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NEW LANGUAGES AND DIGITAL EMPOWERMENT OF HUMAN BEINGS.

Essay for the course Visual Knowledge Building 1 By Jennifer Ramirez Student of MA. E-pedagogy Design Visual Knowledge Building Proffesor Stefan Sonwilla Weiss Aalto University School of Art and Design. Images, stimuli and other phenomena are changing daily. The evident need of a life online, the changes in our patterns in the last ten years with the evolution of internet, social networks, etc, and a perpetual seek of identity as human beings, are the new combination that our world has brought to the table. The first part of this essay has as main objective to discuss the following hypothesis: We are facing a evolutionary process passing from Homo significans or meaning makers to Homo significans cyberneticus. This evolutionary process is changing the modern social interpretation of signified and signifiers and the relationship between words and images in our contemporary world. Through the exploration of different texts the essay pretends to defend this hypothesis and present simple examples of alternative uses of media that combine countercultural activity, ecology, art, digital advocacy, etc, showing us how humanity can go hand by hand with the changes without being left behind. Fom Homo significans to Homo significans cyberneticus The construction of our society has been created through the interpretation of signs, we are described as species to be driven by a desire to make meanings above all,

Homo

significans- meaning-makers (Chandler, 2001. Chapter 2).

The interpretations of what we

see started bringing deep thoughts, that appeal more to our own self, to decribe what we perceive, to express what we feel. It can be resume in the quotes The world is not the

thing or The map is not the territory and aggregated complexity to our plain existence as

homo sapiens. Noam Chomsky discussed about the proposition of W. H Thorpe, where he affirms that the evolution of language in human beings was achieved because our unique capability to imitate sounds. Sound could have been then the path to start an amazing discovery, in conection to ever single organism in the planet, to represent and express things that appeal to every single individual and our sensible world.
The characteristics shared by human and animal language are the properties of being purposive, syntactic, and propositional. Language is purposive in that there is nearly always in human speech a definite intention of getting something over to somebody else, altering his behavior, his thoughts, or his general attitude toward a situation. Human language is Syntactic in that an utterance is a performance with an internal organization, with structure and coherence. It is propositional in that it transmits information. In this sense, then, both human language and animal communication are purposive, syntactic, and propositional.(Chomsky, 1968:3)

Nevertheless we still have the propositional, syntatic and purposive characteristics

we

share them animals, our language has gone beyond the basics and transcended into deeper and more difficult territories becoming more than informative (Chomsky, 1968:4) including behavior, non verbal language, sign language, writing, symbolism, etc. Chomsky also affirms that through ages language have had a huge change and is more complex than just a simple evolutionary process.
A far as we know, possession of human language is associated with a specific type of mental organization, not simply a higher degree of intelligence. There seems to be no substance to the view that human language is simply a more complex instance of something to be found elsewhere in the animal world. (Chomsky, 1968:5)

With the apereance of the first cave paintings to the Guthember's printing machine making information massive, humans have been able to transform and create standard ways to nominate our sensible world according to their linguistic capabilities. Saussure and Chomsky differ in this this subject, but the dissertation can help as an example for the evolution of language and statements through history. Both belonged to different periods of time. Chomsky defends the idea that [...]we live, in the age of behavioral science, not of the science of mind and affirms that linguistics can evidence patterns and can be called behavioral psychology. (Chomsky, 1968:1). Saussure on the other hand declares that there

is some relation between linguistics and psychology but that is very difficult to demarcate. Also said that one of the aims of linguistics is to define itself, to recognize what belongs within its domain. In those cases where it relies upon psychology, it will do so indirectly, remaining independent (Saussure, 1910: 4). The Life of the language (Saussure, 1910:8), things of importance for the characterization of the language, which are part of a life, a biology of singnifies and signifieds are the meanings and situations that had made our language to have an evolutionary process on itself. Meanings were spread, preserved and shared through generations, by different kinds of people and what can mean dozens of interpretations of any single phenomena- creating what stories, traditions, cultures and history. Nevertheless some of them have been adopted and assume as a dogmas in our stablished societies, from the most quotidian action that ignoring the became a myth or tradition to the complexity of science and theories,

complexity of interpretation and nomination and the wide territory for opinions. Van Foerster puts Copernicus as an example of this dogmatization of paradigms when he says in his text

Cybernetics of Cybernetics that Copernicus had a novel vision of a heliocentric planetary


system which he perceived at a time when the Ptolemaeic geocentric system was at its height as to accuracy of its predictions. (Von Foerster, 1979: 2). Copernicus story ends. Putting attributes to certain Phenomena in the world can bring innumerable possibilities to express what our eyes can see, Chandler bring some lights about this topic in the example of Alice in wonderlands Humpty Dumpty who says: When I use a word it means just what We all know how

