Elevating digital technology to a philosophy is a stretch, but European intellectuals are eager to jump into it just to prove that they are intellectuals, after all.

The narrative of news and information in Europe has, of late, been focusing on the philosophical aspect of digital technology, with books, articles, and conferences. This attitude has not been adopted in other locales, such as the U.S., for example, where digital is treated for what it is: a technology that allows for new forms of distribution.

It is in the European nature to philosophize over everything. Years ago there was a joke about the types of TV programmers: The Europeans looked for them among the intellectuals, whereas TV station owners in the U.S. scouted the bars in search of people who understood the tastes of the average Joe. The result was that European TV audiences flocked to imported U.S. TV shows and shunned local fare. Nowadays, of course, with the advent of reality TV, this difference has been eliminated.

In Europe, digital technology is now going through the same intellectual process that TV programmers faced years ago. Going over the history of media in general, we can see that an early form of distribution was print, both in the form of newspapers and books. Then the world moved on to analog electronic technology, with which radio and television content was distributed. I don’t remember ever reading about the existence of a philosophical treatise on frequency modulation.

Subsequently, there have been other forms of distribution, such as phonographs, discs, videodiscs (including CDs and DVDs), and cassettes (magnetic tapes, including VCRs). None of these were subject to philosophical dissertations, and I never came across a philosophical essay about the existential nature of polyvinyl chloride (for the phonograph record) or polycarbonate (for the video disc).

Then came all the various forms of digitally created distribution on the Internet (e- mail, web, streaming), and all the European intellectual floodgates opened up. But the fact that digital on the Internet can generate currencies such as Bitcoin does not mean that we must discover the existential essence of binary technology, but rather the reason for the people’s interest in this risky type of currency.

It is said that digital and Internet have changed the way news and information is made and consumed, but in many cases the news and information is confused with distribution. Information and news remains information and news with all their merits (accuracy, balance, respect) and defects (trolls, haters, falsities); what has changed is the form of distribution, which is not a philosophical argument but a technological one.

If intellectuals wanted to philosophize over digital technology, it would be better to analyze the social aspect connected to the shortcomings of uncontrolled distribution of news and information over the Internet. Characters such as haters and deceivers have always existed, only they could count on a limited reach, given that distribution by radio, television, newspapers or books is regulated in various forms.

Each new form of technology has always allowed more forms of distribution than the previous technology had ever allowed, but this does not mean that new technologies have to be elevated to roles that are not theirs.

(By Dom Serafini)

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