment that the people as a whole are capable of autonomy and they have a rightful claim to rule (Pg-110). Democracy means people coming together, finding problems and clear solutions rather than just logging onto someone else’s system, downloading information and sending back an immediate computerised reply(Pg-110).
At the end it can be concluded that information sharing resulting in knowledge, uniform distribution of power and a true democratic society lacks conviction and the fact that computerisation will uplift the society is not hundred percent true.
Talha Ahmad Siddiqui
#9 by Kundan Kumar on March 14, 2013 - 8:44 PM
Technology: Reform and Revolution
THE WHALE AND THE REACTOR
By Langdon Winner.
“Mythinformation” by Langdon winner is a very beautiful article where he has talked about revolutions, particularly computer revolution. In his analysis I found that he has tried to address how the social change and social process occurs as a result of computer technology. “Mythinformation” basically questions the idea of revolution arising from the development of computer. “Mythinformation” is the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communication systems, along with broad access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for humanity (105). According to me he thinks that the increased ability to access, share and receive information with the help of advancement in computer technology might lead to revolution. In his article “philosophy of technology” winner has questioned the rationale or thinking behind the use of technology but here he has tried to focus on the revolution that can take place with the advancement of technology.
Winner examines the instances of revolution happened in past makes it a comparison with the computer enthusiasts assumptions. Winner says that although computer revolution may become true on a very large scale but in reality I think to achieve such results requires concerned and continuous participation which winner finds lacking. Revolution of any kind related to computer will be very conservative and a daunting task as not all are familiar with the machines which is to be used. Winner argues the notion ‘People are bereft of knowledge’ by saying that even after providing vast amount of information, it won’t solve the problem of illiteracy. Ignorance of education nowhere supports that people are deprived of knowledge (108)…. Further the notion that “information is knowledge” is not true because even though I may have a lot of information with me but still all that may not be in my mind making me unknowledgeable (109). Also the thinking that “knowledge is power” is faulty because when I look back in history I found that not many people who were knowledgeable were in power (109)….. Further Winner argues over the fact that increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power (109-110)…… He says that personal interaction of people is what democracy is about. If a democracy policy is encouraged by computer technologies then it will reduce the face to face contact between the people and certainly would wipe out genuine political knowledge based on firsthand experience altogether. For eg in 1981 and 1982 there were two groups of activists who wanted to stop the international nuclear arms race. One group – Ground Zero used mass communication to convey its message i.e. morning news show , evening news show, mail etc. and other group took their agenda in between the public by holding rallies, public meetings or in short face to face contact. And the result were totally different, 1st group was ignored but 2nd group got the support thus supports winner ideas (111-112). And the basic abstract I can think of is that revolution is being done absent mindedly and they are putting their faith in computer rather than solidifying its position and long lasting effects the technology can have.
Winner says that capitalism plays a very huge role in creating a utopian society but he has his own apprehension that if the technologies and production and supply are in their hand than the purpose of true revolution may remain unfulfilled…which means those business men will have their own say everywhere. Going back to Mark’s views he has said in context with capitalism that a condition must be created to abolish it but it may not happen so.
Finally I would like to conclude by saying that business and politics are two field which flourish with the advancement of technology. And religion is brought under it. And when a time comes where we would be under the capitalist …we would have become oppressed and there seems no way to live freely in the present state of life then a revolt may take place which may comprise violence, intelligence, sacrifice and most important thing the help of “computer technology”. And hence I think a revolution for mankind with the help of computer technology would be the best revolution.
#10 by abhishek12123 on March 14, 2013 - 8:45 PM
Scanning technology, according to me is kind of critique on the much anticipated “computer age” which is supposed to revolutionaries every sector of our social, economic and political life. Winner has first of all compared this revolutionizing age of computer with the time when a republic was declared when a sufficiently large revolution was created to overthrow an existing monarchial order. In the latter case justice, equality an emancipation of mankind were the kind of promises that were made by our leaders. Similar is the case these days with every new step towards modern computing is supposed to be a great revolution and is supposed to enhance our lifestyle give justice and equality to those deprived of it.
Yes I completely agree with Winner that people have got used to term ‘revolution’ used to popularize things also the claim that the word has lost its impact. We really need to question the revolution if it is used so much frequently with the computer technology. The questions being how it will help in human freedom, provide equality in society and a democratic rule. As far as I see, the word revolution has completely lost its true meaning of political aspect and what we now use it for is just advent of computerization. It is used only as an impact line or a catchy opening line in books articles which are targeting a huge audience.
As these words are also used regularly by famous publishers, it cannot be a case of hasty journalism, the greats of the fields also agree that a revolution is in making. According to one of the leading editor at New York Times, it is about the people, they want to know only about the advents in technology not what can go wrong as a side effect. Also there are many other questions to be asked like about the aim of the revolution, ideas behind the revolution. I agree with Winner’s viewpoint that a consistent ahistorical view is prevailing in the society and politics is an important concern for the innovators though not much though is yet given to it.
What is shown to us is like a dream which is likely to be an illusion after all, that technology will result in equality, social differences will vanish and no those who have suffered a disadvantage will come to terms with the society. Because “Knowledge is Power” a dream of global village is shown in which the powerful will be decided according to the amount of data one controls and manipulates. And many more long spells of promises are made. Everything is tending to go online these days, from studying to shopping everything. I don’t think that there is enough impetuous in this “revolution” that it can eliminate so much social ills that it has promised. Yes I do agree with the point that it will boost the democracy at a new level, way above the existing one. It will allow voters to interact with their leaders more freely, more interactively and most importantly this conversation will not be a one way traffic, the leaders can respond easily too, many of which has already started with so many leaders coming and expressing their views through the social media like twitter, Facebook etc.
If we investigate the claims made by these scientists, we see that it is promised that the age of computers will remove social differences, the point of question is, if it is going to take poor towards the rich or middle towards the poor, in any case rich will become super rich. This is only going to result in centralization of power which in anyway is not democratic. Winner has also seen this fact and so he has made a valid point that the powerful will make use of the computer base methods to hold on their control over those who cannot avail so much of information services. Such hassles can only be avoided if the complete society is ready to go through the change, if the poor or for that matter anyone is apprehensive of the cause the true motive of this revolution will not be achieved.
Computer romanticism can be used to describe the condition of these people who think this revolution will actually generate social equality. These people have again divided society in different social groups one having the power of information and the other not. It is unarguable that knowledge is power but taking information as knowledge is total foolishness as importance of a particular set of information can vary according to the social group to which one belongs, and this is something which these computer romanticists have not considered.
Another one of the concept that Winner has countered is the thought that democracy is about distribution of information. It is about access to the information and yes the present day technology can a pretty handful in that case. The example that is given to support this cause, i.e. of the television, which on introduction saw a steady decline in voter participation because with daily activities available right in their homes, the need for face to face communication decreased and so did voter participation. Though computer can counter this problem as it will allow u to send instant digitized response as soon as u see a particular message.
Yes with small computers becoming more powerful and less expensive there is a large void that this technological advancement has filled up and yes it has also enabled the local society to counter the technological changes of an organization with their minicomputer. Apart from the above mentioned change, the claims made by these people are more or less day dreaming in which they expect that a utopian society will come into existence with the introduction of technology. The flaw is in the base of this idea that says knowledge is information and power both.
What is worth noting is the section of Information and ideology, the age of computers is truly fit to be taken as an ideology as people of a particular class i.e. those who market, control, generate data, also it promises them of a future if they believe in it. All this is happening despite the fact that information itself is a perishable commodity. So now we actually need computer who can process data at such speeds which can meet the present demands of the society, like handling minute to minute information.
Winner has certainly appreciated the possibility that computer age can modernize this society quickly but he has a raised a very valid point of cybercrime. As everything is tending to go online it is fairly easy for criminals now to do crimes like hacking accounts to avoiding social freedom. He thinks that it isn’t particularly ‘misuse’ of technology but in a way it is also achieving the things it was meant for like eliminating the social layers which were required previously to get a certain work done.
I think that to conclude this chapter I can say that as long as we are using this computerization for wellbeing of society it is acceptable but there are certain private decisions that are still meant to be taken by the individual, and it is a symbol of social independence. “We have to let this revolution be guided by the artificial intelligence as much expect it and not by the absent mind.”
#11 by aarushigoel on March 14, 2013 - 8:49 PM
Noted philosopher and writer Langdon Winner in his book The Whale and the Reactor, talks the hypothetically created utopian society as a result of extensive computerisation that is expected to eliminate all flaws. This is what he calls the “Mythinformation”. In the chapter “mythinformation” of his book he discusses the importance of the word ‘revolution’ in the historic times. However winner says that the term ‘revolution’ seems to have lost its actual meaning. Revolution is now being used to either describe any small upheaval in the society or even at times to refer to any mania that is becoming popular among people. In fact this term is now so extensively used that it is now being associated with every second commodity. Similar is the case with computerisation.
However the author questions, whether the people who associate the metaphor ‘revolution’ with computerisation, have done a detailed study on the causes and effects of the revolution that they use to refer to this phenomenon or not. Unfortunately the answer is no. Winner also complains about the lack of a detailed description of this growing phenomenon leading us to the age of information technology. The descriptions that are often offered are extremely superficial that usually contain instances of how different professional streams have benefitted from computers. These texts basically try to glorify the age of computers. Winner claims that even though people want to study about the impact of computerisation on society, no one wants to study the negative impacts. And even if some of try to explore the negatives and positives of computerisation they are not very successful in shaping the viewpoint of others regarding computerisation.
Winner goes to explore the misconceptions that computer romantics have and how they believe that information technology is the ultimate source that will eliminate all the flaws in the society. Computer romantics are often seen emphasising on the fact that the future in which this age of computerisation is leading us, will be both socially and politically desirable. They tend to draw similarities between industrial revolution and the computer revolution. The world will be dominated by computers instead of machinery as in the case of industrial revolution. They say that as a result of falling prices of computers all classes of people will have access to information technology. The sharing of information on such a large scale will create a more democratic society with rich diversity. The differences between the rich and the poor will be narrowed down. This in turn will discourage the rule of a centralised authority and subdue the dominance of middle class.
The author has cited selected lines from the writings on information technology that show that as a result of computerisation, social inequality will be eliminated and a utopian society will be set up. Moreover as Winner says, “Information will become the dominant form of wealth” (The Whale and the Reactor, Winner, Pg 104). Computer enthusiasts also don’t forget to talk about the changes that are expected to be beneficial for democracy. Information technology through its vast network will allow mass participation and involvement in politics which will lead to a better democratic society. Winner rightly comments on this by saying that “even within the great tradition of optimistic technophilia, current dreams of a ‘computer age’ standout as exaggerated and unrealistic” (The Whale and the Reactor, Winner, Pg 106).
However it is clear that the above assumptions and expectations are delusional. They lead us to a false belief that the changes that computerisation will bring about are all only for the good. One cannot be so optimistic since this age of information technology is itself unclear about the extent to which it may change the world. At one hand we see the under-developed nations moving towards industrialisation and on the other the developed nations are stepping towards deindustrialisation. The computer romantics misinterpret the relation between social power and control. Unlike what was expected computers will go on to affect employment conditions of the society. Studies have shown as a result of computerisation only menial jobs will be left. Moreover the industrial sectors that benefit the most from this computer revolution are the ones that are directly linked to computers.
Contrary to the belief of the computer romantics, this era of computers will lead to centralisation of power with those already in power and the concentration of wealth with those who are already wealthy. Winner says that “the powerful groups are adapting to computerised methods to retain control” (The Whale and the Reactor, Winner, Pg 107). Winner criticises computer romanticism since it develops a blind faith on computerisation and hence creates hindrance in our ability to look at its impacts and to react to the changes because we tend to get obsessed with this technology. Such beliefs are based on the assumptions that information can solely lead to empowerment of people since information is knowledge and knowledge is power. And because computers provide us with a great deal of information, it will lead to our empowerment. However one cannot deny the fact that mere provision of information cannot solve the problems of illiteracy and education. The information obtained is useless, unless it is put to effective practical skills. The age old statement “Knowledge is power” seems vague in this context since there is no obvious positive link between knowledge and power. People might have the knowledge but no idea about how to implement it to gain power.
Another problem with the views of computer enthusiasts is that they believe that the main motive of democracy is to share, access and distribute information. However this is not the case. One of the most distinguishable features of democracy is that unlike in other forms of government, people are capable of governing themselves. This condition cannot be fulfilled by just providing them information. Moreover information technology makes people feel as if they are directly involved in democracy through video conferencing and television, they will not feel the need to make their actual contribution to it. Hence it can be seen that the notion of a perfect society created by the computer revolution is rendered baseless.
However Winner says that despite of the various drawbacks of mythinformation one has to agree it is an impressive ideology. An ideology that aims to shape the society that meets the hopes and needs of all as result of computerisation. He also says that computer revolution is all about information technology however information is itself a perishable commodity. It needs to be updated time and again. But the good news is that this advanced technology is capable of providing the latest up-to date information that in most cases can be relied upon. Effective management of this information can do wonders for the society. Computers therefore in this case act as the ultimate solution for this problem.
In the concluding section Winner talks raises some of the serious issues in the field of information technology. First one is the threat to privacy. With information technology there is always a threat that somebody might gain access to one’s personal information and misuse it. Second one is the disruption human sociability. With the introduction to large number of electronic services such as e-banking, people are no more required to go to banks for handling transactions. As a result unlike the earlier times where people got together in such places to socialise and talk to each other, this whole concept of working and acting together has been abandoned. The third problem is that from historic times, people are used to being associated with a certain identity in terms of the place they live in. However due to the vast networking and world-wide computers the sense of special boundaries is slowly beginning to disappear.
Hence it can be rightly concluded that in this era of computerisation, it is important that we not only glorify and talk about the pros of information technology, but also look at the problems posed by it. Simply being optimistic about it will only lead us into a delusional world where we expect only good to happen. However since this is not the reality, we will not be prepared to face the consequences of the great changes that computerisation is bound to bring. The happy story that mythinformation provides us with is a hallucination that will lead us nowhere.
#12 by Anisha on March 14, 2013 - 8:51 PM
“Mythinformation” is not a word that is very obvious in its meaning. But this is the name of the sixth chapter of Langdon Winner’s book The Whale and the Reactor (1986), and as we read, we start to understand why he names the phenomenon of the computer revolution so. He singles out the very words “computer revolution” and compares it to the political revolutions that have taken place in history. He says that the basic questions that we ask of any political revolution should also apply to a computer revolution: “Is this a movement truly committed to social justice? Does it seek to uphold a valid ideal of human freedom? Does it aspire to a system of democratic rule?”(Pg. 99).
Unfortunately, no-one who ascribes the term “revolution” to the growth of computerization bothers him-/herself with such issues. Everyone is mindlessly regaled with the many impacts that computerization is having and happy forecasts of further benefits that it will have in every sphere of human life, and no-one knows or bothers to ponder critically on the ends that we are trying to achieve through computerized means. Even if we do try, it is mostly optimistic theories that promise a life of leisure and ease, prosperity and growth, and diversity and connectivity that surface. Like any revolution, it promises to “smash the hierarchical pyramid”(Pg. 104) and “revitalize the democratic process”(Pg. 105). All these beliefs and “almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communication systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living”(Pg. 105) are what the author calls “Myth-Information”: spreading and accepting the “information”/belief of a mythical utopia created by computerization.
The author believes that these beliefs, though rooted in truth, are unrealistic and exaggerated because there are numerous examples which contradict this theory. For example, the theory that computerization will create more jobs is correct, but it is actually low paying occupations such as janitors and waiters that are being created in plenty as computers snatch away the higher paying jobs. Also, the great “democratization-through-computerization” theory which is basically
“Information = knowledge = power = democracy”(Pg. 113)
is a load of nonsense as access to information does not necessarily mean the wisdom or knowledge of how to utilize it efficiently, having knowledge does not necessarily make one capable of taking action and gaining power, and having power (computing or otherwise) does not necessarily lead to a more democratic mindset or attitude. In fact, how the power actually distributes over classes only makes the rich richer (“large transnational business corporations through the systematic exploitation of efficiency, productivity and control made available by computer technology”), the powerful even more powerful (the military and intelligence, the bureaucracy, etc. through improved means of surveillance, data recording and weaponization) and the ordinary man more consumerist (Pg. 107).
The author is not denying that progress of the kind prophesied is possible; indeed it is very much reachable and desirable, but only through a concerted social effort to this end, and not by being solely passive users of new technology. Also, great caution must be exercised in three areas relating to social and political life: the unrestricted access and possible misuse of information in databanks about an individual, which might threaten his/her privacy, violate the sanctity of one’s personal life and curb the freedom to protest or rebel due to the threat of blackmail; the increasingly limited social interaction and declining community life of people in institutions such as banks, hospitals, offices, neighbourhoods, etc. due to the much more facile and efficient computer interface; and lastly, the reshaping of the political order and structure due to the ease of access and speed of action enabled by computer networks: politics no longer has the time to gain character, authority, meaning in the age of flexible commitments, global presence and lightning-fast decisions. When we acknowledge that a computer revolution is upon us, we must also concede that it needs “reflection, debate and public consensus”(Pg. 117) before important decisions are made; working with artificial intelligence requires caution from the hazards of an absent mind!
#13 by niharika12066 on March 14, 2013 - 8:51 PM
In the beginning of the article, the author compares the role of computers in society to uprisings led by revolutionaries against the government; and even though he is slightly sarcastic towards the expectations of a revolution in the 16th century, he still believes that the uprisings in the 16th century are how revolutions supposed to be, and not the so called computer revolution, microelectronics revolution or network revolution of the 21st century. Every new invention in any corner of our social lives is treated as a revolution. But this has become old now, and lost much of its charm.
To the public, computers are always shown in a happy light. Media aimed at the popular audiences focusses on the dazzling effect of computers on our lives. Computers do not seem to be subjected to the questions most ‘revolutions’ are subjected to. Even then, very occasionally is this happy story interrupted by people left unemployed in occupations undermined by automation. This is a tried and tested formula which is used to balance an otherwise completely content outlook on the effect of computers. Not just journalism, but some of the most respected scientists and socialists make claims about the revolution brought about by the computers. More serious studies on this topic are available, but they do not have an effect on the popular audience, unlike the exaggerated view of computers on life. As the editor at a New York publishing house said, ‘people want to know what’s new with computer technology. They don’t want to know what could go wrong.’ (pg. no. 101).
The metaphor of revolution applied only to seek attention, not to answers questions that would actually be associated with a revolution, such as the structure of the institutional authority that the revolution will try to create, or what systems of decision making, administration and law enforcement will be put to work, and so on. In the busy world of science, engineering and marketing, no one has the time to answer or think about these questions. People are busy pursuing their own ends, lost in the world of profit and loss.
In this fast-paced world, nobody has the time to think about the history they are creating with every step they take, people are so engrossed in trying to stay in touch with what’s new. As the writer says, ‘By and large the computer revolution is conspicuously silent about its own ends.’(pg. no. 102).
Computers, and any product of technology for that matter are viewed in a very ahistorical manner. There are no comparisons drawn from previous incidents in the history, which, I believe, the writer finds troublesome. He also observes that politics forms a crucial part of the message given by the computer revolution. There is a comparison drawn between industrial revolution and computer revolution, as the industrial age has now been replaced by the advent the age of computers. Material production has also been replaced by information services. Water and steam powered machines have been replaced by computers.
As prices decrease, technology becomes more accessible to all people-rich or poor. This will lead to a decrease in the gap between the rich and the poor, and will reform the society. Since it is believed that knowledge is power, the concept of a centralised rule will fade away eventually, aided by the computer serving as an equaliser, leading to the formation of a global village. Wealth, which was characterised by land, labour, capital etc. will now come to depend upon knowledge and information. This will lead to the creation of a near perfect world where jobs are replaced by machines, commuting time is almost completely removed, and opens up endless possibilities for self-discovery and improvement. There is no limitation to the extent to which knowledge can be applied to all spheres of life. It will change our lives in a way that was only imagined before. Friends and strangers will be united through the formation of a network nation, and it is hoped that knowledge will ultimately lead to equality.
