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Logi Logi / Beyond Paper / Web / New Medium

A new Medium: Born in 1991 (embryotic before)

The web is a relatively new medium, and new media are usually interpreted wrongly. The mistakes here go beyond the usual problems that come with prediction. New media are namely usually interpreted in terms of the old medium they generalize. This has been called the horseless carriage syndrome; according to which a car is a carriage without a horse, film only records theatre-plays, and - most recently - the web enables the downloading of journals. This while, - to speak with McLuhan - each medium has its 'own grammar'. Such as film offering varying camera-positions, slow-motion effects, shots at different locations/sets, and weaving these all together into a single movie. New media could be said to provide a basis for new patterns of communication and new related communities, almost like life-forms in the sense of Wittgenstein II (Wittgenstein in his later period).

However a wrong interpretation of a medium can also lead to its overestimation, especially in the short term. For example already in 1960 (even before ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet started in 1969) Harvard student Ted Nelson - the inventor of Hypertext - dreamed of the disappearance of disciplines by storing all texts and data in electronic form, and connecting them though a system of elegant links. Then in the 1990's, as the internet started its first boom, there was a short lived enthusiasm for web-forums and mailing-lists in philosophy, where people dreamt of global, virtual cooperation. And even before that, in 1909 did Filippo Marinetti - the founding father of Italian Futurism - declare the end of the traditional book, which, according to him: `has for a long time been fated to disappear like cathedrals, towers, crenellated walls...'. This clearly was misguided.

Still it is only to be expected that new media take their time. Their development is exponential, and while exponential developments are generally overestimated in the short term, they are also always under-estimated in the long term. In addition, if new media eventually are successful, they always appear besides, and not instead of existing media. And they usually never entirely replace their alternatives. For example decades after the appearance of the scientific journal of the Royal Society in the 16th century, it still was the case that only books were taken seriously and articles were mainly used to let others know what one was working on. Now this has changed and journals did become the place where `it happens' in academia, or at least in science. And there is no a-priori reason why something like this should not happen again.

We should not forget that the web still is a very young medium, which only began to become known to, and used by many philosophers around 1991, or even 1993, when the first point-and-click graphical browsers were introduced. For comparison; many decades after the introduction of writing it was - based on the archaeological knowledge we have - still only being used for bookkeeping in temples. Even as the web is coming of age now, it still has many developments ahead. The most advanced Web2.0 software for example - which also models social relations, such as friendship between people, trust, or knowledgeability, and allows people to easily create, share, and integrate their own content - is still relatively primitive and hard to inter-connect compared to desktop software, theoretical software designs, or even books that easily fit on any shelve. But these things are changing, and quickly.

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