Telematic illusions

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Technologies have replaced consultation on the interests of citizenship and the welfare state with euphoria, despite the will of the population that was never heard

“Be clear: the succession of orality, writing and information technology as fundamental ways of social management of knowledge does not occur through simple replacement, but rather through complexity and displacement of centers of gravity. Oral knowledge and genres of knowledge based on writing still exist and will always continue to exist”, warns Pierre Lévy, in Intelligence technologies: the future of thinking in the computer age. The book was translated from French to Portuguese, and published by Editora 34 in 1993; exactly thirty years ago. The illustrious Tunisian studied topics that now take on a new appearance. Distance allows us to compare utopian expectations about the websphere, at dawn, with its undeniable systemic accommodation at dusk.

The professor, based at the University of Montreal, was aware that the technique is embedded in the web of human collectives, he did not understand the implications for class society. He interpreted technological advances teleologically, as if they obeyed a pre-established purpose. Between the last decade of the XNUMXth century and the first of the XNUMXst century, there was uncertainty about the role of the emerging mega-companies in Silicon Valley (Adobe Systems, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc.). The size of the techno-scientific wave was unknown, and since then it would not be excluded from the international political-economic scene.

Traditional reflections on knowledge, in stable periods of communications, gave way to sociotechnical changes in the nature of people's being, without prior democratic scrutiny. They replaced the consultation on the interests of citizenship and the welfare state with euphoria, despite the will of the population, which was never heard. Who decided that bus conductors would be replaced by automated ticketing, with their backs on the social burden? And whoever abolished printed books from schools to introduce tablets? The incipient and, yes, authoritarian telematic illusions underwent Kafkaesque metamorphosis to haunt democracy in crisis today.

Perceive the real

At the beginning of the 1938th century, philosophers problematized the “ontology of technique” that accelerated development. The literati wrote novels about the independence of machines. In 1945, the radio program “The War of the Worlds” provoked panic with the simulacrum of an extraterrestrial invasion in the United States. In XNUMX, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, increased the feeling that terror was taking on a life of its own to threaten the world. Homo sapiens. The film about the theft of scientific formulas for building nuclear explosives, capable of causing mass destruction, still fills movie theaters with suspense.

Now, however, the metaphysical scarecrow is the cyberculture that innovates the way of thinking and coexisting in the realm of telecommunications. Social relationships, work and artificial intelligence to carry out tasks in medical diagnoses, valuations on stock exchanges and in sites relationships are subject to information technology. Simulation cognition dictates desires, in an environment driven by data and information to guide behavior and manipulate affects. It is as if Kant's invariable and ahistorical transcendental subject, responsible for structuring the perception of the world, had reincarnated in us. nerds of computing to guide us through the continent of bytes.

Techniques are part of our way of perceiving reality. It was the same with the telegraph, the retired conventional telephone, and it is the same with the ubiquitous and omniscient cell phone today. The kaleidoscope of reality and the strategies to intervene in the image of things change previously solid patterns. Technicism reinvents the style of humanity with unprecedented social regulations. The future of contemporary culture cannot ignore the strident impact of audiovisuals (from the post-war period onwards) and computers (from the seventies onwards). Social networks are bunkers of self-defense to protect those who feel lost in the tangle of electronic apparitions. The ideological attraction to the reactionary medievalism of the extreme right, in the elderly age groups, is understandable.

The green years

For five thousand years, education has been based on the master's act of speaking and, for five centuries, on the moderate use of portable printing. This doesn't change overnight. The result of the computational race is disastrous for the teaching-learning process. The rapid colonization of national states by Big Tech it presses changes in cognitive ecology, in the name of modern canons of knowledge transmission, without discussion in the school community. Dishonesty digs up spaces.

The fetish of modernization imposes a new habitus cultural, as a panacea. If it doesn't work, at least it serves to sell the computers which quickly become obsolete compared to superior models. The free market, understood as a factor of individual and collective growth, is transferred to mathematical calculations that do not take into account the ruins and losers, thrown behind “progress”. Computerization does not universalize rights. The egalitarian Jacobin dream does not materialize on screen.

The technical revolution points to the Copernican turn, from analogue, to the absolutist ideal of hypertext. Which re-updates a question. To what extent will singular projects and actors be able to divert the centripetal force of networks, towards which information technology, telecommunications, publishing, television, cinema and music production progressively converge, from their destiny? Can we throw ourselves into it in search of reasons other than those of profit, other beauties than those of the spectacle? In the green years, there was speculation about the advent of a delusional “digital socialism”. Three decades after the primeval incursions of intellectual technologies, hope is fading. Despite the fact that, as Bertolt Brecht's poem points out: “The womb from which this came is still fruitful”.

A common mistake

Technoscience is an instrument of power financed by the powerful, although Internet users when browsing the web can often have the warm sensation of freedom; Strictly speaking, false. In fact, the logic of domination and subordination is not eliminated from everyday life, but it becomes more sophisticated to implement the algorithms of machine learning (artificial intelligence). Exploitation is hidden in “infocracy” (Byung-Chul Han), in “surveillance capitalism” (Shoshana Zuboff). The communities in connection stage pseudo-socialist equality on the theater stage – non-existent.

The young Pierre Lévy made the mistake made by debutantes about the latent possibilities of cyberculture. Technoscience outside of conflicts and different interpretations, in segments of capital and work, is a fantasy. Not surprisingly, the eponymous biopic of Steve Jobs offers a promise of emancipation in the labyrinth of cybernetics, presenting him almost as an anarchist instead of the founder of the gigantic capitalist corporation, Apple. Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla, X) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) express neoliberalism, without libertarian makeup. Licensed for flights into the stratosphere, in order to shake off the boredom with the gross mundanity of the commons.

“To become technodemocracy, technopolitics does not lack anything other than taking place on the public scene, where the actors are equal citizens, and where the reason of the strongest does not always prevail”, warns Pierre Lévy, who links democracy and technology in favor of “technodemocracy”. Any criticism sounds anachronistic. At the time, speculation was common among those who prioritized technology, and not the class struggle, for the configuration of the cosmopolités, the cosmopolitan citizen. With good will, they included women, black people, forests, seas and stars in free cosmopolitanism. However, in the neoliberal phase of capitalism, “freedom” does not reach the universe; restricted to capital owners.

What to do? Mobilize civil society in support of internet regulation against fake news. Global legislation is needed to democratically resolve the problem, through agreed civilizational guidelines. President Lula seeks to involve the G-20 in the fight. Containing the suffering that these machines can cause to nations and individuals is the unavoidable challenge in 2024.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was the state secretary of culture in Rio Grande do Sul during the Olívio Dutra government..

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