Computers will erase the pyramid form of administration, where a few persons hold complete power and others act as subordinates, and instead make way for a horizontal structure, where one person has the same amount of power as the next. Hence, it generates a levelling effect and fulfils the dream of equality among all that was dreamt by several social reformers. Technology provides means for everyone to directly participate in democracy, and not be on the side-lines, the way democracy is supposed to be. As J.C.R. Licklider from MIT envisions, ‘the political process would essentially be a giant teleconference, and a campaign would be a months long series of communications among candidates, propagandists, commentators, political action groups an voters.'(pg. no. 105). Technology brings new depth to politics and will allow participation like never before. Here the writer reveals what his views are on mythinformation. He believes that it is the general and widespread belief that adaptation and easy access to technology will automatically produce a world better than the one we live in. people delusioned by other aspects of life are now turning to technology for salvation. New inventions always lead to the fanciful belief of an emerging new society. As the author said, ‘but even within the great tradition of optimistic technophlia, current dreams of a “computer age” stand out as exaggerated and unrealistic’(pg. no. 106).
#14 by Anchita Goel on March 14, 2013 - 8:51 PM
Langdon Winner, known for his work in philosophy, starts off the chapter “Mythinformation” of the book The Whale and The Reactor(1986) with an elaboration to the meaning of the term “revolution” and its relevance to the “so-called” “computer revolution”. Winner here expands the meaning of the term revolution – a movement with the goal of social justice, which becomes a means to an end (end being the human freedom) and eventually leading to democratic rule in society. Hence the revolution is a success so long as it is on the right track towards achieving the professed goals. Now he tries to connect this kind of approach of taking a critical perspective towards a revolution towards the much celebrated and exaggerated “computer revolution”. Langdon deplores the way media, books ,newspapers had been flooded with ideas of “computer revolution “ being our salvation , the expansion of the multi-million dollar computer and communication industry, impact of computers on every sphere of life, be it the professionals like doctors, lawyers, scientists or simple households using computers to “educate their children”. Critical of the manner in which these reports usually end Winner expresses “… there will be an obligatory sentence or two of criticism of the computer culture .. in an attempt to add balance to an otherwise totally sanguine outlook”(pg. 100).To show the intensity to which people are positive about the computers he states “People want to know what’s new with computer technology. They don’t want to know what could go wrong”(pg. 101). Winner calls these people computer “romantics”. Everyone uses computers for their own little selfish interests salesmen, corporates, businessmen using them for their own profit motives, programmers using it to feel the joy and satisfaction on having finished successfully a piece of code ( which I can associate myself completely with, being a student of CSE) with very little time and interest to ponder upon the “historical significance” of their activities. Assailing on the public declarations by influential people like Steven Jobs, Winner feels that they show no wisdom of political and social insight of the transformations they “so actively help to create”(pg. 102)Winner puts up an analogy between “water and steam-powered machines” of the Industrial Revolution and computers of “Information Revolution”. He puts forward a utopian form of society where due to decrease in the prices of various technologies, both rich and poor alike would be able to afford the services of the various information technologies and hence gradually the disparity between the privileged and the unprivileged ones would soon begin to disappear. Also the influence of the information technologies would be such that the notion of “knowledge is power” would actually be realised and the promise of a global village would actually be fulfilled. Explaining the role of technology in participatory democracy, Winner explains – via technological means people and their representatives can actually “enter into dialogue” with each other and hence form a common census which is very much the goal of participatory democracy. In short it would be “democracy of machines”. The belief that use of technology will alter social and political conditions in a way that is both desirable and inevitable is what Winner calls –mythinformation. So exaggerated are the repercussions of advent of technology in our lives that we have imagined ourselves soon living on a fancy utopian cloud and often forget to introspect as to whether there are other ways too to look at the matter. Winner argues that all are ideas of “information technology” leading to social equality or increased participatory democracy, are based on wrong assumptions. Instead of diminishing of differences between the oppressed and the oppressor, truth remains that only the wealthy people with some social standing are the only ones to exploit the services of information technology. Thus the very goal of “computer revolution” to bring in equality in the society is defeated. Hence it is not evident in any way that the “computer revolution” is shaping up institutions so as to pave way for human freedom while simultaneously controlling the concentration of power in just a few hands. The next assumption of the utopian society Winner fins faulty is that access to information implies gaining knowledge and thus act accordingly based on that knowledge. Here the term “knowledge” needs some elaboration-knowledge implies the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject which is derived from life experiences and not simply from installing networks for information. Another misconception is regarding democracy being a means to distribute information- this most certainly is not true. Democracy is not about who knows how much, but people being aware of their rights and able to act rightfully according to their rights when the time comes. The very fact that election rallies are still conducted face-to-face rather than just broadcasting on televisions, holds evidence to the fact that greater degree of participation in political matters is stimulated solely by introduction of “sophisticated information machines”(pg. 111),since the very of essence of democracy-“people’s willingness to act together in pursuit of their common ends” (pg. 111)- would be lost. What Winner presents here is no hatred towards information technology as such, he does understand the importance of technology in stock markets, weather conditions, military intelligence and other field, but poses an important question as to does technology really need to percolate into all aspects of our lives so that it starts posing as a “threat to privacy” to our very own lives. Does this phenomenon of us avoiding answering these questions reflect our absent-mindedness?
#15 by mukul12146 on March 14, 2013 - 8:51 PM
Mukul Gupta 2012146
Mythinformation by Langdon Winner
The author starts with describing what he think was the “revolution” in the late nineteenth century Europe and compares it with today’s on-going so called “IT revolution”. He rather sarcastically describes the things that drove and shaped a “revolution” in those days. This he relates to today’s IT revolution. He explores all the possible factors affecting a political revolution and how each of these things should be present in the so called computer revolution. But this is not the case as the definition of revolution has been morphed in this case and people and publications are content to describe the revolution by the “dazzling amounts of technical innovations and social effects”(p. 100). These sorts of revolutions are now a common thing and according to me and the author there have been numerous consumer products for which a “revolution” has taken place. Regular praises and complaints for computer are now common place.
I disagree with Winner’s views when he compares the effects of a political uprising with the one going on in computers. The producers and journalists don’t claim that a relevant social change will take place, only claim made is of a life made easier and it has got much easier. The revolution itself has been computerised, as can be seen from the recent uprisings in Egypt and Syria. But still, according to Winner, a social and political understanding regarding the revolution is expected from the “movers and shakers of the field” (p. 102). There is a shortage of wisdom regarding the social and political effects of computerisation and using technology in almost every field of work. According to him(sarcastically), as the prices of important technologies fall all social classes will be able to afford and use these technologies, thus leading to a removal of difference between social classes. This will lead to a transformation of the money market into one driven by knowledge. Even an upcoming computer game is based on this, with a title “everything is connected, connection is power” it shows how a monetary policy is changed to one depending on the advancement in communications and programming technologies, governance is based on technology(technocracy as mentioned by Feenberg in Questioning Technology). I have to disagree of Winner’s critical views as the boons coming from computerisation are much more than the apparent evils created by it. The above views are in his views “mythinformation”, “an almost religious conviction that an easy access to information…. will ease produce a better world”.
To explain his point of “mythinformation”, Winner illustrates how technology is exploited by the big, the rich and the powerful to their own ends. A multinational company only advertises outsourcing and globalisation to increase efficiency and thus maximise their profits, and not to further information exchange. Computer was not meant to be the salvation of human kind. A higher understanding of various social and political happenings can be gained but these are taken only as a side product of all the computerisation. He explains that time and again technological determinism becomes a principle in using technology whether it is the older fanaticism of housing and consumer goods or the latest of computers. A world connected to data banks can be used to abolish illiteracy and ignorance which are seen as social evils. But still a basic knowledge is still required to continue on the path of learning more knowledge, but this initial ability is missing from people. Knowledge in itself is moot unless it can be used, and the usage of knowledge requires skills which everyone may not have, it’s like knowing the internal combustion engine inside out but still lacking the skills to fix it. Another wrong assumption noticed by Winner is the claim that democracy is the distribution of information. The actual definition of democracy and the assumed one differ hugely as democracy is about the people not computers or information.
The biggish claims about the social effects of computers are rather untrue and there is a huge amount of reforms required to actually apply those claims to our lives.
#16 by Shikha Madaan on March 14, 2013 - 8:52 PM
Winner, through his book The Whale and the Reactor, discussed about some rare yet important topics regarding technology. He put his views forward regarding weather technology is a boon (as people mostly think) or a bane to the society. He mainly touched upon the philosophical and political aspects of technology and taking some examples from real life, he touched some points of technology which are usually neglected by the people looking at the various benefits and advantage relating to “technology”.
In his writing Mythinformation by Langdon Winner, he has further discussed technology and its impacts. He explains that how people’s apprehension regarding technological revolution is complete anti to the reality. Through this article, talks about “Information revolutions” .Information revolution basically concerns with the effect of computers and modern electronic inventions on us and our social lives.
Firstly, the author doesn’t put technology and these hi-tech inventions in bad light, it is just that he wants to touch every aspects of technology. It is actually an undeniable fact that technology has changed our living to a positive note. There was a time when telephones, computers, cars and other electrical stuff was just a dream but now these gadgets have surely made our lives easier. But easier doesn’t mean that we are left with nothing to do!
“You win one game, you get to play other. You win with this machine, you get to build the next”.With a new computer or a laptop model entering the market every second day with new improved features, it is obvious that these developments even effect people because of their dependency on these computers. Computers have become such an easier source of knowledge and information that people have become dependent on this machine for everything. This is obviously not a good sign in development of oneself as the people are restricted to limited theoretical knowledge and not practical knowledge.
A revolution is not something which is to be decided and executed in hurry without seeing to the overall outcome. For a successful revolution, it is necessary to have proper supervision of the matter. Winner wants to convey the point that we have become slaves to these computers and these machines has not just reformed us and our living but also our thinking. The topic which took our so much of time for understanding is now just a click away now. But surely we have stopped thinking due to this.
The companies are gaining huge profits from it but we are actually loosing many things to this development and this “computer revolution”. Thus, before we become happy about the fact that we have developed in many ways, we should also think of what we have lost.
Even if we say that computers and recent technology is a boon to us and our society, then can we say that this boon is accessible to everyone? It is not a fair game that ifone contestant has access to computer and the other does not because of financial reasons. Thus it can be said that equality is also other aspect which proves that technology is no just a boon as it is not possible that everyone has access to computers.
The other case which has been discussed here is the relation between “information revolution” and democracy. Technology is also used nowadays to make people aware of which party they have to vote in the elections and these are also used as means of promotion. But this information is not actually approachable to everyone and even if it is approachable to a class of society then it is of high probability that the information we receive is altered. So, Winner wants that there should be way out so that the masses get the original information and not the metamorphosed information. He wants to say that if the party selected by them on the basis of available information gets selected then they rejoice and be happy but they forget that the information which made them choose their respected candidate can be changed partially or even totally.
He wants to say that use of technology is good and the changes which this “computer revolution” has brought to our society are also good but every change has it’s pros and cons. We cannot deny the disadvantages of the same. Giving evidences from the real life he wants to convey that we should use technology judicially and let it remain a service to us and not let it become our need.
#17 by vedanshi on March 14, 2013 - 8:53 PM
In the book The Whale and the Reactor, Winner Langdon talks about the greatest myth related to technology in Myth information. He first elaborates as to how people have started terming the whirlwind of development that technology has undergone as a revolution. People are proclaiming the said revolution in magazines, articles and any written material on technology. He talks about how this “revolution” is being seen in an extremely positive light where any contradictory statement is hardly made. There is such a happy acclamation of technology that people have actually started believing that it will be the vanquisher of all evils.
Before talking about the myth linking technology and politics, Langdon again touches on the fact that we are going through technological somnambulism. He gives a wonderful example about this. Cromwell, Jefferson, Lenin and Mao were great people but also those, “who could reflect upon the world historical events that they had played a role”. But there are others in today’s world of technology, which do not even realise the full extent of how they have changed history.
Langdon then goes on to talk about how there is a myth going on about technology being able to increase the local participation in the decision making process and the fact that the outburst of information through the internet will be highly effective in spreading awareness about democracy and other important social issues. The author gives the example of two kinds of protests that were arranged in this regard.
Even though people are starting to realise that technology might not be the answer to any and every problem that on comes across, they still believe the fact that democracy can be further achieved using technology and information. However, Langdon clears the air about that being the biggest misconception. He says that the common belief that information will somehow strengthen democracy and encourage people to take part in the decision making process is a great misunderstanding in itself. Excess of information sometimes has an opposite effect. When there were no televisions or internet to let us know of every small change in the current campaign, people used to actually go out, participate in rallies and attend speeches. The advent of free and large information has led to an even lower response towards politics. No one cares to go to rallies or see debates anymore as all the information is available to them readily on the internet.
It is also widely known that literacy, knowledge and well informed minds constitute unquestionable social goods. So whenever someone talks about technology or the internet, people take to be synonymous with the above stated qualities. But this is not the case. Langdon tells us (on page 109) how having access to huge amounts of data and information may not necessarily make us literate or knowledgeable. A person becomes “functionally literate” only when he/she knows the practical application of whatever information he/she has which is sadly not the case in today’s world. The U.S. Army states that they drop 75% of their applications because the applicants do not know how to read a manual. That is a sad but true example of how even unimaginable amounts of information at our behest does not teach us as basic a thing as how to read a manual. The situation is such that there is now a threat that the vast amounts of information available might soon become unintelligible to us!
Langdon also says that people tend to find their identities within “spatial and temporal limits”. That is they find their identities in their own time and space. The introduction of a “revolutionary” event just disturbs this. The advances in micro-electronics resulted in dissolving of these limits due to which the social and political formats were threatened.
But other than what has been stated above, Langdon says that societies create new patterns of behaviour, new sensibilities and a new sense of political integrity. By proclaiming it as a “revolution”, we must reflect on how it affects us as well as our political integrity. But how it will take shape or the path that it takes, depends upon private persons and artificial intelligence, it is currently directed by the “absent mind”.
#18 by Shagun Beniwal on March 14, 2013 - 8:53 PM
Chapter 6 : Mythinformation
Whale and the Reactor by Langdon Winner, 1986.
(Page 98- 117)
The world has witnessed numerous revolutions since the time man tasted power, it all started with the revolution of rights against the monarch king continued forward to the Industrial and the Green revolution and today it is the revolution of “organizing and processing of information and knowledge”, words of a known sociologist [pg 98]. The author argues that linking of computer and the society needs to be analysed on a much larger platform which also includes the analysis and comparison of the disruptions brought by the political revolutions in the past and to the present day changes we see happening around the computer systems. The author puts forward some questions like “what structure of institutional authority the revolution will create? Will there be free and open elections? And so on” [pg 100], which he believes would help a person to analyse whether the revolution actually fulfilled its cause or was just a poor and undirected movement. Applying these questions on the revolution of information gives us a different picture as the media, articles and the books are targeting only a popular audience and are just writing about the happy side telling about the technological advancements and the support computers are providing. Occasionally some of the negative sides of the computer revolution are also printed in the media to balance the positive side but the people pay much less attention to the negative side as the positive side is a much happy story to be a part off. The author quotes the words of one of the members of Data General’s Eagle computer project, “You win a pinball game and you get to play another, similarly you win with this machine and you get to build the next one” [pg 102], the entire revolution continues without being interfered as the momentum goes on increasing by every new goal achieved. The author argues “We are moving into an age characterized by an overwhelming dominance of electronic information systems in all areas of human practice” [pg 102], s/he tries to make the readers see a different side where the computers are seen as an embedded part of the society and existence without them is becoming as hard as it is to exist without air, water and food.
To highlight how deep the impact of computers is, the author quotes “What water and steam engines were to the industrial age, computers will be to the era now dawning” [pg 103]. But above all there is a “hope” that as technology becomes less and less expensive and more and more convenient, all the people of the world will be using the same technology irrespective of the social class or the amount of money they have. It’s estimated that this widespread of technology will equalise all differences prevailing on the basis of caste, gender and creed in the present day society. The indulgence of computers is no longer seen as the advancement of technology but is seen as a new culture making its space in the existing society. This basically is because:
1. There are limits to growth in every field but there are no limits to growth in the field of telecommunication and electronic technology.
2. Computer based communication offers a more flexible, cheaper and convenient way to socialize and work.
3. Communication becomes much easier and breaks the geographical barriers and connects people of different linguistic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
4. It helps people to identify and link themselves with the people sharing the same or common interests and thus uniting them together and have a stronger stand for their views and demands.
The above points will lead to changes like “every person will be equally powerful to all the other nodes of the network”, “the disadvantaged and the neglected groups will have a chance of becoming a part of the main stream” and “information will become the new wealth of the society” [pg 104].
Computing has always expected to generate freedom, democracy and justice. But people are bereft of information which is knowledge; this knowledge is helpful in attaining power and thus enhancing democracy and equalizing social power, but this education fails when highly educated people are not able to take effective decisions based upon their knowledge. For instance, “US army rejects the young men and women who simply can’t read the military manuals” [pg 109].There is no doubt that these recruits have a great deal of information about the world but what makes them functionally illiterate is they have not learnt how to translate the information into practical skills. Everybody knows “knowledge is power” and it’s even true that when knowledge applied in a particular situation can help one act effectively and which indirectly enhances one’s power. Another misconception among the computer enthusiasts is the belief that democracy is about distributing and allotting information but according to great human minds the key to democracy is people having access to information, which certainly proves that democratic public ought to be open minded and well informed, this simply is not reasonable to assume that enthusiasm for political activity will be solely stimulated by the introduction of sophisticated information. The formula of information which helps in gaining knowledge and thus power which leads to democracy lacks real substance. Modern organizations continually face a flood of data that threatens to become unintelligible to them. A serious challenge in the modern organization’s world is the time consuming work but sometimes useful for very short period, for example data stock, market prices, airline traffic, weather conditions, public poll opinion results. Nowadays people are handling many of their daily activities like mail, banking, shopping etc, it becomes technically feasible to monitor these activities by computing. Thus summing up, computerization is and was involved in modern-social and technological history respectively. By following a step by step instrumental improvement process, societies create new institutions, new behaviour patterns, new sensibilities and new contexts to exercise power. We call these changes as revolution which requires strong public action to ensure desirable outcomes.
#19 by Sarthak Ahuja on March 14, 2013 - 8:54 PM
(Chapter 6: Mythinformation, The Whale and the Reactor by Langdon Winner 1986)
What is a revolution? Is it such a common thing that every now and then we come across news about a new or imminent revolution? Do these revolutions actually revolutionise our lives or is this just a myth with only little reality? These are some of the few questions Langdon Winner, a prominent writer and critic answers in this article ‘Mythinformation’ using some very convincing points and examples. Being this my second reading by Winner I have an impression that he has remained critical about technology and has always questioned its symbiotic growth.
His approach in this reading is pretty direct: He at first is all in praise for technology and later proves all our impressions of technology as misconceptions. “This revolution in the organisation and processing of information and knowledge, in which the computer plays a central role, has its context the development of what I have called the post-industrial society.” (Page 99 paragraph 1) This is how the ‘computer revolution’ is described by sociologists of the society. According to winner many exaggerated claims are made about computers and society and in this article he tries to show its true side by comparing the characteristics of this pseudo-revolution with the ones in an actual revolution. He discards all claims made about the expectations of this revolution.
The kind of institutional structure that results out of a revolution is one of our concerns. In a typical revolution the public is provided answers to all questions regarding the outcome of the revolution. But it is not so in the case of the computer revolution. Books and media glorify this new advancement and the people except these theories as if they have been approved by almighty himself. From a lay man’s point of view the computer revolution can be summed up in the following steps: widespread impact and acceptance, testimonials regarding its success, some reports about people being robbed off their jobs due to this influx of technology and finally one or two articles by people like Winner against the revolution itself. Are these steps really enough to study the revolution? I am in agreement with Winner that a lot more questions need to be addressed before tagging these events as revolution. “People want to know what’s new with computer technology. They don’t want to know what could go wrong.” (Page 101 paragraph 1) Winner even gets sarcastic saying that mundane things like detergent powder will also be considered a revolution in the same way computer innovations are called one.