I choose it to mean, neither more or less. Lacan supports this statement by adding The only reality we know is the one our brains can manufacture. (Lacan in Chandler, 2007: chapter 3) . This statements give us somehow the universal right to adopt or create new
ways of consciousness for our personal stories, myths and imaginaries and bring new real meanings to the Homo Sapiens Significans label in this crucial moment of transition. If humpty Dumpty can decide about what his world and words can mean, why we can't?
And why not, indeed, since after biological man, there would be virtual man- an individual who, after living, thinking and acting as though he alone had an existence and his fellows were merely vain shadows, pure phantoms, would be invited to become, in his turn, the shadow of himself. [Virilio, 2002: 17)

Bringing new approaches to the discussion, some theorist like Virilio in his book ground Zero discuss about a negative effect of this transition with a possible technological manipulation of humanity through technology, and the changes that are being presented in front of our eyes. His opinion is pessimistic. He points out our level of responsibility in this changes. Questions the capability of our consciousness of changing and mutating at the same speed of the overcoming changes and with his words gives a feeling of being in a phase of adaptation or extinction. Passing from Plato's cavern full of shadows to real and virtual realities full of shadows. Nevertheless this approach is a little exaggerated I considered important to bring it into the discussion. The switch has become more evident with the evolution of media, the introduction of internet and the transformation in our ways. The process of interpretation have cross the imaginable limits and the transition from Homo Significans to Homo significans cyberneticus cannot be deny. The rise of a Digital generation (Turner, 2010: 1) or Digital natives (Prensky, 2001: 1) is embedded in the behaviors of our younger fellows and technology is not a hassle or something that needs to be taught anymore:
Todays students K through college represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Todays average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives. It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, todays students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors (Prensky, 2001: 1)

Owen Kelly in his essay Analogy is better than Reality: phenomenological foundations for

diagrammatic worlds describes for example,

that virtual reality, -which is inside the

imaginary of digital natives- can be described as processes of immersion into a coherent set of patterns, intended to be imagined as a world. The purpose of these processes, or relations, can be described as learning through play, or perhaps as play through learning. The difference between process and place, between relation and object, though, is unbridgeable. This generation has the advantage of using the web for their purposes, transform knowledge into hybrid materials that construct things from old to new and are useful for what they want to learn, specifically. They are native speakers of the new

language of media.

Digital immigrants on the other hand are in process of adaptation and learning:
As Digital Immigrants learn like all immigrants, some better than others to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past. The digital immigrant accent can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Todays older folk were "socialized" differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain. (Prensky, 2001: 2)

Something interesting is boiling. What about transforming internet into actions that transcend the virtual reality? In the last years, movements with different visions about the world are gaining importance in social networks. The potential of younger generations to surpass the tecnical impediments of new media and convert two worlds into realities that go hand by hand is transforming public opinion, participation and engagement.
There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool medium like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like the TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in high definition. High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, high definition. A cartoon is low definition simply because very little visual information is provided. Telephone is a cool medium, or one of low definition, because the ear is given a meager amount of information. And speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. (Mc Luhan in Kelly).

According to this statement of McLuhan rises a question in my mind: What internet can be? Can it be a hybrid of both Cool and Hot Media? We have high participation with the rise of web 2.0 which makes it by definition a cool media, we have digital natives and digital immigrants engaging in causes that transform the way information was digested by masses and transforming intangible material into concrete actions. On the other hand, with the rising of 3D devices, virtual reality games, RPG games etc, individuals have a bigger high

definition experience which then by definition will be a hot media. Multidisciplinarity,


multitasking, combination of information with initiatives such as mashups, remix, empowerment of masses to make themselves to be respected though digital advocacy and countercultures are evidences of this hot-cold discrepancy, with the appearing of new practices that allow users to spread their own opinion, and have presence in the web without the intervention of conventional media. New content by the people for the people affirms what Negroponte said about the rise of a "digital generation"playful, self-sufficient, psychologically wholeand a generation that will gather, like the Net itself, into collaborative networks of independent peers. (Negroponte in Turner, 2006). One short example can be the Zeitgeist movement. A globally active group of individuals that created a movement around Zeitgeist saga documentaries:
Founded in 2008, The Zeitgeist Movement is a Sustainability Advocacy Organization which conducts community based activism and awareness actions through a network of Global/Regional Chapters, Project Teams, Annual Events, Media and Charity Work. The Movement's principle focus includes the recognition that the majority of the social problems which plague the human species at this time are not the sole result of some institutional corruption, scarcity, a political policy, a flaw of "human nature" or other commonly held assumptions of causality. Rather, The Movement recognizes that issues such as poverty, corruption, collapse, homelessness, war, starvation and the like appear to be "Symptoms" born out of an outdated social structure. While intermediate Reform steps and temporal Community Support are of interest to The Movement, the defining goal here is the installation of a new socioeconomic model based upon technically responsible Resource Management, Allocation and Distribution through what would be considered The Scientific Method of reasoning problems and finding optimized solutions (Taken from Zeitgeist movements webpage).

