Paul.Treanor on Mon, 7 Oct 96 14:09 MET

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nettime: MetaForum III: claims and ideology

Ethical, political, and historical claims are made to legitimise or
justify the Internet, cyberspace, and the information society. The
introductory text for the MetaForum III event in Budapest is a good
example of such claims. (The text is included at the end). MetaForum III

1. ...that the world undergoes a transition. This is a historicist claim
- the aims or goals of a group are said to be an inevitable historical
process, linear and singular.

2. ...that the construction of links is, in itself, this transition - or
part of it. However, even if there is a transition, it does not
logically follow, that every event is part of it.

3. ...that the political or social goals of the MetaForum organisers are
development. The use of the word development to describe a political
ideal is an implicit historicist claim.

4. ...implicitly, that the changes produced by this development
legitimise it

5. ...that there is an information age, and therefore implicitly a
pre-information age

6. ...implicitly, that history is unidirectional, moving in one
direction, from a pre-information age to an information age

7. ...implicitly, that this is not reversible

8. ...that the construction of links is progress in technology

9. ...implicitly, that there is only one technology, which progresses as
a unit

10. ...that there is only one society

11. ...implicitly, that this society should undergo transitions as a

At best these claims are just claims. At worst they are based on logical

Anyone can call anything a transition. That does not make it right, or
desirable, or inevitable. Historicist claims a are form of argument, in
practice a form of propaganda. They are often found in texts or
declarations in favour of the Net, cyberspace, or the information
society. The best way to consider them is to ask in each case: what is
this person or group trying to achieve by this claim?

A simple example can illustrate the basic errors in these historicist
claims. Around 1820 Europe entered the age of the steam train, and an
age of co-operation between stable monarchies. Now Hungary is a republic
with electric trains. According to the logic of unidirectional
historicism, Hungary is going back into the past.

Even if there is an Internet, or an information society, it can be
abolished or replaced. That is not necessarily impossible, or wrong. The
historicist claim is that any attack on the Internet, cyberspace, or the
information society will cause a return to the past, and is therefore

It is easy to show this kind of logical error, with examples. However,
this kind of example has very little effect. The claims made by the
MetaForum organisers, are made to support their beliefs. It is
psychologically very difficult, to change basic beliefs.

It is interesting to compare MetaForum III with the recent EU-CEEC
Prague Forum on the Information Society. This was a typical European
Commission conference for government and business in Central and Eastern
European countries (CEEC). The participation fee was 1000 ECU. That is
selective enough in Eastern Europe, but the organisers also reserved the
right to select participants. In other words, the Prague Forum was a
typical closed elite conference, in this case emphasising
business-government partnership.

Superficially, the MetaForum meeting is different. However, it is more
accurate to say that the two events are complementary. MetaForum III and
similar events are not in any way radical, or alternative, or critical.
On the contrary, they are the places where the ideology of the
information society is formulated. Without that ideology, and a
political movement to enforce it, there would probably be no business
opportunities to talk about - at least, not in this sector.

The MetaForum introductory text:

As the world undergoes a transition from an industrial base to one of
information, the construction that links continents takes place
invisibly, through satellites, the air waves, and telephone lines.
Technology is the vehicle for this construction, information is the
building block-  this information is content. These developments have
the potential to effect such profound changes in culture, commerce, and
the Arts that have not been seen since the invention of the Guttenberg
Press. For many, this rapid growth has changed the way that information
is viewed, accessed, shared, and generated- a possible revolution in
The title "Under Construction" refers to the common Internet experience
of finding incomplete Web pages, signaling the constant growth of the
World Wide Web, the most visible aspect of the Information Age.  While
progress in technology has gained a great deal of attention, questions
surrounding content must be raised.  How does technology alter the
information it transmits; What can society learn from the media of the
past; How is society affected by the ever increasing amounts of
information it receives; How does an information society change the
labor process; When does content become a commodity?......

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