Considering ‘revolution’ as only a major impactful welcomed change in the society leaves many stones unturned. Questions regarding its political aspect, social ideals and effects on social classes need to be addressed. At this point Winner points out that the element of human indulgence in promoting this transformation unknowingly is the reason for the sheer ignorance of the historical significance of its own activity. Ellul’s definition of technique (Technique) and Winner’s idea of technological somnambulism together describe this scenario perfectly. With us human’s becoming money-minded and selfish, we actually use this new computer technology to meet only ‘our own’ ends. As Winner described in the first chapter (Technology as form of life) we have sleepwalked through this process of becoming increasingly obsessed and dependent on this technology eventually making it a valid “form of life” without which today’s society may collapse. The contemporary innovators are too indulged in preparing the new so called ‘revolution’ that they fail to develop a political and social insight of these ‘revolutions.’ Steve Jobs is one of the people Winner points towards in this case. Even after the era of Steve Jobs, Apple continues the legacy of bringing out a set of new ‘revolutionary’ products every year and earns loads of profits. They claim to be making the world a smaller and better place to live but seldom does one notice the 200,000 underpaid workers when one buys its products. What kind of a revolution is this? ”By and large the computer revolution is conspicuously silent about its own ends.” (Page 102 paragraph 2) They are primarily focused on making profits out of the mock revolution instead of actually being the reason for one. Marx’s view of the factory system can be still witnessed in the society where technological capitalism is carried out and communist arrangement still seems absent.
The concern Winner shares in his writing is that this revolution is very misleading. The claim is that this computer revolution will bring about a number of positive changes. Apart from speeding up all our activities and giving us instantaneous access to information, the reducing cost of this technology allows easy access to all. This reduces the existing differences between rich and poor. As Winner cites “knowledge is power”; electronic information spreads this knowledge everywhere around. This new age technology is supposed to add up to a new era. This theory suggests that, the computer revolution will solve many political problems we face today as by providing equal access to the technology to each and every one regardless of their position in the hierarchy pyramid; it restructures the pyramid into a horizontal structure. Also with easy access to this new form of technology the democratic dream can be realized as more and more people can participate in discussions easily forming a consensus.
At this stage Winner introduces his idea of ‘Mythinformation’: “the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living.” (Page 105 paragraph 3) I completely agree with the point Winner states that we live claim to live in a dream “computer age”, though in reality we are far from it. Though the coming of machines and robots solves the problem of never ending demands, at the same time it displaces many workers from their jobs. This leads to their employment in less lucrative areas like fast-food waiters and janitors. This can again be witnessed at Apple: more than two hundred thousand workers working for less than a 100$ a month working for one of the biggest innovative technology firms.(wiki) Majority of the population consisting of business corporations (who benefit from the enlarged global reach which allows them to exploit conditions and technology to its limits), bureaucracies and intelligence agencies (make their processes more effective) and finally the common man/woman (enjoys new services) benefit from the revolution. But as expected, powerful and previously rich people in order to retain control establish monopoly and control over the new computerized methods justifying society’s conservative character. We live in the illusion that a better society will be established if we keep on investing in the growth of computer devices but the truth is that we must alongside the investments put appropriate effort as well in order to implement the claims made by the computer industry. If significant effort is put, the dream of computer revolution giving birth to social and political equality looks pretty much realistic to me. This sarcastic line by Winner on computer romantics sums up my thoughts “As long as the economy is growing and the machinery in good working order, the rest will take care of itself.” (Page 108 Paragraph 2) It clearly shows the casual attitude of the people.
In the course of completely disproving the theories made my computer enthusiasts, Winner counters and disproves all their assumptions:
1. People are bereft of information: Though it appears that possible that if people have better access to all the information in the world it would be a progressive step but this idea has a major flaw. It is not the access to the information that is needed by the people it is the ability to translate the knowledge and use it in the practical world. People need to be educated along with being experienced and trained.
2. Information is knowledge: Apart from providing easy access to information, making people capable of understanding it is equally important. A well-structured system converts information into knowledge.
3. Knowledge is power: “At times knowledge brings merely an enlightened impotence or paralysis. One may know exactly what to do but lack the wherewithal to act.” Knowledge is only one of the sources of power, not the only one. Many historic greats like Einstein, Galileo have gone against conventional norms and prevailing knowledge to reach scale new heights of scientific discovery.
4. Increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power: The conservative nature of the society prevails even with the influx of computerisation. The computer technology with certain sections like army will always remain more advanced than the one with a common citizen. The lower cost makes the technology accessible to all but the people in power and the ones who hold monopoly of the technology always have the upper hand.
Langdon discusses an important aspect of this revolution i.e. replacement of public gatherings and events with passive monitoring of news via Television. This scenario is witnessed every single day when we remain glued to the television screen, grasping every piece of information the godly machine gives us. This makes us complacent and that willingness to work disappears. Being a part of the news is more important than just watching it. We should break the shackles of social media and engage in more social and human conversation where people gather, discuss, plan and execute steps in pursuit of their goals. This is what a democracy should look like. The current trend in social media is seeking ‘likes’ on statuses regarding progress and not act towards it. Langdon elaborates his point by citing the example of Ground Zero and Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign where one group attracts more attention due to their public interaction via parties and campaigns while the other lost heat towards the end pursuing the modern mass media approach. Winner concludes this section of the text proving the formula “information=knowledge=power=democracy” wrong.
It is an undeniable fact that in today’s world technology, data and information have become essential for the functioning of almost all domains including stock market and military. It has become a perishable commodity. “Once again those who push the plow are told they ride a golden chariot.” (page 115 paragraph 1) People are convinced that the side-effects (de-skilling, unemployment) of adapting the new technology are a compromise they must make to survive in this “computer age.”
Towards the end Winner lists 3 areas of concern where he feels attention must be paid to avoid fatal consequences due to the computer revolution. The first one being “threat to privacy”: With everything becoming digitalised we fail to see the dependency we are developing towards computers. They contain all our information of subsistence which needs to be protected from misuse. The second one is “alter conditions of human sociability”: computerized environment has eliminated the places of social interaction by making available all valuable services easy to access just by turning on a computer screen. Many activities like society meetings, city gatherings have become obsolete with time. Another complementary effect of this is the increased effect of news and media on people. The most obtuse news that comes on our television sets influences us greatly and becomes the topic of our discussions. The third and most important point is “structural recast of political order”: The earlier system of kingdoms and cities is being challenged with the influx of computerised modern communication and transportation services. MNC’s co-ordinate the subordinate parts of the company across the world with utmost ease. We often hear that so or so major organization of company shifted its headquarters. It seems like a lot of work but such changes occur in a jiffy with the gift of technology. Our neighbourhood is flooded with these companies.” Nations are forced to swallow their pride and negotiate for favours.”
Winner in this article concludes saying that calling such technological changes as “revolution” we expect that significant difference will be made in the society but in the end the occasions for public debate become rare and the power continues to rest in a few hands. We are still to realise this fact as we are sleepwalking through this process of development. It’s high time we wake up and realise the truth.
#20 by prabhjot12072 on March 14, 2013 - 8:55 PM
By Langdon Winner
Winner addresses the idea that increased ability to access share and receive information through ever advancing computer technologies might lead to revolution. Computer revolution is haunting the modern society. Books, magazine, articles and news media specials declare that this upheaval is underway that nothing will escape unchanged . Of course modern society has long since gotten used to “revolutions” in laundry detergents, underarm, deodorants, floor, waxes and other consumer products. Exhausted in Madison Avenue advertising slogans, the image has last much of its punch. Those who employ it to talk about computers and society, however appear to be making much more serious claims.
Winner examines the meanings and post instances of revolution and compares them to computer enthusiast’s assumption that people are benefit of knowledge. Information is knowledge, knowledge is power and increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Through his comparison winner argues that this assumption might be true on a very broad scale, to achieve such results would require active participation. He mainly focuses on these points such as networking people into a system and providing them with vast amount of information will reduce illiteracy. His belief is that information itself in the context of computer enthusiasts is related to data manipulation to assist in large organizations within society.
We are according to a fairly standard account moving into an age characterized by the overwhelming dominance of electronic information system in all areas of human practice. Industrial society, which depended upon material production for its livelihood is rapidly being supplanted by a society of information services that will enable people to satisfy their economic and social needs. As these technologies become less expensive and more and more convenient all people will not be able to use such technologies creating a difference between rich and poor.
The main theme of essay is that most computer enthusiasts claiming revolution are doing so absent mindedly putting their faith in the power of computer rather than taking the necessary actions to solidify the positive long lasting effects that the use of computer technology could have.
#21 by Shuktika Jain on March 14, 2013 - 8:55 PM
Langdon Winner, in this reading, talks about the idea that increased access of information will result in a revolution which will promise an age of equality. People believe that such a revolution will take place but it is just a misconception. There have been revolutions in the past to “proclaim the republic”. Unfortunately, these revolutions did not give the desired results and the governments recovered control. Today, it is believed that we are undergoing what is called the “computer revolution”. Computers play an important role in the development of the society after the Industrial Revolution.
The author explains how “revolution” is being called a metaphor by comparing the disturbances seen in political revolutions with the changes around “computer information systems”. Firstly, the fundamental goals of a revolution are studied and questions like “whether it will bring social justice and democratic rule” come up. The answers to such questions will tell us if the revolution is worthy of our involvement or not. The next thing we do is ask about the “means” chosen by the revolutionaries to follow their goals. Then, if the revolutionaries succeed, we need to ask about the changes that will take place and whether the said goals have been achieved or not.
We expect such questions to be answered by the ones who use the metaphor “revolution” to celebrate the advance of computerization. Instead, what we find in books, magazines etc. is generally “a happy story” about how personal computers are helping the common people. They contain information about new computer products and uses of computers. Not much criticism is found about computers. But, all this is not just because of hasty journalism. People related to computerization too have tried looking at both the positive and negative aspects but the problem is with the common people. They want to know about the latest thing and not about the faults.
According to the author, computer enthusiasts use the metaphor “revolution” for just one purpose, which is to propose a huge change which people should see as good news. When we hear the word “revolution”, we usually think it would involve something related to politics, social ideals and different social classes. But, this is not the case in computer revolution as the people involved with it are usually busy pursuing their own ends like profits and nice salaries. They just “struggle to keep current”. Thus, we cannot see social and political perception in computer revolution.
Later, Winner thinks that he had taken the wrong application of the metaphor and that computer revolution does not have any historical viewpoint. Computer enthusiasts are not concerned about politics and they consider it to be an important but “thoughtless part of their message”. We are moving into an era where electronic information systems will dominate all the areas of human life and it is replacing industrial society. Huge amount of information can be accessed with the help of the expanding technical capacities. The differences between rich and poor will vanish and we will have a more democratic society. Personal computers will serve as the “great equalizer”. Knowledge will result in power as electronic information will spread knowledge and thus, political influence will also be shared widely.
People believe that the wealth of nations will depend upon information, knowledge and intelligence. Due to the enormous exchange of information and social communications, political society will remove the ills. Inequalities will fade away and everybody will have equal power. Wealth would be dominated by information and as Winner quotes a book, “The computer will smash the pyramid and we can restructure our institutions horizontally” (pg. 104). People have always wanted a democratic society which can now be achieved with millions of people being a part of it. All the computers linked together will become a giant network. Information will flow “through a good console through a good network to a good computer”. All such beliefs form “mythinformation”, the belief that widespread adoption of computerization will result in a better world for humans. As Winner said, “The current dreams of a computer age stand out as exaggerated and unrealistic.” (pg. 106)
People believe that the computer revolution will be “the great equalizer”. With the increasing number of jobs in computer software, people of lower classes will also be able to get a job in the “information society”. Computer enthusiasts fail to see that the ones who will benefit most will be large business corporations and rich people. Thus, we do not see any equality or democratization. Like in any revolution, computers will be adapted by the powerful groups to maintain control. For the revolution to become “the great equalizer” the determined efforts of the whole society is required but instead, the computer idealists believe that the good society will be a consequence of computerization.
According to Winner, there are four main assumptions of the computer enthusiasts : “(1) people lack information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power.” In reality, these assumptions are not correct. (1) It is not really true that people lack supply of information. There is a lot of information available in the world. (2) Information is present but an ability to gain knowledge is required. People need to be educated well enough to expand their knowledge. (3) Knowledge may not necessarily mean power. History shows us that those who had knowledge were not always the people in powerful positions. (4) Increasing access to information does not result in democracy, but rather interaction among the people does. People may have access to information, but if they do not take part, then democracy cannot be achieved.
In modern democracies too, not much citizen participation is noticed. Thus, we cannot assume that introduction of information machines will make people interested in politics. We cannot say that we are a part of democracy by just logging onto our computer, receiving latest information and sending its response. The author gives a nice example of the international nuclear arms race to illustrate that direct contact with people is more effective than through televisions, radio etc. I agree with Winner that the formula “information = knowledge = power = democracy” is not correct and the expectations of the computer enthusiasts is nothing more than idle fantasy.
Mythinformation has become an “expressive contemporary ideology” for the people who are related to computer systems. Computerization is believed to be necessary and it is aspired. Information is believed to bring competition. We have huge amount of information available and just the amount forms a challenge but with the help of computers, we are able to overcome this difficulty due to their speed. Information is a “perishable commodity” as it becomes old after sometime. Thus, we need to keep up with information and computers and communication devices help us in doing so. “The efficient management of information” is itself a great task. People are made to believe that the burdens of the information era are worth bearing. As Winner said, it is as if “those who push the plow are told they ride a golden chariot”.
There are three main concerns about computers and politics. Firstly, here is a “threat to privacy” and it can affect public freedoms. Thus, we need to be careful with computers. People find inactiveness to be the safest and thus, they avoid activities that represented political liberty. Another concern is that a fully computerized world will result in a change in the social behaviour. Face-to face contact between individuals and organized power will be lost. The last concern is that the “basic structures of political order will be recast”. Developments have resulted in the destruction of the spatial and time-based limits which might result in a change in social and political behaviour.
Computerization has helped organizations in managing their activities effectively across the world. In the past, corporations had to become “good neighbours” but now they need not because organizations are “everywhere and nowhere”. Everyone is forced to accept the corporations and negotiate for favours. These corporations are thus seen changing the political authority. Computer enthusiasts blindly believe that democracy will be achieved because of computerization. The truth is, we need to look into the matter more carefully and reflect upon it. People believe that “the computer revolution” will be guided by wonders in artificial intelligence but as Winner says in the end, currently “the computer revolution” is being influenced by “the absent mind”.
#22 by Suraj Rana on March 14, 2013 - 8:55 PM
Myth-Information by Langdon Winner
In 2010 the IT giant Google was locked in a legal battle with the Chinese legislation pertaining to Google’s refusal to abide by Chinese restriction policies. Eventually the company took a stand and asked the Chinese to simply ban them if their respective ideologies couldn’t mesh together. Regardless of China’s decision, Google stated that they would not deviate from their company’s mission which is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. This was the first time a prominent multinational was taking a public stand against the restrictive policies of a nation. However this article isn’t about Google’s dedication to its users (more on that later). I’m only trying to draw attention to the influence and power that Google wields today. This is a company that was started by two geeks in a garage that today has an annual turnover of $ 50 billion. It wields enough influence that it can challenge and guide government policies and has a budget that rivals the GDP of a medium sized nation. Google isn’t based in particular region or under the control of a particular government, it encompasses the entire digital world. Langdon in his chapter Mythinformation made a prediction that described a similar future. He postulated that computerization of the society will not be necessarily be beneficial for the people, as predicted by many enthusiasts of his time, but rather to the benefit of the corporations and other organizations tactically positioned to reap its benefits. Langdon discussed this and many other issues in Mythinformation. Before going further it would be wise to note that this chapter Mythinformation was published in 1986, almost 3 decades prior. Hence we have an excellent opportunity to critically analyze and check the validity of Langdon’s (and his peers) proposed prediction related to the computerization of society
Essentially Langdon has raised the same doubts that were raised by Jeffrey Sconce in Tulip Theory, albeit he is more focused on the IT sector. Langdon too points out the rampant speculation amongst the enthusiasts pertaining to the potential of computers. The computer fan boys call our decade the dawn of a new age where information is freely accessible and social and political structures are being rewritten by computers. They believe that computers will not only improve our work efficiency but also have a direct effect on social issues leading to an enlightened society. Langdon stands against idea of considering influx of computers in our life a “revolution”. He has offered many valid arguments to back his claim. A revolution in its true sense is a seismic event that shakes up the existing social structures and aims to set up new policies beneficial for the people. It has set goals and supposedly moral beliefs to guide it. Under the microscope the computer revolution falls short of this definition. It has no set goals, no valid social or political aim, or even a guiding force behind it. The word “revolution” is used lightly by the scholars to simply signify the drastic changes brought into our lives by computers. But if one was to take these claims literally and study the computer revolution in the same light as other social revolutions then he or she must be able to obtain answers to a few important questions; will there be a change in the power distribution as a result of this revolution and if so, in what direction? Will this revolution promote democracy or other social formats? What new social divide could arise from this revolution? Answers to these questions and others are essential considering the wide influence that the IT sector casts on us.
The computer revolution isn’t focused on social and political upheaval. Rather social change is a side- effect of the revolution. The promoters of the technology are currently focused on worldwide distribution and acceptance of computer technology. If knowledge is power then the belief goes that distribution of computers will give everyone access to a console to receive this knowledge and hence bring about social equality. This and other claims wither true or not all share the common belief that integration of computer by itself will act as a catalyst for social events that will cure society of its many evils. This irrational belief much resembles the one placed by people in industrialization of the 18th and 19th century. As people lost faith in the industrial movement they turned to the newest trend, computerization. This unquestioned belief in technological determinism is referred to as Mythinformation by the author. These past few years the world has become completely enthralled with computers. With the introduction of laptops, and then smartphones, tablets, iPod and more, the population is completely obsessed with the hottest gadgets to hit the shelf. All our waking time is spent on these gadgets. Tweets throughout the day, hourly Facebook updates (or even more frequently), watching movies, playing video games, shopping online; hell almost every social and work related activity can and is being carried out thru computers. Of course there are direct consequences of this integration of computers but are they the ones that were preached by the optimists decades ago? The following are a few claims made by Langdon’s peers and my thoughts on them:
“The electronic revolution will not do away with work, but it does hold out some promises: Most boring jobs can be done by machines; lengthy commuting can be avoided; we can have enough leisure to follow interesting pursuits outside our work; environmental destruction can be avoided; the opportunities for personal creativity will be unlimited.”–While most redundant jobs have indeed been taken over by computers this has not led to plethora of leisure time for humans. Rather one sees that the work day has extended indefinitely as one in now connected to the office 27×7. Even worse millions of humans are being replaced by computers as the machines become smarter and more capable. The environment hasn’t been saved by IT Industry, rather the increased manufacturing of computing devices puts even more pressure on the planet’s resources. As both the service and production industries become more and more complex in their functioning, one is forced to rely on computers to complete any task, killing the natural creativity of workers.
“Computer-based communications can be used to make human lives richer and freer, by enabling persons to have access to vast stores of information, other “human resources,” and opportunities for work and socializing on a more flexible, cheaper and convenient basis than ever before”—This has a ring of truth to it. Computer based communication and business models are the norm in today’s time. Websites like amazon, eBay, flipkart, olx etc. provide business opportunities by means of a computer. Social sites like Facebook allow flexible social interactions (wither meaningful or not is a separate topic). Corporations have their different departments spread across continents. This business model allows them to keep costs low and as we saw in Google’s case makes them even more sovereign.
Apart from these there were the general claim that Information age would shake the dynamics of power. While this is true, this change is actually in favor of corporations and powerful organizations, not the common man. Software and hardware companies hold a monopoly on technology and its applications. Corporations like Google and Microsoft have direct access to the consumer’s digital activity. They constantly record our digital trail so as to fine-tune their offered services to the tastes of the PC user, but what if they started misusing this data? As an example consider the recent fiasco concerning the online photo sharing portal ‘Instagram’. Recently the company declared that it has every right to sell all photos uploaded by their users to anyone they wish without paying the owner a single dime. These are private moments of your life that most would only share with their friends and family, but now Instagram has the right to sell your personal photos to the higher bidder without even informing you. So wherein all this do we see the ideals of democracy being promoted? Instead of sharing power this new age seems to place it in the hands of groups that are motivated by greed and have the means to exploit you legally. Lasting peace and balance in the society is the result of will of the people to move forward and take charge; it can’t be a happy accident from the rise of Apple!
