Levinson (2005). Introduction. (“The Soft Edge”, Chapter 1)

Levinson, P. (2005). Introduction. In The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution (pp. 1–10). London & New York: Routledge.

“… what else is DNA, and the living structures that it both shapes and is shaped by, if not a system of information technology _par excellence_?” (p 1)

“No information technology developed by humans since our emergence as thinking-speaking beings has come close to equalling, let alone exceeding or in any way replacing, the centrality of language as the essence of our species.” (p 2)

“To the extent that an information system has an inevitable, irresistible social (or other) effect, media theorists refer to that relationship as ‘hard’ media determinism. … media rarely, if ever, have absolute, unavoidable social consequences. Rather, they make events possible … Media theorists refer to this type of determinism as ‘soft.'” (p 3)

“Soft determinism, then, will be the _modus operandi_ of all the social consequences of information technology we will be considering in this book. It is a system of making things possible” (p 4)

[Author appears to be indulging in some mechanical reductionism (using architecture as example) in articulating and justifying a perspective of soft determinism toward technology. — oki]

“Soft determinism, then, entails an interplay between the information technology making something possible, and human beings turning that possibility into a reality. Human choice—the capacity for rational, deliberate decision and planning regarding media—is an ever-present factor in our consideration of the impact of media.” (p 4)

“Do we have free will, or is everything we do determined (in a ‘hard’ way) by our genetic programming, environmental influences, over-arching currents of fate in the cosmos, or whatever?” (p 5)

“I feel comfortable rejecting any doctrine of total determinism—scientific, religious, or otherwise. At the same time, I readily admit that this choice is one of emotion as well as reason—for my brief that argument counts may indeed be a self-reflective illusion—just as beliefs that the world is real, not my dream, or rationality is preferable to irrationality, are prerational, or choices which cannot be unparadoxically defended by reason alone …” (p 5)

“… all technological evolution—indeed, all evolution—entails tradeoffs.” (p 6)

“… we can evaluate the tradeoff, and perhaps invent and bring to bear new technologies, remedial media, which improve the balance, if ever so slightly, in our favor.” (p 6)

“… as in organic evolution, the performance, impact, and survival of inventions in human society may not be in accordance with their inventors’ intentions.” (p 8)

“Since the inventor’s sphere of control by and large extends only to the embodiment of an intention in an invention — not to the marketplace of ideas, finance, and custom that will determine how the invention will be used, and how successful it will be in this use in satisfaction of human needs—technologies traffic in unintended consequences every bit as profoundly as biological organisms.” (p 9)

“… the rise of national states via the printing of vernaculars; and the rise of public education as a response to the urgent need to learn how to read engendered by the new availability of books.” (p 9)

 

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