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Derrick deKerchove Addresses Technology Effects on Humans at RCC 2000
Worldwide Faith News <firstname.lastname@example.org>
01 Apr 2000 14:13:24
Religious Communication Congress 2000
Dan Gangler, coordinator of news and information
Newsroom telephone during Congress 312-595-3151
Scholar unravels Web concerns
By Maureen Rodgers
CHICAGO In a summary of the history of human intelligence, communication
and technology, Derrick deKerckhove raised profound questions about the
effects of human interaction with technology.
DeKerckhove is director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology
and Professor of French at the University of Toronto. He spoke March 31 to
several hundred communicators at the Religious Communications Congress 2000
Author of Connected Intelligence: Communicating in the Web Society, and a
colleague of the late Marshall McLuhan, deKerckhove defined connected
intelligence as "the oldest human form of communication; the basis and the
norm of human communication," distinct from private and collective
But because "everybody is global on-line," deKerckhove fears "a
redistribution of power" in the World Wide Web society, that may be
accompanied by "new schismatic tendencies," dangerous to the human
community. He also noted "the fragility" of the English language, currently
"revered and reviled as the language of the Internet." But he foresees
opportunities for dialogue and the possible "regeneration of pastoral
According to deKerckhove, computer networks, such as e-mail, best represent
"the nature of human communication," because they allow people to "share
memory and intelligence."
He characterized the Internet as "a social central nervous system," of
human communication, offering both private and public access, and being
"neither individual nor collective but connective."
His conclusions are based on the premise that intelligence is rooted in
"the word" expressed in speaking, listening, reading, writing and thinking.
Each action of mind and body, whether internalized or communicated with
others, possesses its own unique power to "connect," that is, to create,
share and organize human knowledge, experience and community. The
interactivity in which "the user shapes the content" changes both and a
partnership is created.
Since the invention of the printing press and the publication of the Bible,
technology has created divisions as well as unity in society, deKerckhove
said. Issues of power and control are implicit in all forms of human
"The explosive effect of the alphabet," he said, created "private control
over mind and language, faith and understanding. Either language owns you -
as in radio and television - or you own the language."
The advent of electricity, however, created an "implosion" of unity and
healing as ecologism, ecumenism and the global village mythologies
emphasized our interdependence as a human family.
In a sometimes witty, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes serious analysis
of the new technologies of the "The
Web Society," deKerckhove compared television and computer interactivity
technologies. In "the emigration of mind from head to screen," he
characterized television as the most "external" medium, "outside the mind
On the other hand, computers represent "the acceleration of mind on
screen," a form of interactivity which involves a positive sharing of
responsibility and control. "Your thinking is shared between you and the
technology," he said, pointing to the way children actively "play" computer
games as opposed to their passive "watching" of TV.
In deKerckhove's analysis of the effects of Web technologies on church
communities, which he called E-vangelization ("E- for everything"), he
noted that this phenomenon is very different from televangelism. The
electronic/cyberspace era offers communication benefits such as direct
access and personal contacts with members of the community, especially
through e-mail, but he anticipates that "the dominant and primary form (of
communication)" in the church will remain "face-to-face versus on-line
He also anticipates that the new technologies will be very beneficial to
education in developing countries and very important to developing global
"The new technologies will create ‘The New Community,' deKerckhove
asserted, since "the Internet favors community maintaining rather than
building," strengthening religious communities by ending isolation for
many, and by forming "just-in-time" support groups for others. An
additional and unseen technological benefit is that the oral and immediate
history of the community will be instantly archived.
DeKerckhove said: "Spirituality is profoundly connective, and hence not
adverse to the Internet. Spirituality is independent, but not indifferent,
and each person has a connective responsibility." Because "the Internet is
not a mass culture," quality becomes the issue, not quantity, and "the
smaller voice can be heard over the larger institutional voice. There is no
greater power than language."
Acknowledging a cosmic "change of scale" involving "a huge expansion of
time and space" symbolized by the
millennium and satellites, deKerckhove noted that the personal scale is
also "enlarged and all-at-once. This technology puts the world in our
He ended with two challenges to the interfaith communicators. "There is a
tremendous need for a religious presence on-line. Can we find and foster
spirituality in the new technologies?"
Then, noting the globalization of new technologies and their profound
impact on self and world, he asked: "How do we interpret these changes?"
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