The concept of Mythinformation stems from the ago old wisdom: “Knowledge is power”, which I consider mostly irrelevant in modern time. If the statement was true then the world would be ruled by PhDs, engineers and other experts, not wizened old politician with education qualification of a 5th grader. “Power is power” and while the computer revolution does enable rise of one’s social standing, it more often works to the benefit of those already seated in power. Mere availability of knowledge doesn’t permit one to act on it. It’s clear that the government believes that promotion of knowledge through electronic means will somehow promote democracy. 2 years ago they unveiled Aakash, the cheapest tablet, aimed at providing quality education to students but how exactly does handing touch screen devices to children help them study? If its knowledge they seek then they can receive it through conventional means. At this point I would like to interject that not all digital movements are useless or have ulterior motives. In his chapter Langdon talked about the effectiveness of social movement spread by digital means vs. one carried by more conventional methods (public rally, pamphlets etc.). Langdon wrote that the traditional movement was more successful, however, I believe that to be an outdated and isolated case. In today’s time in our country it’s not possible to communicate with the entire population thru traditional means. Most social movements we see are first strengthened by online awareness.
With the rise in popularity of computers we see a growing trend of their use in every single activity. The rising need of computers in business and education system is easily explained. Our modern world is built on valid data. Information is the key and all organizations strive to assimilate and analyze data for their benefit. Stock exchange, weather info, in this scenario computers with their number crunching ability are a godsend. But why do we have to utilize computers in traditional activities like cooking or housekeeping? Individuals who have no need of computers are encourage and/or forced to utilize them. In every classified add you see the sentence: “Must have basic working knowledge of computers.” Why do people who for so long were doing their jobs effectively all these years suddenly need a computer so badly? This is growing trend that has no expected benefit.
As Langdon pointed out in his earlier reading humans haven’t realized how much their lives are affected by machines; something he referred to as ‘Technological Somnambulism’. Computers have drastically altered our social lives. Today we more connected than ever but never have we been so alone. People spend hours conversing with their Facebook friends but don’t have time to spend face-to-face with their loved ones. No need to engage in unnecessary social contact, we have internet for that now. And if you do end up in a social situation, you can just ignore others completely and play angry birds on your iPhone. Social communication is a rare skill today with youngster preferring virtual communication over face to face. To quote my communication skill teacher from the first semester: “Your actual spoken words only constitute about 30 % of your conversation. The rest is facial expression, tone and body language.” Things that are not so easily expressed on the Gmail chat window (although the emoticons do help : )). The author also talks about how geographical limits no longer apply to individuals and companies. While I believe that he’s completely wrong to think that the digital world somehow changes our ethnicity I have to agree that corporations today do enjoy an unrivalled sovereignty. These companies are spread across nations while not being under control of any government. There are many cases of corporation intruding in public affairs (e.g. Bolivia water wars) as the companies are no longer dependent on the political favor of a given nation. And then there is matter of one’s own privacy, which is increasingly being violated, not just by corporations but by our very own government. As we spend more and more of our life online it becomes much easier for the government to act as a big brother, watching our every move. They know what we google, what we watch and read, what our political leaning is; cataloging every aspect of our life. It’s done supposedly to protect us but when I see countries like China where citizens can’t even google the word ‘freedom’, I feel a shiver down my spine. The machines that critics presumed would promote democracy and freedom seems to impose even more restrictions on us than ever before.
#23 by Shubham Singh on March 14, 2013 - 8:56 PM
Mythinformation by Langdon Winner talks about the Information and Technological Revolution. Since it’s inception in 19th century till today, IT industry has brought a lot of transformations in the world and our lives. It’s influence could be seen in almost each and every field, domestic, corporate, education, medical and military. Everyone talks about going “digital” now-a-days. There used to be a time when everybody used a landline phone to call relatives and friends, there was no wireless connectivity, and after 2-3 years you could see a mobile phone in everyone’s hand while talking to or sending texts to their loved ones, while on the move. Since the introduction of computer, Digital Age is regarded as a milestone in the process of human development and progress. And the IT revolution is still an on-going process, new technologies come everyday, and we don’t know it’s final outcome yet.
The author starts by describing about the events of a revolution from the past experience. Generally, a revolution is motivated a person or a group having different ideas from the prevailing ones, and promise that implementation of their new ideas would result in a better future, and when the conflict can not be sorted out, it leads to the event of protests, which creates an absolute chaos, and depending on the result the situation changes. And, the author tries to relate this phenomenon with what happened after the introduction of computers. We all know what computers are capable of and how they have influenced the world around us. Computers are believed of some kind of angelic products that can make “human lives richer and freer” and ”a rich diversity of subcultures will be fostered by computer based communications systems”(pg 104 ). Computers lovers say that computers would help in bringing political and cultural stability in the society, and would also help in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.
As author says, these computer romantics lay their foundation of computers, being a reforming technology which will make our lives comfortable and happy, by stating a theory that people are deprived of information, and information is knowledge, and knowledge is power, and computers, through their wide network can avail information in any part of the world, thereby increasing access to information, which will in turn enhance democracy and equalize social power. But, the author presents his views on the contrary, he mentions the fact that raw facts and information are of no use of people, filling up their minds with such facts won’t make them wiser. Education only would inculcate the desired wisdom and sense which can enable them to use the available information for their good. Just like merely by buying a car, one can’t learn how to drive it, unless he/she is taught, similarly building up libraries or providing computer and internet to the poor alone will not help in eliminating illiteracy from a country, how can a person who can’t read use internet to get information. Even by gaining that knowledge, one can’t gain the ability to act upon it for their own and society’s benefit, and won’t become an asset in the nation’s development. The idea of “interaction with information through a good console, through a good network to a good computer” leading to an increased level of political involvement, has already failed miserably.
While on the internet, looking up for something we desire, we do think about the transparency of the general information and how easily we can use it to solve our purposes, but we forget that we are not the only one gathering data at that time. Search engines like Google and Bing can track your location while you are on them, also they use your search queries as a market strategy and provide the data to the marketing companies, which they use to promote their own business ideas and products. Data is much more valuable today, then you think. Big MNCs spend millions just to conduct surveys before they open their new office branch or store in a region. Moreover, the services like mobile banking, email, facebook etc. are also a way of exposing our private data on the Internet. Needless to say, this information could be used for wrong purposes, depending on by whom and how it is handled. Most of the public places are fitted with surveillance cameras which are installed from a security point of view but are also an invasion to our privacy. Computers and mobile phones have also reduces our inter-personal interactions. The constant ringing of cell phones and video chatting on the net has eradicated the need to “see” each other. (http://www.photoblip.com/images/407/e34bfa59fc941a9e7fd2ae30b0d948bd.jpg)
Therefore, I’d like to conclude by saying that as we are aware that this “computer revolution” has not reached it’s climax, but as it’s moving on, we can clearly see the dark side and in near future, our dependency on computer systems might rise, as shown in the movie Wall-E, humans sit on a chair controlled and all of their activities like eating, bathing, moving everything are controlled by a computer system. We all hope that though we want comforts and ease in our lives, we don’t wish that technology should hamper our privacy and inter-personal relations.
#24 by Manan Gakhar on March 14, 2013 - 8:56 PM
Mythinformation by Langdon Winner from Whale and the reactor, 1986
In the reading “Mythinformation” by Langdon Winner, he focuses on a myth that after the “superficial” information revolution, there will be lots of information available to the people by which they will be able to get knowledge leading to power and opportunity to involve in democratic decisions and meetings.
Time-by-time, there are revolutions when the general public come together as one with a brave leader and try to overthrow the monarchical authority to “proclaim the republic”. It is similar to what Marx predicts. But many times the revolution is not successful and the government regains control.
In this era, there is to be a “computer revolution” as said in many books, magazine articles and media. The use of computers and advanced communications is transforming almost every aspect of our social life, for example, we have switched to soft copies of documents from hard copies. The computer enthusiasts consider the term “revolution” best suited for these changes. The comments of two scientists are also mentioned, one says that this revolution is bigger than the industrial revolution while the other refers the development to the “post-industrial society”.
Now the author focuses on the metaphor comparing the political revolutions and the changes happening due to computer information systems. The author, referring to the revolutions in third world countries, thinks about some questions:is the cause just? is their ideal valid? is movement aimed towards democracy? is revolution worthy of acceptance? what are the means used to achieve the ends? how will they regain control if government overthrows? According to author, a sympathetic observer can see from a distance if the revolution was true to its meanings. Also, many dedicated revolutionaries are willing to answer such questions. The media and many writers show their happiness towards the technical innovations and social effects such as chat, news etc in variety of fields. Many professionals agree that computers have changed their working style. Even the lifestyle of people at home have changed. But contrarily, the coming of computers has forced unemployment of many people. Due to this and many such disadvantages, many philosophers criticize this revolution.
A scientist has truly said “revolution, transformation and salvation are all to be carried out”. Scientists and scholars are exploring ways to study the working of the computers and the positive and negative effects it has. Such studies do not influence public thinking as a stated norm “People who want to know what’s new with computer technology. They don’t want to know what could go wrong.” People seem to be careless in using technology and just care about how it is useful to them. Even enthusiasts think “revolution” as “drastic upheaval” accepted as good news by public; and do not think over it. It might be taken into account that “a revolution of this type would involve significant shift in the locus of power”. Some questions arise: whether it is a victory of a class over the other or there might be realignment of class loyalties or not. The engineers rarely think about such things as they are busy satisfying their own needs and promoting transformation. One computer project member said “You win one game, you get to play another. You win this machine, you get to build next.”- I agree to his statement as in the society, the one who does a certain task first gets the recognition and is seen as the primary source of further production.
The new changes happening leads to new types of social groups depending on values, dress, etc. “The computer will smash the pyramid”-this seems appropriate as we now do not need the institutions that we ourselves created to do what the computers can now do. It is written that with the technology, now the people can participate in political process and participate in dialogue more easily. J.C.R.Licklider also supports this cause. He thinks that the information revolution has the key which will allow better involvement and participation. This according to Winner is called “mythinformation” as the expectations that people have with the revolution seems utopian which cannot be achieved and a closer inspection into the situation is needed. It is rightly said that “The computer romantics…likely to take”(page 106). I agree with Winner when he says that computer revolution will eliminate many ills of society but i disagree with him about the fading of differences in wealth and privilege. As in Darwin’s theory-“survival of the fittest”, here also the powerful people will try to adapt to the new technology to survive and remain at power resisting any change in the distribution of power or wealth in country. It seems as a “conservative character”:that there is no change in hierarchy of wealth or power.
If people want an ideal society of socialism rooted in computer and telecommunication systems, there is a need that they come together as a society and put their efforts seriously into making this happen. Enthusiasts seem lethargic towards taking action and think that all this might happen as side-effects of increasing computers. They think that there is no need to increase human freedom if restriction have to be put on information and i totally disagree with it.
Winner thinks that if economy is growing and the machines are running, the required things will automatically fall in place. Even now the priority has shifted from material goods to “access to information” and “access to computers”. Computer romantics seems to assume some things:”(1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power”. These seem not to give a good picture of the society. Romantics want that the information should be accessible to everyone so that they can get educated; but their idea is not much valid according to author. “It mistakes sheer supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively based on that knowledge.” People in many parts of the world lack the ability to translate information to practical use, so they are seen as nearly useless; that is why the US Army is rejecting such people. Thus it seems that increasing access to information is not enough to make people educated, but we also need ways to deliver the information to these people effectively. The idea that “knowledge is power” is also not appropriate. Knowledge takes form of power if it is used but sometimes applying knowledge needs equipments and equipments needs money, so the knowledge loses its power. Hence according to Plato and Veblen, “knowledge is not power”.
Great thinkers wrongly think that key to democracy is access to information. Only access to information is not enough, people need to participate too. The government tries restrict information which in turn restricts the freedom of people and this might lead to a totalitarian society. But I might agree that some information needs to be preserved secretly in democracy too, like the intel of a military which needs to be hidden from criminals. There should be increase in opportunities and better choices available to citizens to participate in democracy if needed; and introduction of information machines is not enough.
Due to coming of TV and digital news, people now think that they are now involved in politics but they lack the active participation which could have given them first-hand experience, also decreasing genuine knowledge of politics. It is required that people come together personally to interact and take decisions than just login, read and reply with a comment digitally. The digital responses seem to be taken for granted and no one would even care to read the responses. The author has given a good example in comparing between the two different ways of delivering messages:”personally” via meetings versus “digitally” via internet and media. And the real example proved that active participation with further use of media is better in delivering a message than solely via mass communication.
Computers in this new decade are now seen as “equalizers” which are small, cheap and at the same time powerful enough to influence large computer based organisations. But even though the equipments given to general public help in winning revolution, still the powerful, well equipped and larger force has an upper hand. The punny computers may have increased the baseline but its not necessary that the balance of power is altered.
The enthusiasts expectations are like fantasies that is not easily possible to achieve. The formula “information=knowledge=power=democracy” seems to lack reality. People think that they need to do nothing or maybe they do not want to do anything. Mahatma Gandhi has rightly said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Further, the author defines ideology as “a set of beliefs…culture, or subculture”. Here, the needs and aspirations are the “operational requirements of highly complex systems in an advanced technology”(page 113). He also tells that the way definition of “information” is seen by writers as knowledge is not the right way, but a better definition of it is a combination of manipulated data that is useful in some sense, like the ATM transaction. There seem to be some challenges to information: the vast amount of incoming data that can be solved with fast computers, need of updated data as frequently as possible like in the case of stock markets. “Information is itself a perishable commodity”, as in some cases old data becomes useless as in stock markets and weather prediction. The author seems right in saying that ” Rapid information-processing…a marriage made in technological heaven”. All this brings up a question in mind that whether computers should be incorporated in all aspects of life or not. But in the end it is that information processing is valuable and like in Darwin’s theory, various aspects of life that are threatened due to computerization might adapt to it to survive. “The efficient management of information is reveals as the “telos” of modern society, its greatest mission.” People are being considered a fool who are made to think that these burdens are worth bearing. That is why the author has written “those who push the plow are told that they ride a golden chariot.”
Now finally the author focuses on the fact that computers are now thought to be everywhere but in reality they are not accessible to everyone properly. He calls the situation “insidious”. That is why he has said “Everywhere and Nowhere”. He says that if the outcome of the revolution is nearly same as predicted, then there might be some fundamental aspects of social and political life that need to be reconsidered. Winner has told three areas:”privacy”,”sociability” and “space and time”. Just like two sides of a coin, computerization has both good and bad sides. Firstly, there is a “threat to privacy” to consumers as in digital world, digital footprints are left behind which can be easily tracked and put to evil use. Secondly, there is “human sociability”, due to computerization, people tend not to meet personally which diminishes the buffer between individuals and organized power. So people tend to get influenced easily by the people who have power. And finally “space and time”, earlier people used to be at one place at one particular time, but now this natural law is being violated and people can interact with people or things at many places at one time “threatening the integrity of social and political forms that depend on them”(page 116). Aristotle seems right in saying “man is a political animal”.
In conclusion, I think that all this computerization should only be called a “revolution” only if there is a public participation on a large scale so that they should be able to participate in decision making that is going to affect themselves. Otherwise the decision making will be in private hands who focus on their on profits and do not care about the public. Then this might seem that age of “absent minded” people.
#25 by Ankit Mittal on March 14, 2013 - 8:56 PM
“Mythinformation”- by Langdon Winner (p.98-117)
The Whale and The Reactor
Langdon Winner a well known writer in the field of “Technology and Society” and also is Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. In this writing the author has talked about the revolution in the field of computers and how it changed the world.
The writing starts with the Nineteenth century Europe, where there was a big change in democracy. The monarchical powers were overthrown and then the elections started to take place and they got a whole government i.e. a group of people elected by the people as their representatives and slowly it became a republic. Similarly, writings on “computer and society” shows the same gesture. This revolution was termed as the “computer revolution”. The author basically talks about the transformation of computerization to computer revolution. It was because of media that it became a revolution. Computer enthusiasts do not look at the effects of this so called revolution. The author is basically talking about the positive aspects of computer on our lives. But it couldn’t help all kinds of people by this I mean people differentiated by their earnings and class. So only rich people or the people with huge capitals and large companies made good use of computerization and earned more profits and made their lives easier. People who couldn’t afford the computers lagged behind. So I can say that this computer revolution was not an equalizer as it had positive as well as negative effects. On the positive side I can say that it helped the military, intelligence agencies, public bureaucracies in increasing their work efficiency with the help of the digested information available with them. Due to these things people who were rich became richer and it didn’t help the rest part of the society who couldn’t afford computers.
Computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider of the MIT is one advocate especially hopeful about a revitalisation of the democratic process. He looks forward to “an information environment that would give politics greater depth and dimension than it now has.” as told by author (p.105). in the writings on the fifth generation supercomputers Japanese author Yoneji Masuda predicts “freedom for each of us to set individual goals of self-realization and then perhaps a worldwide religious renaissance … global ethics” (p.105-106).
The author picks up a topic named “The Equaliser” in which s/he shows both the effects of this computer revolution. A myth typically means a story which has some truth in it. Similarly the information myth is talking about the truth about the computer society of this world. Author talks about how it helped the world in developing and moving forward and also at the same instance how it was just helping a specific part of the society but not as a whole. The author talks about the computer romantics. The political arguments drawn onto this with a few key assumptions are: (i) people are bereft of information, (ii) information is knowledge, (iii) knowledge is power, (iv) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalises social power. If the solution to the problems of illiteracy and poor education were a question of information supply alone, then the best policy might be to increase the number of well-stopped libraries, making sure that they were build in places where there was no library earlier so as to help the people of that region. We also need to take this thing into context that many of the libraries used digital stuff for many purposes so for people being able to use them they should know how to use them but it was not the case due to their background in this field hence people need to sufficiently educated to use these facilities.
There has been a misconception in mind of the computer enthusiasts. They believe democracy is first and foremost a matter of distributing information. A manifesto exclaims “There is an explosion of information dispersal in the technology and we think this information has to be shared. All great thinkers about democracy said that the key to democracy is access to information. And now we have a chance to get information into people’s hands like never before” (p. 110). So this basically leads to the fact that people starts to think that such assertions play on our belief that a democracy is ought to be open-minded and also well informed. So I can say democracy is basically a type of government in which people have freedom and all the rights like right to information, right to choose, right to remedial redressal, etc.. If a democracy needs to be successful there should be a society where everyone is equal and they all have equal opportunities. Like if I consider the case of USA here even the low levels of citizen participation prevail in their democracy. So it is really important that people who are not able to get opportunities to work in public office and help in making public policies and get to participate in the society work.
Television has changed the environment of democracy as it plays an important role in the elections and the political speech as television has replaced all the face to face political drama. Now many people do not participate in these things actively and they consider themselves to be passive and not able to participate in this. The vitality of democratic politics depends upon people’s willingness to act together in pursuit of their common ends people of the community should come up together discuss their work, speak their mind, talk about the deliberate steps and at the end come up with a game plan(p. 111). Overall I can say the computer enthusiasts that their political expectations are seldom more than the idle fantasy. Beliefs that the computers will cause hierarchies to crumble, inequality to tumble, participation to flourish, and centralised power to dissolve simply do not withstand close scrutiny (p. 112).
At the end I would like to say that if we allow the computers to intervene more and more in our lives we are allowing them to take away more and more of our freedom. We today use the computers and other electronic stuff for improving the society and our lives. But it cannot be considered to be a revolution at all it is very much far away from that stage.
#26 by simranbakshi on March 14, 2013 - 8:56 PM
Mythinformation: Langdon Winner
Whale and the reactor, 1986
Langdon Winner opens the chapter on ‘Mythinformation’ with an historical introduction of the term ‘Revolution ’ and how commonly used this term has become in today’s day and age-how often magazines articles, books and media specials use terms like “the computer revolution”, ”the information revolution”, “the microelectronics revolutions” and so many others, often all of them conveying the same meaning- that of a new age.