Saussure statement that languages and uses are ideas that exist independently of words (Saussure, 1983: 65) . This is taking a new meaning with the new initiatives that brake old dogmas and create new paradigms. Alternative uses of such tools are increasing in the last years, the rising of digital countercultures politically and socially active are making us take a stop from the technocratic approach and go back to history. All this ideas are old, Community Memory and its revolutionary way to use a computer in 1976, started gathering interested people to change the approach of technology. This simple

but impressive idea developed a new language. Something that started just as an experiment to introduce people into computers became a urban- computer- based human experiment, where a computer became just the media for people to spread something different than what mainstream media told them everyday. Mainly used by the hippie movement to spread their ideas and political message to the rest of the society.
We thought that there would be considerable resistance to computers invading what was, as we thought of it, the domain of the counterculture, Mr Felsenstein explained. We were wrong. People would walk up the stairs and we had a few seconds in which to tell them, would you like to use our electronic bulletin board, were using a computer. And with the word computer their eyes would lighten, brighten up and theyd say: wow, can I use it? Soon the machine was filling up with messages, everything from a poet promoting his verses and musicians arranging gigs, to discussions of the best place to buy bagels. (Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent, BBC News).

Heinz Von Foester said that if we do not take our actions in our hands somebody else will determine a purpose for us, and if we fail in doing that, we shall provide the excuses for those who want to transfer the responsibility for their own actions to somebody else saying things like I am not responsible for my actions; I just obey orders. Finally he affirms that if we fail to recognize the autonomy of each individual, we may turn into a society that attempts to honor commitments and forgets about its responsibilities. (Von Foester, 1979: 3). Mc Luhan was a great visionary who predicted the apereance of internet without being real and the changes in society. The Global Village he talked in the Guthember's Galaxy is now our new paradigm. Shall we construct alternative and flexible bifurcations? Shall we create new dogmas out of the new ones? Homo significans will always be our starting point to give meaning to our life, independently of being digital or physical. Our virtual realities are not only machine based. The biggest simulator is inside our own brain and consciousness and the limits of our imagination cannot be measured by any tittle. Terrance Mckenna in the book The Archaic revival from 1991 speculates about a transcendental object, a computer program that will open all the

possibilities and everybody becomes everything (McKenna, 1991: 20). That transcendental object can perhaps be internet, if the uses we give to it surpass our primitive and lowest needs as Von Foester said. Even our ancestors in the caverns could daydream and imagine future imaginary landscapes. Probably we are dreaming the steps of future generations that will navigate between realities and become material and immaterial. References 1. Chandler, David, Semiotics for beginners. (2001)Available: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html. Last accessed 15th Febr 2012. 2. Chomski, Noam. Language and Mind Linguistic Contributions to the Study of Mind

(Future) . 1968.Available:
http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/chomsky.htm. Last accessed january 2012. 3. Saussure , Ferdinand de. 1910 - 1911.Third Course of Lectures on General

Linguistics.publ. Pergamon Press, 1993. Found on the web, no website recalled. Lecture.
4. Von Foerster, Heinz. "Cybernetics of Cybernetics." University of Illinois, Urbana (1979). Article . 5. Virilio, Paul.Ground Zero. Verso. London; New York, Verso. 2002.Print. 6. Turner, Kirsten Hawley. Digitalk: A new literacy for a new generation. Kappan , September 2010: 41 46. Print. 7. Prensky, Marc. Digital natives, Digital Immigrants part1. On the horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001. Printed. 8. Kelly, Owen. Analogy is better than Reality:phenomenological foundations for diagrammatic worlds. Founded: http://taik.academia.edu/OwenKelly 9. Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. University of Chicag press. 2006. 354 pages. Printed. 10. Mckenna, Terence. 1992. The Archaic Revival . Harper San Francisco; 1st edition.