So this week’s blog topic is technology.

I have a lot to say about it and not much time – I have to leave shortly. Here’s a question I grapple with, quite uncomfortably too, being a confirmed technophile:

Is IT inherently weighted in favour of falsehood?

I’m not just talking about Wikipedia edits or the scary prospect of CGI news. Those things are bad enough. I’m talking about the inherent nature of IT, not just electronic but everything back to language.

The way we learn is through repetition. Big Lie theory springs from the fact that it is hard to resist giving some credence, or at least avoid finding it easy to think, something that’s repeated often enough. It’s legacy from our animal past; I’m no behaviourist but Pavlov and Skinner can’t be rejected totally. If something happens a lot we tend to notice and bear it in mind. If that something is an idea, we tend to think in terms of that idea. That’s why it takes generations to work something like sexism or racism out of a culture; by and large a prevalent idea is simply too hard to get out of people’s heads, even if they consciously disagree with it, and you have to rely on the kids who haven’t grown up with the toxic idea as much to work out how to think in ways less tainted by the original lie. Of course, those kids can take things for granted and not see the need to be consciously analytical… but I digress, you get my point.

Assimilation through simple repetition was a viable learning mechanism when culture didn’t shape so much of the world, when we were surrounded by nature, which is what it is and doesn’t pretend otherwise (camouflage and various deceptive adaptations aside). By and large, there was a direct, honest, consistent and unmanipulated link between external information and the real world. Without IT, without language, truth is kind of hard to avoid.
But IT makes the mass production and dissemination of information possible, and doesn’t care whether that information is true or not.

In other words, truth is all around us all the time anyway, and IT gives lies the same reach and (often) more convincing – or at least distracting – presentation.

This is kind of a gloomy view. But it’s a serious question. And I don’t have a good answer.

It is some consolation, though, to think that if there is an effective bias towards falsehood in the medium, it seems likely that there’s a corresponding bias towards truth in most of the people using it.

Just some rushed, random thoughts. I have to run now.


  1. Proud woman said,

    September 28, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Then there is the politics of language – gender based terminology totally disregards more than 50% of the population = sexism – and, of course, the ‘acceptable’ racist terminology… after all, we can “make or break” someone with language…

  2. blogagogue said,

    October 3, 2007 at 5:06 am

    Very much so – like I said, it goes all the way back to language. Anything that disembodies information, abstracts it from the concrete, can inherently be used in that way.

    It’s a very unsettling thought for someone who loves IT and what it enables – and again, not just electronics but everything back to language (especially language, and apparently hard Gs in particular).

    But I do think that there’s a fundamental tendency to honesty in most people – most of us lie, but only for a reason, and we’re often extremely open. In fact it’s kind of alarming how free a lot of people are with often highly personal information. Facebook has been an eye-opening experience in that respect; I hear (haven’t confirmed though) that the owners are deep in the neocon junta governing the US, and people just keep giving away information that under the terms of use belongs to them forever and can be used however they like, and can therefore be datamined, sold etc.

    OK, not the most hopeful example, but I do think most people do still recognise and value honesty. Critical thinking… not always, not so much. But at least there’s still some hope for truth.

  3. Proud woman said,

    October 19, 2007 at 8:57 am

    okay slacker… where are ya doin’ ya blog… come on…

  4. October 24, 2007 at 10:48 am

    there’s all that guys, then there’s the weird and wonderful capacity of this arbitrary, flawed and yet nontheless shared languange to create incredible beauty and human recognition.

    In a Station of the Metro

    ‘The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
    Petals on a wet, black bough’

    (Ezra Pound)

    everone should analyse ‘content’ with as much rigour as they can muster, learn and refine. But oh- we are in the new age of the epistle, people are writing, and reading and posting.. could we just be at the dawn of a new enlightenment?
    we seek our truth in many places. I for one would never dare to seek it in the ‘news’…

  5. blogagogue said,

    October 25, 2007 at 3:53 am

    I completely agree… hence my love of IT/language. I guess for me and for most of us (especially in this context) the importance and benefits of communication go without saying. But it does disturb me that, in the same way powerful means of production can take an ecosystem and radically, even fatally, distort it, powerful means of communication have the power to completely mutate a culture (a noosystem?).

    I also agree about the obligation to question and analyse. But I think that’s the lesser half of the equation. One lie can require analysis by hundreds of hearers; to me, the primary obligation is to tell the truth in the first place – and that means not only saying what you think, but thinking hard about what you say. I’m not naive enough to think that everyone’s truth will accord and we’ll all have our minds in psychic harmony, la la la la la, but the danger of lies and spin is not just in the directly resulting misinformed public decisions (or excused decisions by the powerful that are got away with), but also in the erosion of public trust and accountability – and therefore empowerment.

    In other words, lies are a big deal (at both personal and political levels) and shouldn’t be shrugged off the way they often currently are. They’re actually quasi-coercive: exercising unwarranted, unaccountable power over the decisions and actions of another.

    But yes. Hooray for beauty and fun. I wouldn’t want to be without what communication offers… hence my job… I just like to grapple with ALL that it offers.

  6. blogagogue said,

    October 25, 2007 at 3:53 am

    But thanks for pointing out that that wasn’t entirely coming across from that post!

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