The much more widely discussed of these is the Computer Revolution.
An informal consensus among computer scientists, social scientists and journalists affirms the term “revolution” is best suited to describe the current series of events of the extensive use of computers and the advanced communications technologies and how they produce a sweeping set of transformations in every corner of social life. A minor speed bump in this happy paragraph was when Winner, rightly so, points out that the use of the term “revolution” has become so casual and usual that it seems to have “lost much of its punch”(Mythinformation,pg 99).
A very common practice, before one begins to endorse any sort of a revolution is to question its various aspects, eg. For a social movement like the recent one for the Jan Lokpal Bill, to question whether it aspires to a system of democratic rule, whether it truly is committed to social justice, about the means the revolutionaries had chosen to achieve the said goal, so on and so forth.
Therefore, it is pretty much evident, that such questions and issues would have been addressed to “describe and celebrate the advent of computerization”.
But unfortunately it is not so.
Most of the books, articles and social media materials aimed at a popular audience just depict the “dazzling magnitude if technical innovations and social effect” and are written as if by some universal accepted format, describing the countless new computer products and processes, the enormous and growing dollar value of the computer industry, about surveys of including computers in schools, colleges and in teaching and the frequent good news from the R&D sector. These writings seldom include the unemployment issues caused by automation, and will have an obligatory line or two about the criticism of computer culture- a half hearted attempt at balancing what is otherwise considered to be a very positive outlook.
Langdon Winner believes that the prevalence of such superficial and unreflective descriptions is not solely due to the hasty journalism but also because critical and careful studies about the issues raised by computerization are by no means the ones “most influential in shaping public attitudes about the world of microelectronics”-people today, are much more interested in knowing what’s new rather than knowing about what could go wrong, so much so that it seems nearly impossible for computer fanatics to critically examine the ends that might guide the world-shaking developments they anticipate. To them, the term revolution signifies a drastic upheaval, one that people ought to welcome as good news, and the idea of investigating it further never seems to occur to their minds.
Those engaged in production and promotion of the transformation, hardware, software engineers, managers, firms, salesmen, the likes of Robert Noyce, Marvin Minsky and Steve Jobs, are busy pursuing their own ends of profits, market shares and salaries. Their focus is primarily on the inventions, intellectual rewards of programming and the pleasures of owning and using all those powerful machines, leaving little time for them to ponder over the historical significance of their actions.
“By and large the computer revolution is conspicuously silent about its own ends”.
What the computer enthusiasts lack in today, is the historical comparison of their computerization revolution to the social upheavals of the past- say the Industrial Revolution. A consistently ahistorical viewpoint prevails with only a view of altered social and political conditions and a future upheld as both desirable and inevitable.
Looking at this age- characterized by the dominance of electronic information systems in all areas of human practice, what water and steam were to the industrial age, computers will be to the era soon dawning, a world dependent on labour, capital, agriculture, money and even weaponry will soon depend on information, knowledge and intelligence. The ever-expanding technical capacities in computation and communication will make accessible, a universe with enormous quantities of information and as these informations become less and less expensive and more and more convenient, they will make services accessible to both the rich and the poor of the world, producing a more democratic and egalitarian society. The PC will serve as an equalizer and the rule by a centralized authority will fade away. Such are the grand expectations from information technology.
Such views promote the idea, that the computer revolution would eliminate all social evils and inequalities of wealth and privilege would fade away, with the hierarchies of caste, class and managerial system crushed, surpassing the dreams of history’s great social reformers.
A similar bright prospect is envisioned for participatory democracy-something which is almost impractical in most parts of the world today. It is believed that the proliferation of electronic information would transform the political process into a giant teleconference, making campaigns a months-long series of communication among candidates, commentators, political action groups and voters.
Such beliefs constitute what Winner calls, “Mythinformation”- a strong conviction that adoption of computers and easy access to electronic information would transform the world into a better place for human life.
Such enthusiasm is almost peculiar with people who are discouraged about social life being completely dazzled by the supposed redemptive qualities of computers and telecommunications.
It is not uncommon for new technologies to provide occasional flights of utopian fancy but even within the traditions of optimistic technophilia, the current dreams of a “computer age” stand out as unrealistic and exaggerated.
True, as most myths, this story too contains a few elements of truth-industrial societies are becoming service economies and most of these are intensely dependent on computer and communications systems but by no means does this suggest that future employment possibilities will be provided by the microelectronics industry, with robots and other human-replacing technologies being what we’re headed towards.
Of course the large business corporations, intelligence agencies, public bureaucracies and militaries are dependent on the IT industry for their efficiency and the common man is the eager buyer for hardware, software and communication services. But in the midst of all this, we forget to question how will this increase democratization or remove social inequality.
The already rich are become richer, those with power are becoming more powerful and adapting computerized methods to retain control.
A participatory democracy or social equality is not an unachievable goal for a society with its roots in computers and telecom systems, but computer enthusiasts seldom propose deliberate action of this kind, instead suggesting that the good society will be achieved as an after-effect from the vast proliferation of computing devices. “As long as the economy is growing and the machinery is kept in good working order, the rest will take care of itself”(Mythinformation,pg.108).
Computer romantics believe that people face a shortage of information and fail to understand that not only the supply of information but the educated ability to gain knowledge from the information (one which is lacking in most parts of the world, sadly) is the only remedy. Upholding electronic information carried by networks as crucial causes disregard to the obvious remedy-providing more public libraries, teachers and schools.
Surely, computerization and communication can help improve the literacy levels but looking at these while ignoring how to enlighten and invigorate a human mind is pure foolishness, as put by Langdon. The crude belief of the computer obsessed, that knowledge is power is highly misleading as well. Of the many conditions that affect the phenomenon of power, knowledge is one, but by no means the most important.
And certainly, they can’t call democracy being first and foremost a matter of distributing information. Democracy is not founded particularly upon conditions that affect the availability of information, but the recognition that the people as a whole are capable of self-government and have a rightful claim to rule.
As far as the people’s participation in politics is concerned, Langdon holds the belief that it won’t be stimulated in any way whatsoever by the sole introduction of sophisticated information machines. He blames the television partly for this declining participation. The passive monitoring of news and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take an active part. Rather than suggesting that the people meet and discuss their ideas and speak their minds and decide what to do, the suggested ‘ideal’ model for democracy’s breakthrough is where one logs onto the PC, receives latest information and sends back a digitised response. The two approaches have shown their results during the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.
Langdon believes, and I strongly agree, that the most poignant of the computer enthusiasts’ ideas is that that the computer is destined to become a great social equalizer in modern society-supported by the more powerful personal computers becoming cheaper by the day and simpler to use, presuming that ordinary citizens equipped with these PCs will be able to counter the influence of any large computer based organisation, forgetting that in a contest of force against force, the larger, more sophisticated, more ruthless, better competitor often has the upper hand. Hence the availability of the low cost computing power may move the baseline that defines the electronic dimensions of social influence, but it doesn’t necessarily alter the relative balance of power (Mythinformation, pg. 112).
Langdon calls mythinformation noteworthy as an expressive contemporary ideology. He brings to attention, that the information has a particular form and context is offered as a paradigm to inspire emulation in the writing of various computer enthusiasts.
The problems today, of handling and managing large and ever-growing amounts of data are handled very well by the computers, speed conquering quantity. The highly time-specific data from the stock market, airline traffic, weather reports, international economic indicators, military intelligence and others gathered, analyzed and are crucial. Here is where the computers play saviours.
But a pressing question in the back our minds is, whether it is sensible to transfer and apply this model to every parts of human life, with all activities, experiences, education, arts, politics, sports and social, political ideas adapting to the speedy processes of digitized information processing. True, information processing is valuable in its own right but certainly not worth disrupting social patterns.
As Langdon rightly says, if the long-term consequences of computerization are anything like the commonly predicted ones, they will require a rethinking of many fundamental conditions in social and political life.
He goes on to mention three primary areas of concern-
Firstly, as the people today start using electronic instruments for almost everything under the sun-mail, banking, shopping, entertainment etc. , the availability of digitized footprints of social transactions affords opportunities that contain a menacing aspect. Not only the threat to privacy but also the evils created by electronic data banks and computer matching endanger the most basic of public freedoms.
A thoroughly computerized world is bound to alter the human sociability too. The increasing computerization, leading to the uproot of people working at lower levels and being replaced by machines though has lead to extreme efficiency and productivity, it has, on the other hand, rendered obsolete the practical activities once considered crucial to even a minimal sense of community life. People no longer meet, talk or socialize. They have become much more influenced by the media, advertisements and news.
Lastly, the most significant of the challenges posed by the linking of computers and telecom is the prospect that the basic structures of political order will be recast. With the geographical limits and restrictions fast decreasing due to the availability of satellites and worldwide communications systems, the integrity of social and political forms that depend on these limits is threatened. Human beings tend to flourish in political units, be in kingdoms, empires or nation-states but in today’s age where organisations can be located anywhere and everywhere, towns, cities, regions and whole nations are ready to negotiate favours and political authority is gradually redefined.
In conclusion, I would like to say that computerization certainly, has lead to the creation of new institutions, new behaviour patterns, new sensibilities and new contexts for exercise of power and by calling all these changes “revolutionary”, we acknowledge that they require reflection and discussions so that their outcomes are desirable. We need to own up to the fact that these changes have profound consequences for our common life.
It is true, that although this “computer revolution” is forecasted to be guided along by the wonders of artificial intelligence, its present course is influenced by something much more familiar: the absent mind (Mythinformation,pg 117).
#27 by Manya Wadhwa on March 14, 2013 - 8:59 PM
Myth Information by Langdon Winner
Continuing his pursuit of attacking Technological Determinism, Langdon Winner, in his writing on Myth Information has very nicely explained the meaning of technological revolution as seen by the people, in contrast to what it actually is.
He starts by telling us about the various components of a revolution. He mentions a few parameters like , social change, capital formation, employment etc , that any revolution must adhere to. He makes a very good point by stating, that none of the computer enthusiasts have given any well-developed theories of how computers will bring about a revolution. The main emphasis has been on the happy stories about how computers will help us in all aspects of our lives, about the new innovations and breakthroughs. No attempt has been made to tell us about how computers will bring about a revolution. Quoting the author, “ People want to know what’s new with computer technology. They don’t want to know what could go wrong.” (Winner pg 101, Myth Information). Another point that he makes is that computer scientists and engineers have little time to ponder over the historical significance of their own activity. They are actively engaged in pursuing their own ends and engaged in the pleasures of owning and using powerful machines.
According to the author, what steam and water powered machines were to the industrial revolution, the computer is to this era. Industrial society which mainly depends on machines for its survival is now being replaced by a society of information services. Information is considered to be the cure of all problems. There is a general opinion, if information is provided to all the people via machines, the existing differences between rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged will gradually fade away. There is a misconception that “widespread access to computers will produce a society more democratic, egalitarian and richly diverse than any previously known.” (Winner pg 103, Myth Information). The author has quoted J. C. R. Licklider’s opinion. According to Licklidier “ an information environment would give politics greater depth and dimension than it is now” (Winner pg 105, Myth Information). The religious conviction that the adoption of computers and communication systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living is called Myth Information. According to the author, these current dreams of a “computer age” stand out as exaggerated and unrealistic.
The computer romantics are pretty much correct in noting that computerization alters relationships of social control and power, unfortunately they have misrepresented the direction this development is likely to take. The current developments in the information age is resulting in an augmentation of wealth by the already wealthy people. Observations have showed that powerful groups are adapting to computerized methods to retain control. On the other hand, the ordinary people are strongly affected by the widespread use of new electronic systems in all spheres of life.
The assumptions that the computer romantics make to support their political arguments are:
1. People are deprived of information.
2. Information is knowledge
3. Knowledge is power
4. Increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power.
(Winner pg 108, Myth Information)
Unfortunately, this idea about people being deprived of information is faulty. The idea mistakes supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively based on that knowledge. Unfortunately, it is the ability that is sadly lacking. Today, people get recruited not on the basis of how much they know about the world, but on the basis of how effectively they are able to translate that information into a mastery of practical skills. It is this inability to translate the information that has made them functionally illiterate. Sadly, the most obvious ways and solutions of providing knowledge and information to the society are being overlooked. Computer enthusiasts are not in support of opening public libraries and school. They are so obsessed with electronic information, that it causes them to disregard the most obvious solutions. According to the author “ Even though systems of computation and communications might help a society raise its standard of education and literacy, to look at those instruments first while ignoring how to enlighten and invigorate a human mind is pure foolishness” (Winner pg 109, Myth Information). The third assumption is highly misleading. I agree that knowledge when employed in a particular situation can help you act effectively and even enhance the power, but, knowledge is NOT an important means of power.
Another, equally flawed assumption is the fourth one. The opinion that democracy if first and foremost a matter of distributing information is a misconception. Democracy is not solely found upon conditions that affect the availability of information. What is different about a democratic form of governance is that it recognises that people are capable of self-governance and they have a rightful claim to rule. The spread of electronic information is NOT a democratizing step. It is observed that very low level of participation is prevails in some parts of the US. This could be due to many reasons like limited opportunities to serve in public offices, or, the choices are so pallid that the boredom is the only response. But, it is not reasonable to assume that enthusiasm for politics will increase solely by the introduction of sophisticated information machines. To increase political activity, the choices can be increased or, the opportunities can be broadened.
The author suggests that television plays a very important role in modern politics. Public participation has slowly declined as television has replaced face-to-face interaction. “Passive monitoring of electronic views and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take active part. ”(Winner pg 111, Myth Information). As people are relying more and more on computerized data bases and telecommunications, the genuine political knowledge based on first- hand experience is slowly vanishing.
To illustrate the contrast between direct participation and politics of electronic information, the author gives an example. He talks about two sets of activists who were working towards stopping the international nuclear arms race. The first set, Ground Zero, relied mostly on mass communication and organizing public talk shows. Whereas, the other set, Nuclear Weapon Freeze group campaign began taking their proposals to town meetings and places where there is active public participation. The effects were strikingly different. After initial publicity, the first set was ignored. Thus, the main key here was, a direct approach to the public. Thus, the mistake lies in the conviction that computerization will someday move the society towards a good life, and that it will cause hierarchies to crumble, inequality to disappear and participation of public in political activities to flourish.
The kind of information that is being upheld by the computers is not knowledge in the ordinary sense of the term, nor is it understanding. Information is huge amount of data, manipulated within various kinds of electronic systems and used to facilitate transactions of complex organizations. According to the author,” the last analysis about the ends of the computer revolution is filled by a conviction that information processing is something valuable in its own right.” (Winner pg 114, Myth Information). The societies today are renovating their structures in accordance with the current computerized, automated systems in every area of life.
The information revolution comes with a major problem, threat to privacy. The possibility that someone can gain access to information that violates the sanctity of someone’s private life cannot be ignored. This age rich in electronic information will achieve amazing social conveniences at the cost of placing freedom. The biggest threat is to create a system that is capable of perpetual, apparently benign surveillance. Also, this computerized world has altered the conditions of human sociability deeply. Despite greater efficiency and productivity of innovations like computerized banks, the reasons people formerly has for being together, working together, acting together has been rendered obsolete.
Unfortunately, changes being made in the society structure, social behaviour, contexts for the exercise of power etc are being considered as revolutionary. These matters require debates and discussions to ensure that the outcomes are desirable. Sadly, the occasion for such debates, discussions and public choices is extremely rare.
#28 by shrey12098 on March 14, 2013 - 9:00 PM
Winner, Langdon, Mythinformation
Whale and the reactor, 1986
Winner, in this article, explores the advent of the “computer/information revolution” and how it is supposed to bring about sweeping reforms in all walks of life and fundamentally alter modern life.
He begins by talking about how people these days seem unwilling to answer the ethical and sociological questions associated with computerisation, and the media aimed at popular audience is “content to depict the dazzling magnitude of technical innovations and social effects” (pg 100), with the accounts and surveys that paint a rosy picture of progress computer technology, generally accompanied by a show of how it has positively impacted every sphere of life. These forms of media rarely ever focus on the negative impacts of technology, and even then, there is no more than “an obligatory sentence or two of criticism” (pg 100). That computer enthusiasts use the word “revolution” a huge change that brings about good is shown clearly by the near-absence of critique regarding the ends of application of computer technology and its negative effects on the society. Winner then raises several important questions one should answer when one decides to use the term revolution, such as if there will be a change in the centre of power, what the ideals that the revolution follows are, and whether it will bring about the victory of a class over another. These questions seldom come up in computer engineering and marketing as those engaged in such fields are already engaged in “a struggle to keep current” and have no time to ponder over them.
One feels the vibes of Winner’s aversion to capitalism when he starts comparing the computer “revolution” to the industrial revolution, which was similar in its attempts to create a more utopian society, but ended up giving more power to the capitalists. If one looks at history and tries the application of its inferences in the modern day scenario, it would seem obvious that the production and advent of advances in technologies are, and always have been, controlled by the businesses who either funded or directly aided in their creation. Hence, it seems impossible that the latest computer technology could ever be seriously exploited towards the ends of a true revolution. Apple Inc.’s latest technology could very well be similar to the machines that fuelled industrial revolution.
He talks of how there is blind faith in the power of computers. The computerization enthusiasts think that computer technology will serve as “the great equalizer” that would bring an end to the ills that have plagued society for long, as a decrease in the prices of technology caused by such a revolution would enable even the poor to afford computers, which would in turn give them access to knowledge. These computer romantics swear by the idea that “knowledge is power” and the seemingly marvelous idea that computerization is the best possible way to spread knowledge. They support the varied services such as shopping via home computer, online available weather, news and stock market updates, electronic magazines etc. thinking that they will lead to a “cultural renaissance” (pg 103). It is this near-religious conviction that the adoption of such computerized lifestyle would “automatically produce a better world for human living” (pg 105) is called “mythinformation”. This is characterized by a complete lack of thought put into the sociopolitical ramifications of computerization by the so-called “computer romantics”.
Winner then agrees that there are some elements of truth in this “myth”. He says that with the shift of industrial economies into systems of economy based on services, computer and communications have gained prominence as they command several services central to this pattern. He also says that the computer romantics are right in saying that social change will accompany computerization, but goes on to say that “they misinterpret the direction this development is likely to take” (pg 106). He says that the new technology will replace people’s office and factory jobs and new jobs will come from “menial service occupations paying relatively low wages”. He also rightly points out that technology will only benefit those already capable of taking advantage of it, such as big corporations, bureaucracies, intelligence agencies etc.
Winner says that computer romantics seem to think that computerization would benefit participatory democracy. This arises from false notions that:
– People are bereft of knowledge.
– Information is knowledge.
– Knowledge is power.
– Increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. (pg 108)
He then goes on to counter each point. He first says that the idea that providing people with vast amounts of information would solve problems of illiteracy, inadequate education and ignorance holds little weight in offering a solution, or remedying such a claim, as “providing people with an abundance” of information doesn’t necessarily give them the ability to “gain” and “use” such knowledge. He further states that “knowledge is power” is a flawed notion as only when one has the means to act on knowledge can its potential be realized. Winner says, “At times, knowledge brings merely an enlightened impotence or paralysis” (pg 109). Also, the Platos and the Veblens of the past prove that those with most knowledge didn’t necessarily command most power. Lastly, he counters the idea that access to information can enhance democracy, stating that democracy was not founded on the basis of information access; rather it was based on the citizens’ ability to govern themselves. He also warns that the “passive monitoring” of democratic processes encouraged by computer technologies could wipe out any genuine political knowledge based on first-hand experience altogether.
Winner, in this article, doesn’t seem to completely hate the use of computer technology, but does question the need to incorporate it in all walks of life. He also admits that” mythinformation is noteworthy as an expressive contemporary ideology” (pg 113). Winner ends the article with a brief focus on the areas of concern as computers and technology begin to pervade our lives, such as privacy, surveillance and de-socialisation.
The article is a pretty interesting read for whoever is interested in looking at computer technology and its applications in a critical way, and is an eye-opener for all those affiliated with the IT sector.
