book

The skin of culture

Investigating the new electronic reality

This book presents a daring vision of the electronic media and the nature of reality in a world increasingly wired to technology.

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Derrick de Kerckhove lays the foundation for his provocative ideas by reviewing the roots of literacy. Starting with the emergence of the alphabet, the reader is taken on a journey of man's quest to learn who he is and what he wants in an ever-changing universe. There is a full elaboration on the more recent developments. He places us in the transition from an age of broadcast technologies to that of a networked global environment. We are brought from the collective mind, as influenced by television, to the convergence of individuals being productive within a broader system. Empowerment, we are told, is now possible as a result of these new forms of consciousness.

The universal access now provided through the internet, shifts the control of information and communication from the commercial producer/broadcaster to that of the user or "prosumer". The author predicts that ordinary people will go from passive receptivity as "couch potatoes" to the power positions whereby they become "couch guerillas", producing content specific to their needs. In this new context the changing value system becomes one that is supportive, collaborative and interactive. It is suggested that, "what will be needed more than ever will be good judgement, and that comes from experience, not learning. Judgement is like intuition, part meaning, part feeling, arising from the collaboration of mind and body in synergy."

As we become more sensitive and informed, the crisis that happens as one order is destroyed and replaced by another becomes evident. Rather than focus on the breakdown of the old system, one must analyze and understand the causes for this transition and see what breakthroughs are possible.

The potential of virtual reality is enthusiastically examined by de Kerckhove. It is seen as a "logical outcome and point of convergence of many other electronic technologies". VR technology is in its infancy but its impact on the levels and processes of media, entertainment and education are thought to be profound. The prosumer, empowered at the desktop level, customizes his/her world using cyberdesign - accessing and influencing consumer markets across the boards. As VR-related technologies reach the prosumer level, another quantum change will radically affect our culture as a whole.

De Kerckhove shares his investigations of the social and psychological environment of humankind and the ways in which sensory perceptions are shaped. He compares business, social and psychological trends of the past decades in order to illustrate the insights and anomalies. We are directed to study the contemporary situation and the buzzwords of our times so that we might comprehend cultural evolution at work.

Woven into the fabric of these theories are the concepts developed by de Kerckhove's guru and mentor, Marshall McLuhan. From McLuhan's ideas, de Kerckhove expands the notions of a cyberculture that results from the acceleration inherent in the emerging technologies. We are presented with the belief that our global culture has shifted from one concerned and based on economy to one that is steeped in psychological issues - "psychotechnologies, developed by intelligent collectives and sold by aggressive sales forces".

We are guided in the exploration of expert systems and neural networks with applications for sensory technology. We are offered considerations for designing new technologies and the harmonics of these designs. The internet and external features of design are illustrated particularly with respect to evolution of the Japanese cultures. de Kerckhove addresses art as a dynamic reflection of cultural transitions and believes:
"It is a time of great expectations and hope for a better understanding of the complexities of a world suddenly made larger for individuals and smaller for collectivities. As people, we are searching for an expanded perception of ourselves, commensurate with the global reach of our technological phantom limbs. As a world multiculture, we are looking for patterns of integration beyond the strife of linguistic, ethnic, political, religious and economic differences. We need more, not fewer global metaphors to begin to recognize our planet not only as our home, but as our very body."

As de Kerckhove speaks to our collective intelligence, he warns of the need to recognize that we have nothing to prepare us for the tumultuous changes this shift in consciousness will bring. We have had no training in social and collective behaviours for this global consciousness. He cautions that the colonizers will be "the first victims of the colonizing technology because they remain resolutely unaware of the psychological impact of the technology they are using to colonize." de Kerckhove, in these writings, proves that he is not only aware, but that he has the vision to influence a positive approach to the new age he prepares us for.

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