Monday, February 1, 2010

"Mythinformation" by Langdon Winner

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SUMMARY:

In his analysis, Langdon Winner addresses the idea that social processes and positive social change naturally occur as a result of computer technology. Initially published in a University Press in a scientific magazine, it can be assumed that his intended audience is the scientific community; as well as general computer enthusiasts, which can include the common public, which is seen in his frequent addressing of this group throughout his discussion paper. Winner structures his analysis on a central theme of myths that influence media portrayals of positive outcomes in response to technological advances. “Mythinformation” questions the idea of computer development as a “revolution”. He contributes this initial explanation of the technological boom as being a result of not only “hasty” journalism but also the failure of both the prestigious scientific community and the public audience to first consider future outcomes before primary claims are made (NMR 589). Winner believes that ultimately, journalists and the public use the metaphor of revolution to only suggest a huge change in society, which is usually accompanied by good news (NMR 589). Winner argues against “computer romantic” ideals of “information=knowledge=power” (NMR 593); and uses this model to reveal computer enthusiasts’ political hopes as being simply “utopian”. He proposes, in his final paragraphs, the following points that should rather be considered on computer development: controlling privacy, conditions of human sociability, and new structures of political order (NMR 597).

INQUIRY:

I find Winner’s analysis of the computer “revolution” to be interesting, and accompanied by strong evidence. I was particularly interested in his arguments against the theory of information, and his questions as to why it is posed as so important in societal changes. His belief is that information itself in the context of computer enthusiasts’ is related to data manipulation to assist in large organizations within society (NMR 596). This urged model would support current social systems today in that if large corporations provide for the majority of financial aspects of society, their purpose for a proposed model for why information should be held to be important would be assistance in their personal financial growth. The population supporting computer development under the pretenses of increased “information” which directly results in supposed overall knowledge and power would ultimately sustain these large complex organizations. A current new media example would be the ability of cell phones to reach wireless Internet at any time and location. This added feature could be argued to increase “information” availability, which causes large cell phone companies to ultimately gain the benefits.

Do you believe that the “information=knowledge=power” is correct? If so, what do you define information to be? Do you agree with Winner’s belief that computer enthusiasts’ political predictions are simply utopian? If so, are they a result of intentional manipulation of the public or simple misinformation?

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4 comments:

  1. In response to the first question posed, about "Do you believe that "information=knowledge=power"?", I do believe that to a certain extent, we can view information as a way of transferring power to the masses. On page 589 of NMR, Winner states that "...a significant shift in the locus of power; after all, that is exactly what one expects in revolutions of a political kind," a theory that is seen my computer enthusiasts to examine the ways that the computer along with other technologies are changing the world and the way that people interact with each other and society. Winner quotes many computer enthusiasts on this manner and I agree with the statement that says, "Information will become the dominant form of wealth. Because it can flow so quickly , so freely through computer networks, it will not, in this interpretation, cause the kinds of stratification associated with traditional forms of property," (NMR 591). I agree with the statement made in this quote because like we talked about in class, the new technologies have the ability to share the wealth throughout the common people, spreading it as knowledge which in turn translates into power. I define information to be the ideas and thoughts of our peers as well as facts and data all conglomerated into our thoughts and what we interpret from the data given.

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  3. I would have to respectfully disagree with this. Personally I feel that information will not "spread the wealth". Information and knowledge are two completely different aspects. "Alas, the idea is entirely faulty. It mistakes sheer supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively on that knowledge" (NMR 593). There is no doubt that with the "computer revolution" information is readily available to anyone with a computer. However, this does not mean that this information will inspire the knowledge needed to gain power. Winner uses the example of the U.S. Army, saying that recently they have been turning down men and women because even though they have had access to this information, they were unable to put it to use as practical skills (NMR 593). In today's current society most people within the United States have access to a computer. But what you have to ask yourself is how many of them are using that computer for educational tasks rather than enjoyment-such as games, social sites, etc. Although I agree with your final definition of information, it still lacks in providing actual knowledge that would in turn help to gain power, for ultimately people decide what to do with this raw information and this aspect is what prevents the information theory of computer romantics from being truth.

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