#29 by ashish12026 on March 14, 2013 - 9:01 PM
In his essay Mythinformation Langdon Winner tries to highlight the fact that the technological revolution (basically computer revolution) is not going to revolutionize the political and social structure of society. He begins his article by building up the computer revolution and then he makes his argument in a way as to how these revolutions are misguided.
In the beginning he addresses the idea that increased ability to access, share and receive information through ever advancing computer technologies might lead to revolution. Many people who claim this overlook the fact that the problems computers are going to create cannot be solved by computers themselves. He argues the assumptions made by computer enthusiasts of people being bereft of knowledge, information being knowledge, knowledge being power and increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Inadequate education and ignorance does not support the claim that people are bereft of knowledge. This cannot be solved by providing people with vast amount of information because providing information would not solve the problem of illiteracy. The idea that knowledge is power is faulty because it mistakes the amount of information one receives with one’s ability to gain knowledge and act effectively based on that information. Knowledge does not equate power because ones with more knowledge on subjects do not necessarily means he is in position of power. For this take the example of our politicians. Most of them do not deserve to be there on the basis of their knowledge but still they are in power. The idea of increasing access to information will enhance democracy is certainly not true. Democracy was not founded on the sole condition of availability of information but it was the personal interaction of the participants in the process. It cannot be encouraged by computer technologies because computer technologies can wipe out any genuine political knowledge based on first-hand experience. But here I would like to say that the availability of technology leads to a better democratic process because there is much more information available to public. As they say, knowledge is power, and with the increase in technology comes the capability to learn virtually anything about any topic, be it a political candidate, or world affairs. People are able to make informed decisions and it is no longer a time where the government controls the people because the people are kept uneducated. I also think some of the new means of communication are sometimes a concern because it allows completely random people or companies to learn more information than what a person is sometimes willing to share. It is a beneficial form of communication at times, but it should also be treated with caution because information can be sent to the wrong people. Rather than putting faith in power of computer, computer enthusiasts should take necessary actions to solidify the positive, long-lasting effects that the use of computer could have.
Capitalism plays a role in Winner’s critique on computer technologies and their role in creating a more utopian society. If the production and supply of advances in these technologies are, and always have been controlled by the businesses which are either funded or directly aided in their creation, it would seem impossible that new technologies could ever be seriously exploited towards the end of revolution. Seeing that big business and politics are drawing in more culturally based areas of activity like religion and morality, we could be experiencing the peak of capitalist existence and finally, when the people become so oppressed and see no other way to live freely under current mode of existence, then there will definitely be a revolution with the aid of computer technology.
Winner argues that technology isn’t really a great equalizer with big business and government gaining more power, while others keep the same amount of power or lose it. In the end I would say that new means of communication (Facebook, twitter) have changed the way that people communicate with one another, but are all these changes for the better or worse.
#30 by Jyotsana on March 14, 2013 - 9:01 PM
Langdon Winner in his writing “Mythinformation” analyse the way computers have bought revolution in lives of human. The social processes and positive social change have come in all through computer technology. The world’s technological horizon is dominated by this small inorganic object since many years .It has changed the way people think and live. With its amazing versatility, it has found its way into every area of life.
He explains how computer is related to the term “revolution” and he metaphorically uses it to describe the advent of the computerization. . Ever expanding technical advancements in computation and communication make it possible to access large amount of useful information . The value of computers and it’s usage in offices, schools, factories, homes etc. is increasing at a very high pace but in this happy story one has to face it’s dereliction and criticism as well i.e. people left unemployed. Many prestigious journals of scientific community have put forth this idea. A number of scientists have come up to talk about the pros and the cons of computerisation.
People, nowadays are more interested in knowing good news about the technology and ignores the consequences that technology can bring to their lives. Further, he writes about political meaning of the revolution in terms of computation. Gradually, as the usage of computers will increase more and more, it will enable people to satisfy their economic and social needs. As its price will go down , more people could avail the facility and thus could help in eradicating the bridge between the affluents and destitutes.
Winner also outlines some of samplings from recent writings and the common thing I found in them were the way it will help in abolishing the ills that have disquiet the political society. Further, computer technology can bring up immense changes in the process of participation in democracy as mentioned in the reading. According to social scientists , technological means will definitely help millions of people to enter into the democratical dialogues and can showcase their presence through representatives. J. C. R. Licklider, emphasise on the fact that “an information environment that would give politics greater depth and dimension”(P 105).Computer romantics proposes that a strongly computer rooted society is one in which “participatory democracy, decentralised political control, and social equality are fully realized”(P 107). If technology is applied wisely, it can help society to raise standards of literacy, education and many more. Knowledge can’t be equivalent to power according to computer enthusiasts because one may exactly know what to do but lack of technique to do the same spoils everything. Another misconception that author talks about is that key to democracy is access to information. This is not true as democracy is well defined when it takes into consideration what people as whole wants, i.e. self-government. Computer enthusiasts believe that computer is destined to be a potent equalizer in modern society and to explain this statement an example of personal computer is given as they are widely used and becoming powerful and simple day by day. At last I would like to conclude by saying that computers have become the most vital technology .
#31 by Nehal Gulati on March 14, 2013 - 9:02 PM
The article begins with existence of revolution in old times where author describes about revolution seizing powerful unity among people and governs in the way that guarantee political representation to all the people. He relates the Europe revolution to the new revolution simply came into picture – computer revolution. Many computer scientists declared the process of computerization which has profound effect even more than industrial revolution in which computer play its vital role in processing and organization of knowledge.
The author reveals many questions to us to think regarding the fundamental goals of revolution.
Is this revolution is a true revolution? Does it bring social equality, democracy and social change? Can we truly use metaphor “Revolution” to describe computerization? Can it be equated to industrial revolution? Does it have social ideals? Will it cause realignment of classes?
Coming to conclusion about Revolution we got to know that revolution can be existed when one finds it being true for some purposes and what the consequences did it resulted whether it should good or bad.
This piece of writing describes the whole era of computerization as a computer revolution or information revolution. Computerization is causing major transformation in every sphere of human life. Computers have changed the ways in which professionals, like– doctors, lawyers, corporate managers, scientists, home makers, educationalists work now-a-days. Unfortunately ,some journalists claimed about the computer revolution which effectively go into a proper flow but many issues regarding computer developments and its working has negative as well as positive impacts on the society. Its been truly said by some editor from New York “People want to know what’s new with computer technology but, they don’t want to know what could go wrong.”
Questions has been raised in the view of different classes by the author that had this revolution made drastic transformation of many social lives ? Will it brings the social gaps among different classes of society ?
The author relates the technical revolution and industrial revolution to computerization in which no similarities and comparison has been found in any of writings. While coming to the topic of domination of systems on human practise. He shows the comparison of industrial domination where society is dependent on material productions ,trading ,shipments, water stream and energy power machinery works. Whereas in case of computerization one can definitely looks into the valuable information that are of great need in now-a-days.
New technologies are becoming less expensive, more convenient and information is available to all the people at the same time. So differences between rich and poor will slowly decrease. Now-a-days
the slogan is that knowledge is power and the strength of country depends on its information, knowledge and intelligence which mainly creates a bombastic widespread across every corner of society and that too with political influences. These influences will fade away the inequalities in between wealth and privileges. It was said that electronic revolution will not do away with jobs but, will change the way in which work is done; example – banking calculations can be done easily, electronic fund transfer, e-mails, computer teleconferencing, on-line stock markets, weather reports, e-commerce. So it is used to make the human life richer and freer. The geographical boundaries becomes obsolete and we share ideas with strangers with similar interest. So information is fluid, it can flow easily. From some selling book point of views about information, to keep the bunch of people in track by the means of their hierarchical and pyramidal system, people with new modern technology – computerization reconstructs it manually to keep in track.
Beneficial use of information in every terms and field are much effectively use of computer power. With the global rise of application of information now-a-days applied ,people are being greatly affected by increasing works of organizations and advanced hardware-software technologies.
It was said that computers give correct information to the voters in a democracy. The voter is well informed about the issues and candidates. So computerization brings in participatory democracy. But all these factors are basically a myth-information. It is found that powerful groups use computerization to retain controls.
Even though information is knowledge and knowledge is power but illiteracy, inadequate education, ignorance are predominant in developing countries. Supply of information and the ability to use that information effectively are two different things. Computer enthusiast say that democracy is first and foremost a matter of distributing information, but this is not actually so. It requires people participation in the act of governance for shared ends, so personal computer has become more and more powerful and less and less expensive and more simple to use. So an ordinary citizen with home computer has become very powerful.
At one point, to which I feel one may drew a good point that computerization may drive society into good modern life as from belief that the widespread use of computers can cause hierarchies to crumble, inequalities to tumble, participation to be more and more bold but sometimes it has devasting effect on society.
The author come to information and ideology part where he describes ideology term as a sets of beliefs that people or group of people are able to express their needs and aspirations. He says that computer as of now-a-days are an expression to create such ideologistic hopes and aspirations. Information usually is neither a knowledge in ordinary term nor an understanding and enlightment, and most importantly not a content to learn or cram, it is basically context offered in readable format to inspire emulation. It is said that variety of informations plays crucial part in modern organization. Data on stock markets, prices, airline traffic, weather condition, international economic indicators, military intelligence, public opinion polls results are useful for a very short period of time. So information is itself is a perishable commodity. In modern society, it is well said that the efficient management of information is a greatest mission.
In sum, Can one imagine now-a-days life without computer ?…I think its really unmanageable to live such life without computer. Some social networking like; mails, banking, shopping, entertainment, travel plans have made our life easier and manageable, but it is also a threat to privacy.
Sharing of information leads to uniform strength , knowledge and democratic power of unity among society. But it lacks the fact that computerisation will alter society which is not necessary
By Nehal Gulati
#32 by mimansa on March 14, 2013 - 9:02 PM
Langdon Winner , “Myth information”, from The Whale And The Reactor, page no. 98 – 117.
Author mentions computerization being transformed in computer revolution. According to Winner,
When we study any revolution, our aim is to identify goals of the revolution, its consequences, after effects, social justice etc. Modern age revolutionaries use the metaphor revolution to describe the effect of computerization in the world. The author says that technological advancement was also declared as revolution without seeing its full picture. The discoveries of new computer products and processes have expanded the use of computers in offices, schools, colleges, homes etc. and hence leaving its impacts in every sphere of life. This all has led to the mind-set of the people about the computer revolution. Everyone wants to know what is new to the computer technology but no one wants to know the ill-effects. Media, interviews of famous personalities and articles create hype about the technological advancement in IT and say it is beneficial for all. Ironically, computerisation has its negative impact too. An example for this is the amount of unemployment generated due to the automation of labour work, leaving many people helpless. Later in the chapter, he talks about technology as equalizer . He says that only people with huge capitals and large companies make some good use of computerization to earn higher profits. Those who can’t afford computer lag behind. Thus the revolution can’t be termed as an equalizer .There was also a myth that is still advertised today by computer sellers that computer with internet in a office makes it paper free and is environment friendly but it has been proven by environmentalists that it instead increases the number of printouts.
“The political arguments of computer romantics draw upon a number of key assumptions: 1)people are benefit of information; 2)information is knowledge; 3)knowledge is power ”.[pg. no. 108]. Now talking about the role of knowledge and electronic communication in political equalities and democracy, the author mentions thougths of J.C.R. Licklider about the revitalization of the democratic process using computers and network communication. All great thinkers about democracy have promoted that the key to democracy is access to the information. In dictatorship, the political information and control are in the hands of a few personalities but democracy is purely based on providing information to the public and running the tasks with their consent. The computer and technology interfere is a new means to promote the information through mass means or distribution on a network.
At the end of the chapter ,the author gives three points to reflect to negative side of computerization. Use of electronic machines for purposes like banking, shopping etc. can pose a threat to privacy issues of an individual or an organization. Elimination of human sociability in some organizations where all work is done within the office premises leading to lack of human interaction. Although electrical techniques are advanced, efficient and quick, community life is vanished. The last point that the author mentions is the recast of political order i.e. person lives at a particular place doing business all over the world from the same place.
#33 by mansi12055 on March 14, 2013 - 9:02 PM
By: Langdon Winner
In the modern world, almost everything is determined by the computer technology. Several changes are brought up by computers in the working of corporate managers, lawyers, scientists etc. It creates a drastic change in ways of thinking and behaving. It is common to see personal computers which are used by people in dealing everyday tasks. In that sense, it simplifies our life to great extent. This is an optimistic outlook of computerisation that most of the people and I being a student of computer science have about the term “computer revolution”. According to Winner, unfortunately, this superficial view of technology cannot explain computerisation. He put forth certain questions like- what are the fundamental goals of the revolution? Does it seek to uphold a valid ideal of human freedom? Does it make the shift of the power in the society? Will the computer revolution alter the social structure? Through these questions, he throws light on the fact that there is lack of social and political insights of computing. He criticises that computer enthusiasts “employ the metaphor of revolution for one purpose only- to suggest a drastic upheaval…It never occurs to them to investigate the idea any further.”(pg 101) They are more concerned to their “ends” –handsome salaries, profits, market share etc, but there is a lack of the realisation of its political and social meaning.
Winner explains the good side of the computers which brings some of the social change. In this era of technology, many activities like shopping, banking, marketing etc depends on the machine. With just one click, we can take lots of advantages. Growth in the field of telecommunication and electronic, communication or socializing becomes more easy and inexpensive like facebook, tweeter, skype etc. Information is depicted as the dominating form of wealth. Sherry Turkle’s in her “life on the screen” introduces the human interaction with the machine and how does this emerging virtual world transform human way of thinking. Exchange of social and emotional communications is likely to form different groups with distinct values. Why Winner call it as “mythinformation”? : “the almost religious conviction that widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human life”. (pg 105) E-technology improves the condition of human to a utopian state is one that is too optimistic. The information technology has brought involvement and participation. Examples of several blog sites, e-mail, MUDs etc. show the increased involvement of the people. But having computer is not enough, if the person doesn’t know how to participate in this information era. Winner mentions that there is decentralised political control. Powerful group which retains control is the one who takes the advantage of technology. According to Winner, the political argument of computer romantics is based on faulty assumptions: 1. people bereft of knowledge 2.information is knowledge 3.knowledge is power 4.increasing access to knowledge increases democracy and social power. Winner asks- is it true that people faces serious shortages of information? According to Winner, people are not lacking information but they are lacking education. “Knowledge is power” – this assumption is more likely accepted assumption by the people. Knowledge is one factor of power but not the “most important” one. People believe that democracy is the matter of distributing information and one who belongs to democratic country should be open- minded and well – informed. This is also an assumption that democracy is not based on the access to information rather on the self-governance. “At each point the mistake comes in the conviction that computerisation will inevitably move society toward the good life.”(pg 113)
Winner does not dislike technology completely but he agrees that there is no need to involve technology in every technology like stock market, military intelligence, poll result, banking etc. In the end, he brings three areas of concern under “long-term consequences of computerisation” section. The first concern is surveillance as it is easy to monitor people. Many of the daily activities like shopping, banking are done through electronic instruments. This is depicted as the “threat to privacy”. The second concern is de-socialisation. It talks about the elimination of the face to face communication. But contradicts to this fact, there are now technologies which provide face to face to communication like video chatting. The third concern is “the linking of computers and communications is the prospect that the basic structures of political order will be recast”. Lastly, he raises a question that “revolutionary” is the right word to describe the changes like new patterns of behaviour, new sensibilities, new contexts for the exercise of power etc.
#34 by Mohd Zaid Aslam on March 14, 2013 - 9:03 PM
Winner in his writing Myth information talks about the computer revolution and how it has affected all spheres of human life. Authors describe myth information as conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and machines along with access to electronic information will produce a better world for human living.
Author points out that in 19th century there was a revolution to bring in republic where people could have representation in the government and could get equal justice but this was not successful every time as reactionary government regained control. Author tries to make the same contrast with the computer revolution but this does not appear to be the case. Author explains that in every corner of social life of human, there is a transformation due to the effect of use of computers and advance communication tools which the author terms it as computer revolution. In contrast to this a noted scientist declares “We are all very privileged to be in great Information revolution in which the computer is going to affect us very profoundly, very more so than the industrial revolution.”pg 99.
Author explains that the books and articles that are published today carry the content that depict the technological innovation and its effect on society like the price value of the computer, survey on increasing use of computers in schools offices, factories etc. and carry the news of research that define the next generation technology. Author points out that various studies have been carried out by the scientists on the positive and negative impacts of the technology but this does not affect the attitude of the people as the only look forward to new inventions thus neglecting its consequences.
Author raises an important point that in the world of computer science, people like Engineers, managers, computer salesmen etc. are busy working in their own ends making profits and handsome salaries which leaves them with no time to look into historical significance of their own activity which happens due to sheer dynamism of technical and computer activity in industry . So looking how this will have an impact on social life or political interference as a characteristic of revolution is an effort in vain.
Today we live in age of domination by electronic systems in all spheres of human activity, which is rightly explained by author as he says “Industrial society, which depends upon material production for its livelihood, is rapidly being supplanted by a society of information that will enable people to satisfy their social and economic needs.” Pg 103-104. As the technology is becoming cheaper, all the services that it offers can be easily accessed by poor’s also. As a result of this, differences between people and social groups fade away and this gives rise to a new society which believes in equality, especially in dimensions of political, economic and social life due to which there will be no social group dominating on the other. All the electronic and digital services we receive today like emails, online newspapers, computerised yellow pages etc. redefine our art of doing work.
Author explains that there is no limit to growth in the field of computerization and telecommunication. Today we could socialise easily sitting in our homes without actual meeting people and also there is an easy access to vast information which adds up to our knowledge. The technical changes that come due to revolution in communication system tend to form social groups with new identity According to this view, there would not be any inequality of wealth and it will provide a better platform to the disadvantaged groups to acquire knowledge and skills so that they become a regular part of society where each node is equal in power as information becomes the form of wealth that dominates. This point of view provides benefits for participation in democracy as many people can enter into dialogue with each other through technological means resulting in effective interaction through a good console and a good network which author terms it as democracy of machines.
The article then goes on explaining how technology acts as an equalizer. The groups that are benefited the most are bureaucracies, intelligence agencies, military and organisation that could never work a te the present scale if computers were not there. Author explains that current developments portray the increase in power of people who are already in power and can take control as author says that “empirical studies of computers and social change usually show powerful groups adapting computerized methods to regain control” pg 107 which shows the conservative character of the computer revolution. But these notions can be altered by having a society strong rooted in computers in which democracy, decentralised control and social equality are fully realised. Moving further on, author explains that people mistake supply of information with an ability to gain knowledge based on previous knowledge which he explains by the example of us navy which could not recruit young men and women simply because they could not read military manuals irrespective of the experience and the information they have of the outside world. Obsession of people with one kind of technology causes one to ignore the problems and remedies of a system.
Author then talks about the misconception among computer enthusiast on belief that democracy is just a matter of distributing information as one of the major problems is that society dictates what people know, and impose secrecy. The fact that distinguishes democracy from other forms is the people as a whole represent government and has a right to rule. But low level of citizen participation also prevails in some modern democracies where opportunities to work in public offices, organisations is very less and public policies are also limited. Public participation has also decreased in the last few years as television has become primary mode of campaigning which has replaced the face to face politics where the candidate talked personally. Due to the influence of television, people feel that that they are active part of politics without actually taking part in it. Today increasing numbers of personal computers as they are cheap and affordable are pushing the fact that computer is becoming a potent equalizer in the society. But this does not necessarily alter the relative balance of power as people who use personal computer are in a way not powerful that the national security agencies and big corporations. Hence better equipped competitors often have upper hand in power.
The author describes mythinformation as an expressive contemporary ideology in as social sense as a set of beliefs that expresses the needs and aspiration of a group, class, culture or subculture. Since we mostly depend on computer for our work, it has grown as an ideological prominence. Large quantities of data which are manipulated and used by large and complex organisations needs to be managed properly as they are continuously faced with overload of data, and sometimes this data constantly changes according to time. These problems are solved as a result of computerisation and organisation of data in automated electronic systems.
The author at the end of article discusses the concerns with the computers. Winner rightly predicts the privacy concerns that we have today. Our privacy can be easily violated if someone has access to our information databases. Computers today have replaced small bank outlets and have become a vital factor for the spread of multinational companies.
In the end, I would like to conclude by saying that although technology has bought a steady revolution and has affected our lives in a great manner, we also need to look on both its positive and negative sides and thus should not neglect its consequences also. Therefore we need to treat computers carefully and analyse before we integrate in each and every part of our life.
MOHD ZAID ASLAM
#35 by aditya2012008 on March 14, 2013 - 9:03 PM
Ch 6: MYTHINFORMATION
Book: The whale and the reactor by Langdon Winner
“Mythinformation” is the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communication systems, along with broad access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for humanity.
Winner’s analysis addresses the idea that social change and social progress naturally occur as a result of computer technology. In the starting, he was trying to represent this chapter as a historical document by writing about typical revolutions in Europe and later-on he was trying to correct the misconception about this so-called “revolution”. He structures his analysis on a central theme of myths that influence media portrayals of positive outcomes in response to technological advances. Chapter “Mythinformation” questions the idea of computer development as a “revolution”. The one examines the meanings and past instances of revolution and compares them to computer enthusiasts assumptions that-(Pg108) 1.people are bereft of knowledge (the idea of connecting people with systems and providing them vast amount of knowledge and information would solve problems of illiteracy, inadequate education etc. does not support this claim “people are bereft of knowledge”), 2.information is knowledge(this assumption was faulty because the one who gains information could mistake the information that he received), 3.knowledge is power(this statement is not true because those who have very good amount of knowledge are not necessarily those are in positions of power these days), and 4.increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power(although the increase in information will give someone the idea of the political process and the participants in the progress but it democracy was not founded on the sole condition of availability of information).
Winner goes on to note the cultural and social ideology of computer technology and talks about the never ending flow of information that exists nowadays. The main theme of this chapter is that most of the computer enthusiasts are putting faith in the power of the computer rather than strengthening the positives and long lasting effects that the use of the computer technology could have on the society and culture. Everyday people have access to more and more information, including through the source television. I think that this author has his reputation on stake as the one was going against public opinion and can be seen as controversial, which can become negative or positive thing. I truly think that winner in this chapter is just trying to make people be more aware of this fact that improvement in technology does not necessarily ensure a better and adequate society, it can have cons too.
There needs to some kind of more active enrolment about the kind of knowledge that one can gain from the source of computer technology and other stuff. Here is an example- I could search the internet to find instructions on how to build a robot car but I don’t know how the chips and PCB inside it is working. Here the difference comes as all the knowledge cannot be attained from these sources as on the first hand I need to now the concepts before I can work with these kind of things.
The population supporting computer technology and its development under the pretences of increased information which ultimately increases knowledge and power would sustain the large complex organizations and these features of new media in our lives will modify our living and will definitely decrease the amount of illiteracy in the world.
#36 by Tarun Verma on March 14, 2013 - 9:04 PM
In ‘Mythinformation’, Winner Langdon has challenged the notions that people hold with the term ‘revolution’. The chapter itself is a part of the book, “The Whale and The Reactor”, which contains some very deep and profound arguments over the technological scenario in the modern world. Langdon starts over in a way which is full of some healthy sarcasm; that people had, and still continue to have, an obsession with revolution itself. Just the mere thought of uprising- be it political or social, excites them, and so, they fail to see what the aftermaths of such an uprising could be. They live under a false promise that a new world order would follow their action, and in Langdon’s own words, would lead to the “emancipation of humankind”.
Langdon, then, applies this notion of revolution to the relation between computers and society. People live under the belief that the computer revolution would one day demolish all the perils that the society lives under, and might become the savior of mankind. True- technology has changed the world in many ways and one can see this change in almost any field- be it social, political, industrial, etc., but how healthy has this change been? In a manner that is very sharp and forthright, Langdon has tackled the lack of careful insight that the so-called ‘computer romantics’ have put into this revolution. According to Langdon, a reasonable and responsible person would think through this revolution by carefully looking for the checks and balances, by knowing what effects the revolution could have on a larger scale, and by asking a very fundamental question-has the revolution remained true to its purpose, or has it lost its meaning now that the goal has been achieved?
People are, therefore, more concerned with how technology helps them in achieving in their own end purposes. How will this new phone satisfy my entertainment needs? What’s so great about this new iPod? Which one are you planning to buy- the PS4 or the X720? They don’t take into account what the negatives that that particular technology can have. Or rather, people have been made to think in a certain way which glorifies technology to the point that it has become almost tautological that a new technology would always be for the betterment of humankind. How, then, does the computer revolution relates to the traditional definition of a revolution? Even the individuals who are concerned with computer sciences and study/serve that particular discipline seldom seem to be able to ask themselves, let alone answer, this fundamental question. In the book itself, Langdon says that most of the said people don’t even know about the founding principles of their own discipline. They are too busy in their pursuits to stay in this revolution that they rarely care to explore the significance of what they are doing.
And so, these people tend to believe that this revolution would bring a kind of equality amongst the whole populace. Socially backward sections would be able to come forward as adopting new techniques would lead to an influx of knowledge which would eventually empower them. These innumerable changes would create a lot of opportunities for everyone and the utopia that everyone so fondly dreams of would eventually be possible. Langdon, however, thinks that although a change will come; it need not be a positive one. Technology will only benefit the people who are already on the top of this ‘food-chain’, such as I.T. M.N.C.s, intelligence agencies, and bureaucracies, who already know how to take advantage of these opportunities. As said earlier, these techniques might even replace the factory workers, and thus, would definitely cause a change that is not favorable. Technology has the power to bring upon a drastic positive rift, but it won’t happen on its own. Rather than being a sitting duck, people need to be active in this revolution to maximize this positive change.
One might get a feel that Langdon is trying to present technology in a darker sense by only pointing out the negative aftermaths with a pinch of sarcasm every now and then. However, that is not the case. Langdon just wants to know whether technology should pervade all aspects of life. Should it really need to have any relation to arts? True, there are some strata where its presence is essential and therefore should not be questioned, but does it needs to be everywhere? And so, towards the end, Langdon raises three important fields where computers and technology begin to pervade out lives- privacy, de-socialization and subsequence cut-off of people from each other and the limitlessness of space and time. So even though we acknowledge the fact that these changes are drastic, we still fail to see that things can go both ways, and more often than not, it happens. So, a careful insight into these matters is the need of the hour.
#37 by srishty12107 on March 14, 2013 - 9:05 PM
Winner Langdon’s” Mythinformation” has questioned the technological innovations in computer field to be termed as “revolution “or not.Initially Langdon compares any sort of revolution with computer revolution that is, as many questions are being arose on learning about any revolution so,similarly questions on the idea of technological innovations,effect on social life,advantages and disadvantages of computer revolution etc are inquired by the people. According to Langdon ,any change in the computer field , generally claimed as “revolution” is the result of hasty journalism and the claims of prestigious scientists.The critical studies of understanding any technological innovations by social scientists were unable to change the views of publics towards computers.Langdon had marked an important point of not taking the makers of technology into the consideration which has resulted the computer revolution to be conspicuously silent at its ends.Langdon had claimed that consistently ahistorical viewpoint has prevailed(page 102) and also the politics has always been the crucial aspect of computerization.
Langdon has mentioned the views of the some writers who claimed technological innovation to be the means of reducing the differences between rich and poor. As society has gradually become dependent on technology and information has become the dominant form of wealth ,thus the access to technologies has become easier for most of the classes of people. Followed by this, many of writer claim that computer revolution is the way to remove the ill effects of politics .As democracy had not been in the limelight before computer revolution but now due to advancements in the technologies , paved a new way for the people to enter into dialogue and represent their viewpoint. According to Licklider(MIT),”the information is the key that may open the door to an era of involvement and participation”(page 105).
Langdon kind of argued with the above mentioned views of writers because in spite of emergence of new technologies which in turn has helped to build a glorious society ,the computer revolution has stood out as “exaggerated” and somehow it overshadows the other ways of looking into the matters of society.Then Langdon has drawn the attention towards the question of considering computer revolution to be great equalizer or not.It has been noted that due to increase in technological innovations ,an increase in employment was seen.But at the same time,vast majority of new jobs were included under menial services occupations paying low wages.Those who actually got benefit were the large transnational business corporations.Thus,increased power of technologies were under the hands of already in power(in terms of wealth).According to Langdon,”If there is to be a computer revolution,the best guess is that it will be a distinctly conservative character”(page 107).
Then Langdon has described about the computer romanticism which strongly resembled with common nineteenth and twentieth century faith which expected to generate freedom democracy and justice through simple material abundance.I agree with the arguments put down by Langdon on the assumptions of computer romanticism .Like firstly he disapproved with the statement”people are bereft of information” because according to him, although networking people into the system would help in reducing illiteracy,but at the same time inadequate education and ignorance does not support the claim.Langdon argued with the idea of information is knowledge.Thirdly,idea of knowledge is power is faulty as there could be the case where a person who has lots of knowledge of the subject is not powerful in terms of wealth or there could the opposite case of a person having power but lacking in the knowledge for example in villages there are some people who are really knowledgeable but are still unemployed or do low paid work.
Lastly,Langdon claimed the assumptions democracy coming into the picture of society due to increase in technological innovations is incorrect because democracy has always been the choice of people, it was the society who demanded the representation of ordinary people during elections or any other political activities.
Then Langdon goes on to the note that the ideology of the society to keep track of never ending flow of information.Langdon claims that the speed conquers quantity that is, computer could handle the variety of information along with great speed,which in turn help one to do multiple operation at the same time through the help of computers.For example,Bankers could keep the track of large number of investors and amount of money invested by storing the data in Excel sheet(in computers)which removes the need of putting down the information on paper which is a very tiring work when it comes to fetching the data of 2 years ago ,thus,computers provides leisure to person.So ,Langdon felt that although computer revolution would help to renovate the society and also in political point of view ,it would help to conquer both space and time.Thus,a conclusion could be made that computers do affect our social economic and political in positive or negative which somewhat even Langdon also understands it.
#38 by Akshima -2012014 on March 14, 2013 - 9:16 PM
Langdon Winner, a prominent American philosopher, through Technology: Reform and Revolution from the book The Whale and the Reactor, chapter 6 on “Mythinformation” tries to argue whether the recent developments in the field of computers are capable of bringing about “revolution” in the society and hence being called so. However, the writer begins with an idea of what was the notion of “revolution” in the 19th century Europe. A dictionary defines revolution to be “a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of living, thinking and behaving.” The revolution, writer talks about, is the one which was aimed at having farfetched political consequences. People desired to overthrow the monarchial form of government and establish a republic which would have had implausible political implications and hence would have affected the social lives of common people immensely. Through this example, the writer tries to draw the similarities and differences that the so called “computer revolution” shares with the above mentioned example of a revolution from the past.
Writer, in this piece of writing also tries to emphasize the point ho computation technologies are becoming a part and parcel of our lives and bringing about transformations in all the areas of social life, and how profound is the belief that advancements in the computational technologies will remove all social ails existing in the society. The writer tries to show the flaws in the claims of those trying to draw the conclusion that changes in political arena are a result of advancements in computer related technologies. In order to justify his argument, the writer asks the reader to study the various aspects of this new era “revolution” such as “the fundamental goals of revolution, if the movement upholds the ideal of freedom, aspire to a system of democracy, etc.(Pg no.:99)
Books, media, scientific journals, articles, etc. all seem to act as the brand ambassador of “computer revolution” glamorizes computational devices, their advancements, investment on them, etc rather than critically analyzing them along the various lines the writer talks about.
Not only experts, professionals from other fields and even home consumers put their views forward in favor of how computerization has simplified various day-to-day works such as banking, money transactions, instantaneous information transfer across the world, gaining education, etc. and hence impacted their lives in a positive way. However, the writer concerns himself with the negative impacts of computerization, that are never bothered about by any of the above mentioned group of individuals such as reduction in jobs involving unskilled labor or environmental issues (environmental issues that can be caused by computerization include increase in the levels of carbon monoxide in environment released during purification of silicon used in various chips). Though there are some scholarly works that have tried to critically analyze the computer revolution and give their critical appraisals through their works but these are not those points of views that influence the general opinion of society on a whole. So in totality, this piece of writing criticizes the general view point that the rapid advancements in the field of computer can be termed as revolution since they are not based on any sound affirmation that these advancements wallop the society in a positive manner. The writer tries to awaken those involved actively in bringing about and using these transformations to look beyond the scope of individualistic profit.
Under the heading, “Good consoles, Good Network, Good computer”, the writer tries to dig into and find out what will be the consequences of computerization and how are they similar or different from that of imagined and idealized in general.
It is expected that the computation and communication technologies will bring forth equality of classes, by making vast amounts of information available to all at very inexpensive costs. It is generally believed that knowledge gained from information accessed through computation and communication devices will give power to all and hence decentralize authority which would lead to equality among different classes of people. Thus, computer revolution is believed to be the god who will eliminate all the evils existing in the society.
Another such great expectation and belief is that advances in communication devices will make participation form of democracy feasible.
According to J.C.R. Licklider, a prominent computer scientist working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology echoes his belief of how “information revolution is the key to open the door to a new era of involvement and participation.”(Pg no.:105)
The writer calls these beliefs “Mythinformation”. The writer describes “Mythinformation” to be the “almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living.” (Pg no.:105)
The writer righteously calls the long standing practice of profoundly trusting in the advent of a “computer age” as highly overstated, amplified and chimerical and a topic to be discussed and debated more deeply.
Though, even the common people are benefitted from these developments, it stands as most benefactor to the strong and powerful institutions such as business corporations. Thus, power again majorly lies with those already in control of power. It is generally these advantaged people who are best suited to take advantage of developments in information and computation technologies.
Another myth is that participatory democracy, decentralized political control and social equality will be achieved as sidelines during advancement in computerization while these objectives can be achieved only through mutual efforts of all the groups of the society.
Before the developments reach a point where they are in a position to impact both advantaged and disadvantaged groups of people, their publicity has already made people fantasize it as something that would embrace the conditions and hence are accepted by all without actually judging them.
The given arguments that such technologies provide vast quantities of information at inexpensive rates and hence empower even the poor can be critiqued. If one gathers information he or she is not promised to have instilled practical skills and knowledge of how to apply the information.
The writer argues that democracy is not based on the levels of information the citizens have, but rather depends on the fact that citizens realize that democracy is all about self-governance. Thus the argument that the equal availability of information would equally empower all in a democracy in not justified.
To weaken the argument that communication technologies would enable a participatory form of government, the writer brings out the fact how after the invention of television, there has been a constant decrease in the active participation of people in society and how most of the people are left as passive participants who merely gather the electronic information and are done with their roles in the society. To reassert his argument, the writer gives the example of two activist groups; Ground Zero and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and their adopted methods of protest to show that face-to-face communication is important for making any kind of social decisions.
Thus, the writer sums up “the political expectations of computer enthusiasts are seldom more than idle fantasy” (Pg 112).
While the ideology that “information=power” has been denied to be absolutely correct, one has to agree that gaining of information is an important part of our various day-to-day activities such as gaining education, sports, politics etc. here after the question that the writer arises is whether these activities should be restructured to incorporate information gained from computational and communication devices.
There are some important areas of concern that need to be addressed before we restructure our daily activities. One such concern is privacy. Another one is the limited face-to-face interaction between people, though face-to-face communication is an important social aspect of each individual’s life.
Through this piece of writing, the writer introduces us to various myths existing in the society regarding the ‘computer revolution’ and tries to break them, giving valid reasons and references to support his arguments. Various snippets from this particular writing show how the writer uses the tone of sarcasm to bring about a serious issue.
#39 by alankrita12017 on March 14, 2013 - 9:30 PM
What is “computer revolution”? Is it really revolutionary? Is it really a happy story as it is made out to be? What are its possible ends? Langdon Winner tries to answer these questions in his article “Mythinformation” from the book The Whale And The Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology.
“Computer revolution” is usually seen as something magnificent that will change our lives for the better. This “revolution” is indeed used as a metaphor to depict the advancement and betterment of human life due to computerization. Various writings on “computer revolution” tell a happy story of how new products provide for a better and more convenient way of living, how it will have an impact on almost every sphere of life. But this is not really the case. Such inexpedient writings are not solely the result of journalism but they are supported by many reputed people in the field of computer science. The ends to this revolution are seen in a bright light, the idea that it can take a bad turn is almost completely ignored. This metaphor generally implies that computer revolution will lead us to a utopia. The thought to further ponder upon the idea never occurs to the computer enthusiasts. Such a revolution could bring a significant change in the power balance, or the relationship between different social classes. But such ideas are never explored, perhaps due to the sheer intensity and momentum of this computer revolution. The computer growth is radical and everyone wants to be a part of it. But the possible failures or rather the possible turns that this revolution can take isn’t though about. As Winner says, “By and large the computer revolution is conspicuously silent about its own ends.” (page no. – 102)
This silence shows the ahistorical viewpoint exists nowadays. The consequences of our actions aren’t reflected upon. Instead, there exists a vision that the future would be happy and desirable, where the social and political dimensions would be completely changed. It is assumed that such a future is almost inevitable by computer romantics. Such a deterministic view is wrong in my opinion. I agree that with the introduction of new technologies like television internet, computer teleconferencing, etc. life has become more convenient. More information can be accessed with greater speed and ease. Life has indeed become simpler in many aspects. But this alone cannot affirm the view that a utopia would be reached. According to the view that is prevalent these days, the computer revolution will remove all the misfortunes and evils that have troubled the society for long. It will bridge the gap between the rich and poor. But we have seen that this is not the case. Instead of shortening, that gap has deepened. In a video that I recently saw the statistics for American wealth were shown. In a span of just few years, the gap between the rich and the poor widened drastically. The poorest of the lot hardly found a place on the charts whereas the richest couldn’t fit themselves in the charts. I am not implying that this is solely due to computer evolution, but the revolution certainly did no help in filling the gap. The computer enthusiasts also hold the view that politics and democracy will have a new, deeper meaning. J.C.R. Licklider was quite hopeful about the role of computer technology in democracy. Computers, television, etc will join together different people from all over the nation. It will provide for a massive teleconference. According to him, this kind of arrangement would provide for a better place to look at various issues and candidates. The information revolution can be considered as a “democracy of machines.” This kind of belief – “the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living.” (page no. -105) constitutes to what Winner calls mythinformation.
The new technology has brought with itself the greater access to information along with greater speed of access. There now is a huge pool of information that can be accessed anytime. The computer romantics assume that information is knowledge. I would disagree with them here. Knowledge cannot be solely based on information. They also hold the view that information is power. This is kind of true. In today’s world information finds its way into power plays and politics. But the idea that democracy relies on this information would not be correct. It is something for and by the people. They choose what they think to be correct and they have their own rights.
The computer revolution is supposed to be a great social “equalizer”. I doubt that that is actually true. Although it has brought together many people but these people usually belong to a particular class. It has not been successful in bringing together different classes of people. Let us take the example of an internet application “Skype” can be used for video chats, a form of social interaction. It is quite popular among people. But how many times can you see a person from a rural background using it? Hardly ever, I suppose. This is a very small example, almost insignificant, but it shows that even though technology brings together people, it does not bring together people of different classes.
Human social life is also affected by it. Langdon says, “Many practical activities once crucial to even a minimal sense of community life are rendered obsolete.” Although the statement is exaggerated, in my opinion, it is kind of true. With the introduction of new technology, almost everything can be done with the help of it. There is online banking, online ticketing, online marketing, etc. We don’t even need to move a single step for something we want to do. But this results in the loss of human interaction. Let us consider the relationship between a buyer and a seller. A long time customer would be greatly valued by the seller. Such a customer would have certain privileges and s/he would have a certain level of trust in the seller as well. But to an online website like “Flipkart” it hardly matters whether one is a long term consumer or has just bought a product for the first time. Another example would be of the popular social networking site “Facebook.” Facebook has certainly reduced face to face interaction between people. What was once human interaction is now slowly becoming digitized interaction. Even the value of human sentiments has been reduced. For instance, relationships that were once an important part of people’s lives have now become “statuses”. They are formed and broken by just a digital message.
Winner in this article has adopted a different viewpoint than the one that generally prevails. Instead of a happy story, he brings into light the existence of a more realistic, rather sad story. We have made place for computer technology into almost every aspect of our life, but is this decision really correct? The possible directions that this “revolution” might take must be reflected upon. We should not simply go with the flow but try to make it on go our own pace.
#40 by Sukrit Kalra on March 14, 2013 - 9:43 PM
Winner, Langdon, “MYTHINFORMATION” from “The Whale and the Reactor: A search for the limits in an age of High Technology”
University of Chicago Press
Page 98 – 117
In the chapter titled, “MYTHINFORMATION”, Winner compares the ongoing computer revolution to the revolutions from the past era. Both the revolutions follow a similar ideology, wherein the past era revolution would aim at “proclaiming the republic” (Page 98) while the computer revolution aims at “producing a sweeping set of transformations in every corners of social life.” (Page 99) Winner explores the metaphor which compares the disruptions seen in the political revolutions to the changes in the computer revolution.
Langdon says that while the people following the political revolutions, would look at the fundamental goals of the revolution and spend time pondering on it’s impact on the future, the computer scientists seem to neglect that. He says that the media is full of “superficial and unreflective descriptions” (Page 100) which glorify the computer revolution and add a sentence or two of criticism to “add balance to an otherwise totally sanguine outlook.” (Page 100) Winner criticises the computer enthusiasts for neglecting the “ends that might guide the world shaking developments they anticipate” (Page 101) and instead focusing on the “drastic upheaval” (Page 101) that the revolution might produce. In the search for profits, computer enthusiasts seemed to have neglected the questions that once formed the basis of any computer revolution.
Computer enthusiasts have not pondered over a similar revolution in the field of machinery and provide a completely ahistorical view of their revolution. They show dreams of a utopian world, where the evils plaguing humanism for the past centuries would be eradicated solely due to the widespread access of information. They are of the view that the proliferation of technology in the society, will be a boon to participatory democracy wherein, “the political process would essentially be a giant teleconference.” (Page 105) Winner refers to ‘mythinformation’ as the “almost religious conviction that widespread adoption of computers and communication systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living.” (Page 105)
According to Winner, the groups that profit the most from “systematic use of vast amounts of digitised information” are large businesses, bureaucracies, intelligence agencies and the military. The social equality promised by the computer romantics has been observed as “the increase in power in the hands of those who already had a great deal of power.” (Page 107) He believes that such a difference can be overcome by the computer revolution but criticises the computer enthusiasts for believing that “the good society will be realised as a side-effect of the vast proliferation of computing devices.” (Page 107) Winner says that “the political arguments of computer romantics draw upon the key assumptions: (1) People are bereft of information; (2) Information is knowledge; (3) Knowledge is power; (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalises social power.” (Page 108) He considers these assumptions faulty and says that the romantics “mistake sheer supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge.” (Page 108) He debunks this assumption by giving the example of well-stocked libraries, which are not upheld by the romantics, but they share a similar view when such a thing is built electronically. He describes this as a case where the “obsession with a particular kind of technology causes one to disregard what are obvious problems and clear remedies.” (Page 109) He says that the belief that democracy is based on distribution of information is flawed. By giving the example of two parties with a similar aim of halting the international nuclear race, but with different methods of propagation of their agenda, Winner proves to us that active citizen participation is the base of democracy. He summarises by referring to the political expectations of computer enthusiasts as “idle fantasies.” (Page 112)
Winner says that the computer enthusiasts refer to information as “enormous quantities of data.” (Page 113) He finds that in this context, the computer enthusiasts are right in their thinking, wherein computers have brought about a revolution in the way we look at this data. Without the computer, working on such large amounts of data would be unthinkable, and computers aim at solving these problems both correctly and in time. Information, according to Winner, is a perishable commodity, which has been conquered with the help of the computer. But, he still questions the porting of such an ideology to all parts of human life and describes this as a case where “the computer is a solution frantically in search of a problem.” (Page 114)
In “Everywhere and Nowhere”, Winner suggests what topics a serious study of computers and politics should pursue. He says that the ‘threat to privacy’ should be the first area of interest, as it takes away a man’s freedom and political liberty. The second area of interest should be the consequences of a totally computerised world, where people would not be socially accessible to each other and would be more susceptible to the influence of powerful people. The third area of interest should be the challenges posed by the linking of computers to the basic structures of political order, destroying Aristotle’s view that “man is a political animal.” (Page 116) In the end, Winner says that the present course of the computer revolution is led by an “absent mind.” (Page 117)
#41 by Udayan Tandon on March 14, 2013 - 9:55 PM
In this reading Mr Langdon Winner begins by describing the uprising of computers to an “information revolution”, “the computer revolution” or simply “the revolution”. By describing a political revolution as a futile and facile way of setting up a new order Mr Winner takes a direct jab at the increasing use of computers. He compares “the IT revolution” with revolutions in “laundry detergents and underarm deodorants”. The writer believes and i concur that a computer revolution is just a distraction from the real world problems. By proposing that information and technology will redeem the world human are just hiding behind a mask to ignore the problems such as hunger,illiteracy,and lack of amenities. But going deep into the “computer revolution” invites us to compare it with the disruptions seen in political revolutions.
As it is seen in media, magazines, and newspapers computers are glorified. Day in and day out we see reports of magnificent research papers that’ll change the world with computers. Everybody is convinced that computers are the future. This prediction is supported by the growing GDP’s of technically inclined countries. Computers are compared to the steam and power of industrial revolution. Whereas in truth there is no visible improvement in the state of the poor. The rich still hold power. If economic status of the computer world is observed only people with many get the latest products and benefit from latest developments whereas the underprivileged are left to observe this so called “revolution” from the outside. Also while moving towards the future none of us are motivated to look at the mistakes and problems of the past and continue on our merry path to make even faster and better machines imagining a target which we have to achieve but are doing absolutely nothing to do so. “The computer revolution” is promoted by citing the various fields it has affected successfully. Taking and example of medical world, very recently a one of a kind heart surgery was performed by a robotic arm. This news was widely popularized as it eliminated the mistakes that crept into the surgical process. But if looked at closely the cost of such a surgery was astronomical and did absolutely nothing to benefit the poor who are dying haplessly due to lack of medical attention. As the author states rightly “It seems all but impossible for computer enthusiasts to examine critically the ends that might guide the world shaking developments they anticipate”(Pg. 101). In the end it is seen that people working in the computer industry hardware and software engineers,managers and salesman are busy trying to meet there own ends i.e. profits,packages,money and materialism. This leaves little time for anyone in the industry to ponder upon the historical significance and retrace the mistakes to make it better meet the demands and aspirations of the society. Even with these problems out in the open it is still considered “The Great Equalizer”.
With the introduction of the information age industrial societies are making there foray into the service space and the third world countries have taken up the job of industrial production because of low cost of productions. The introduction of service industry was portrayed as presenting great prospects for janitors,waiters and other people. “The computer revolution” brought hopes of social equality, increased democratization, the dawn of cultural renaissance. None of these heavy claims were fulfilled. In reality what “the computer revolution” did was only satisfy the needs of rich people. The latest developments are only accessible by business big wigs and high flying professionals. It did virtually nothing of the things it promised. The lack of observation of the history by the industry doesn’t indicate to better development. Thus although development in social and political areas are highly likely but there are no efforts made to achieve it.
Thus the effects of “the computer revolution” can only be translated into ideology because it’s implementation is neither visible nor feasible without proper insight into the past. Looking at the thrust of community that is involved in “the computer revolution” it seems unlikely that this will happen. But as people indulge more and more into the world of technology- such as mail,banking,shopping,entertainment,travel plans,social networking,security, and even consultations . Thus it has become very important for us to manage our life on “the network”. If thought about the possibilities are infinite in which this information can be “misused” and this makes a chill rundown my spine and maybe anyone else’s. In various movies we have seen that the whole identity of a person has been erased and in movies they might be able to retrieve and regain there identities but in real life this is often not the case. Even knowing of the consequences “the computer revolution” has successfully drawn every single being into it’s web and we’ve no way of escaping it. Thus even if we can’t change the outcome of the revolution we should at the least make sure that we are not doomed by it.
#42 by Kanishk Rawat (@kanishkrawat) on March 14, 2013 - 10:08 PM
In “Mythinformation” Winner writes about revolution and powerful metaphors that invites the reader to compare products, in this case, the computer. According to him, the world revolution is the transformation that will occur in the age of computers. These developments are sure to bring positive and negative changes to the society around us. Critical studies of these “revolutionary” ideals of the public eyes’ on new computer technology.
“Mythinformation” questions the idea of computer development as a “revolution”. He contributes this initial explanation of the technological boom as being a result of not only “hasty” journalism but also the failure of both the prestigious scientific community and the public audience to first consider future outcomes before primary claims are made. Winner believes that ultimately, journalists and the public use the metaphor of revolution to only suggest a huge change in society, which is usually accompanied by good news.
Winner brings up an important point about political ideology and its key assumptions. Knowledge is power and increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes power. So as long as everyone has the opportunity to learn, everyone will have power of knowledge. The real problem lies in the distribution of knowledge, when it’s accessibility is hindered.
Author then talks about the Industrial society, which depended upon material production for its live hood, is rapidly being at a position in a society of information services that enable people to satisfy their economic and social needs. During the last two centuries the factory system, railroad, telephone, internet, radio, television have all figured prominently in the belief that a new and glorious age was about to begin. But even within the great tradition of optimistic technophile, current dreams of a ‘computer age’ strand out as unrealistic.
The present ideology of the people is to run and maintain highly complex hardware and software. The amount of information and data has is growing exponentially. Today, people want everything a.s.a.p. for instance live streaming, latest released software and games etc. As a result of this, the computer geeks have come into the picture. They apply means to remain up-to-date, and their super complex technical computers support them in this affair.
I find Winner’s analysis of the computer revolution to be interesting, and accompanied by strong evidence. Development of technology is going on a straight road with no end without any much thinking about its consequences on the society. Today, people just want to know what’s new with technology, they don’t want to know what could go wrong. There are pro and cons to everything, even to computers. The information that we put up online is being stored somewhere and might be used against us in a way not to our liking.
#43 by saumyan on March 14, 2013 - 10:26 PM
Mythinformation is the sixth chapter of the book The Whale and the Reactor written by Langdon Winner in 1986. The 1970s had seen the advent of the personal computer in academic and research organizations and there was much talk about how microelectronics and communication technology would usher in a “computer revolution” which would dramatically improve the way humans interact, work, travel and entertain themselves, and generally make the world a better place to live in. This hype is highlighted by the Time magazine naming the computer as its ‘Man of the Year’ for the year 1982. However, such proclamations were not limited to magazines and news reports. Respected scientific journals carried claims by noted scientists that “a revolution is in the works.” (p101)
Winner has taken a critical view of these claims. He begins by questioning the criterion a movement should meet in order to be called a ‘revolution’, a word grossly misused by the media and advertisement agencies. There are some questions which must be answered while examining a revolution. Does the movement have clearly defined goals? What are they? Is the movement committed to social justice? What are the means chosen by the revolutionaries to achieve their goals? Will it bring about a shift of power in the existing social structure? However, those who claim that the “computer revolution” would bring about a drastic upheaval seem unwilling to answer such questions. Winner laments the fact that the “movers and shakers of the computer fields” lack the historical and political insight which was a characteristic of revolutionaries like Jefferson, Robespierre, Lenin and Mao. They simply make grandiose claims that fast improvements in computation and communication technology will “make possible a universal, instantaneous access to enormous quantities of valuable information …all the people of the world…will be able to use the wonderful services that information machines make available. Gradually, existing differences between rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged will begin to evaporate. Widespread access to computers will produce a society more democratic, egalitarian, and richly diverse than any previously known.”(p103) According to Winner, these claims are based on the faulty assumptions that “(1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power.”(p108).
Winner makes the argument that merely possessing information does not imply that a person will be able to act knowledgeably based on that information. He is also critical of the idea that “knowledge is power”. While he agrees that knowledge is extremely useful in certain cases, for example, a farmer’s knowledge of frost conditions enables him to take steps to prevent damage to the crops, knowledge is far from being the only way to gain power, or even the most important. To gain power one must possess a variety of qualities, not the least of which are zeal and determination, qualities which, alas, electronic information cannot provide. Winner takes to task the misconception that distributing information will somehow help in creating a more equitable and democratic society in which all citizens have a say. He believes that it often has the reverse effect, that is, “passive monitoring of electronic news and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take an active part.”(p111) It is important for citizens to meet and speak their minds, rather than logging onto their computer and sending instantaneous responses. Winner further warns that increasing computerization and digitization will lead to unemployment as tasks previously carried out by people are now carried out by machines.
I believe that more than two decades later, we are in a position to examine both the claims made by advocates of the “computer revolution” and Winner’s point of view. Computers today pervade every aspect of social life and professional life. We now have the instant access to information predicted two decades ago. But no one would venture to state that it has led to a more democratic society. Winner’s predictions about detachment from the democratic process hit home. It is much easier to ‘like’ a cause on Facebook rather than coming out on the streets to fight for it. The voter turnout in a particular state is invariably lower in urban areas where there is easy access to telecast of election news than in rural areas. While it is true that access to social media helped people in Tunisia and Egypt organize to carry out protests, it was their coming out on the streets to oppose the existing order that led to their success and not the communication technology itself. It merely reinforces Winner’s argument that possession of information is no guarantee of knowledge or the ability to act accordingly to make one’s voice heard. While the information and technology(IT) industry has created employment opportunities, it has also led to the loss of several jobs in small offices and factories due to digitization. Those who are educated are able to make use of employment opportunities in the IT industry, but those with no access to education have been rendered helpless. It has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, rather than bridging it.
In spite of all this, however, there is still talk of a “knowledge economy”, where knowledge and power are assumed to be directly, positively related. We need to guard against the propagation of such misconceptions. We must realize that the first step to the creation of a more equitable society is to provide disadvantaged sections access to education and basic health care, and not the mere distribution of information.
#44 by Ramjot Singh on March 14, 2013 - 11:15 PM
Computer scientists often term the advancement of Computer Technology as a ‘revolution’. Mythinformation tries to question this approach. To start with author tries to explain what a revolution truly means followed by some of the examples of glorious revolutions. Author explains how a revolution must be accompanied by radical change in thinking, an overthrow of power and then points how these things are missing from ‘computer revolution’. Although author agrees that introduction and use of computer technology not only makes our lives easier but paves a path for how the future will shape but calling it a revolution is ‘hasty’ journalism. Author then comments on how people compare advancement of Computer Technology with Industrial Revolution. While Industrial Revolution improved living standards and helped in gaining wealth while computer revolution has no such effects. Thus author tries to prove how calling advancement of computer technology a revolution is wrong.
Author argues that while advancement of technology will bring positives changes in the world around us, they won’t just happen. Humans need to work to make that change possible. While the advancement of computer technology will help the rich it will have adverse effects on common man. Due to this advancement computers will replace humans in repetitive work and will be able to achieve higher efficiency than a human, which can potentially affect the employment of a common man. This will create problems for people who are not technologically advanced. Such advancements have resulted in faulty politics also.
Computers are machines built by humans. They cannot guarantee democratization, social equality and cultural renaissance. Author explains how democracy’s primary essence lies in the point that people participate in the decision, but with introduction of technologies like Internet one can get information from any corner of the world thus people do to actively participate in politics. Author tries to explain how we are dependent on the machine for our day-to-day activities and how this is bad. We have even stopped talking to people face-to-face and this is not healthy for the community as a whole.
At the end author again puts all points together and argues that computer revolution as a term is wrong and while technological advancements might look impressive they are exactly so. There is a dark side to this and this dark side is what must concern us. Companies building these new technologies are been given too much power above us which can prove harmful in future.
#45 by shubhorup on March 14, 2013 - 11:36 PM
The Whale and the Reactor (University of Chicago Press 1986)
Chapter 6 : Mythinformation
Langdon Winner in this chapter disagrees with the conventional notion of technological evangelists that a so called ‘computer revolution’ can democratize society by making available huge amounts of information to large numbers of people. This belief that increasing information access empowers people is dependent on the idea that “knowledge is power”.
Winner believes that this “computer revolution” will follow the course of other technological innovations before it that were hailed as revolutionary but ultimately failed to live up to expectations.
Another reason he believes that new technologies for information processing, retrieval and transmission shouldn’t be called a revolution is that unlike in a political revolution where leaders seek to justify their ideology, goals and the means employed to achieve them in order to win sympathy for their cause, there is not to be seen any such kind of explanation about the goals and ideologies of this computer revolution. This may be because the idea that this is a revolution is proposed by CEOs and technical professionals who concern themselves with selling their product rather than philosophical abstractions. Here we can see another manifestation of technological somnambulism described in the first chapter; although they are proclaimed as a revolution, these advances in information technology aren’t analyzed as such, most people are content with exploiting their immediate utility.
Winner does not subscribe to the popular belief that these modern advances in information technology must surely result in a more democratic world through freer and faster access to information. On the contrary, he believes that these technologies are more suited to use as tools for maintaining centralized power.
Popular opinion is that free flow of information would distribute power to those who have access to a computer terminal and an internet connection. Since “Knowledge is power”, free and fast information access makes it possible for anyone to gain knowledge and thus have opportunities to attain power, bypassing traditional institutions and smashing rigid hierarchies. In a vast, anonymous network of computers, ‘every node would be equal’. What could be more democratic than that? Also, the nature of the network should make it possible for millions of people to have meaningful political discourse amongst themselves.
Winner believes that “those best situated to take advantage of the power of a new technology are often those previously well situated by dint of wealth, social standing, and institutional position”(Page 107). Thus these new technologies should allow business corporations, governments, militaries and intelligence agencies to retain and reinforce their power.
User browsing data has been used to suggest ‘relevant advertisements’ and relevant products to computer users based on their browsing history. Governments have used information technology to maintain records of the population for efficient administration. IBM facilitated the Nazi government to maintain census records on punch cards and efficiently carry out genocide.
“Mankind barely noticed when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and a roadmap for group destruction” ( Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. Second paperback edition. Washington, DC: Dialog Press, 2009; pg. 7)
Intelligence agencies, whose job it is to harvest and extract strategically useful information, have readily taken to such means.
However, computer networks can be instrumental in facilitating a more traditional form of protest, public demonstrations. Networking can allow like minded strangers within a geographical region to connect and then gather. Electronic communication and cryptographic techniques can in theory allow people to communicate privately, but security and intelligence agencies may gain access to such communication due to their technological superiority over laymen.
Then there is the idea that computer networks can facilitate political discourse between large groups of people, so as to increase participation in democracy. However, meaningful communication between a large group of people is logistically impossible.
Also, since content aggregating websites tend to serve up results most relevant to the user(based on browsing history), it is possible for many to get trapped in a “filter bubble”- only consuming content and opinions reaffirming one’s own. The plethora of content choices that the internet has brought about can thus serve to create echo chambers, communities populated by politically like-minded people. This has the effect of polarizing political opinion since one would rarely come across a person with political leanings differing from one’s own.
Winner disagrees that setting up network grids to make data banks accessible to users is a democratizing step by itself. He argues that the “educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively based on that knowledge”(page 108) is the crucial asset, not access to information. He says that if information was all that was needed, well stocked public libraries should have improved the condition of modern democracy.
But the difference between a library and a computer information network is latency. I think that instantaneous access to information is relevant to an electorate. No one can deny that the online publicity about the SOPA bill in the US House of Representatives helped incite protest against it in what was ultimately a successful campaign to get the bill dropped. Therefore instantaneous information access can play a part in political participation.
Winner in the end cautions that information networks by facilitating remote communication, may replace face to face communication. It can eliminate a sense of community that neighbours feel by doing away with the social interactions originally required for things to function. About thirty years after the publishing of this book, this seems like an almost prophetic prediction as we see people spend large amounts of time engrossed in social networking. Thus what was initially a tool to keep in touch became a way of life.
Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:
You are commenting using your WordPress.com account.
( Log Out /
You are commenting using your Google account.
( Log Out /
You are commenting using your Twitter account.
( Log Out /
You are commenting using your Facebook account.
( Log Out /
Connecting to %s
Notify me of new comments via email.
Notify me of new posts via email.
Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.