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Released under a copyleft license by Juha Suoranta & Tere Vadén. Wikified by James Neill


Juha Suoranta & Tere Vadén


Political Economy of

Digital Literacy and the

Promise of Participatory Media

Copyleft 2008 by Juha Suoranta & Tere Vadén

Published by Paulo Freire Research Center, Finland

( and Open Source Research Group,

(, Hypermedialab,

University of Tampere, Finland, 2008.

Downloads, comments and work-in-progress:

ISBN 978-951-44-7281-7 (pdf)

ISBN 978-951-44-7280-0 (bound)

For the editors and users of wikis,

where ever you are


Introduction 1

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 7

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 31

3. Radical Monopolies 55

4. The World Divided in Two 79

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 121

6. Stages of Freedom: from Social to Socialist Media 151

Conclusion 181

References 189

List of Tables

Table 1. History of Human Learning 15

Table 2. Two Conceptions of Learning 27

Table 3. Two Mindsets 131

Table 4. Levels of Freedom 178


Our writing of this book has been driven by several recent promises and

possibilities, especially in the area of education and digital media. These

include a new ethos of participation, collaboration and co-operation in

many branches of action in the digital sphere; the new openness of

academic and other publishing is one example. As we argue in this

book, we are moving towards a progressive transformation from the

institutionalized and individualized forms of learning to open learning

and collaboration. This book is born out of the tension between, on one

hand, a fascination with the use of new technologies and learning

practices in furthering socially just futures, and, on the other hand, a

critical view of the constants or "unmoved movers" of the information

society development: the West and Capitalism. In short, our task is to

explore the promises of open access and the power of critical pedagogy

in the context that we entitle in this book the Wikiworld.

By the notion of Wikiworld we refer both to the technical and social

spheres of the Internet; more specifically to those social formations and

political struggles that can be enforced by the possibilities of the Net.

The Wikiworld is built through the "collaborative turn," or what is called

participatory culture, which includes relatively low barriers to civic

engagement and activism, artistic and other sorts of expression, easy

access for creating and sharing one’s outputs with others, peer to peer

relations and informal mentorship as well as new forms of socialization,

social connections, collectivism and solidarity (see Jenkins et al. 2006).

And more than that: from our point of view the Wikiworld, and its

phenomena, is not sufficiently scrutinized if not seen in the larger sociopolitical

context through the lens of radical political economy. From this

angle the Wikiworld is also an ideological battlefield, and the stakes are

2 Wikiworld

high: in question are the very ways in which we conceive of the digital

sphere and its physical counterparts.

A case in point in the collaborative turn is Wikipedia and its sister

projects like Wikiversity, which in our estimate will soon confront

nationally governed educational systems. Researchers, educators,

teachers and other cultural workers are tired of waiting to get on board

the Wikiworld through their institutions, and are building their blogs and

wikis and forming alliances globally with their peers and like-minded

people. They are part of informal networks and "invisible colleges."

Some of them have joined digital temporary autonomous zones. New

forms of interaction and knowledge production are flourishing outside

closed educational systems. Old organizational structures are like

dinosaurs preparing for extinction in the new era. And the potential goes

beyond the transformation from formal education to public education:

there is Wikinews, Wikileaks, Wikibooks, not to speak of all the grassroots

wikis of specific communities. These social inventions are taking

research communities back home: to the diverse forms of co-operation

free from the pressing and often alienating system logic of the market

universities, national boundaries, and language barriers. Wikipedia and

its sister projects have proved the effectiveness of voluntary work in

producing and creating free contents. These contents have no market

value; instead they have huge use value in genuine intellectual interest,

unreified sociality and the search for knowledge. Autonomy of science

and public education gain from the freedom of the Wikiworld. In terms

of education, the Wikiworld comprises some of the key ideas of the

Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which is part of a larger global

collaborative turn towards open education and open access to


We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and

learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool

of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for

Introduction 3

all to use. These educators are creating a world where

each and every person on earth can access and contribute

to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting

the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners

create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening

their skills and understanding as they go. This emerging

open education movement combines the established

tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and

the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is

built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom

to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational

resources without constraint. Educators, learners and

others who share this belief are gathering together as part

of a worldwide effort to make education both more

accessible and more effective. (http://www.capetowndeclaration.


Current international and national trends in educational policies

emphasizing educational qualifications, competition and marketization

of higher education are too narrow and repressive views to last for very

long. They distort learning and research like the notions of "German"

and "Socialist" science did in their time. In contrast, internationally open

and free scientific activity benefits all people and nations equally; otherwise

it does not deserve to be called science. But openness is a challenge

for closed educational and other systems; it forces educational authorities

– public and private alike – to abandon shortsighted monetary aims.

Profit-orientation (competition, evaluation, audition) must be replaced

by diversity, conviviality, collaboration, actual freedom, accessibility

and participation. Again, this goes beyond the agenda of formal

education. As the rallying cry of the Swedish Pirate Party goes, the goal

is "to make the totality of human culture available for everyone." And

not just available: the Wikiworld is also editable, improvable.

4 Wikiworld

By making this book an open access publication we wanted to foster

these ideas. Of course we discussed whether to take the manuscript to a

publisher, and we actually did. But whatever the publisher's decision, in

the end we chose open access. This is also a political statement. Since

we work in a public university funded by the Finnish government (for

how long, we don't know; for as we write in spring 2008, the publicly

funded university system has been in a state of turbulence for years), we

are obliged to do our job for the public without cashing in, or without

putting some extra cash in our own pockets. Perhaps, if we were

independent agents, the case would be different, as we would need to

bring bread to the table without a monthly paycheck from the university.

But even that situation shouldn't prevent us from writing and publishing

open access, quite the reverse.

Open access publishing fits extremely well with the core ideas of

critical education as it cherishes collaborative learning in its various

forms, and sharing critical ideas and crucial personal and collective

experiences. And, as Joe Kincheloe (2007, 10), one of the founding

figures of critical pedagogy, has put it, "a vibrant, relevant, effective

critical pedagogy in the contemporary era must be simultaneously

intellectually rigorous and accessible to multiple audiences. In an era

when open-access publishing on the Internet is a compelling issue in the

politics of knowledge (Willinsky 2006), I contend that open-access

writing and speaking about critical pedagogy are also profoundly

important." This is where the philosophy of open access meets the

philosophy of critical education; in the era of corporate rule in the

mainstream media (including the academic publishing business), and

elsewhere, critical thought and open access need and nourish each other,

perhaps more than ever (see, e.g., the Net presence of Paulo Freire at

In a fundamental sense, the social and digital collaborative sphere,

the Wikiworld, is anarchistic in its very nature. This means that we

cannot channel, control or predict the future of the Wikiworld in

Introduction 5

advance. But we can offer and share insights, ideas and collaborative

productions which at best can free our minds from the restrictions of the

closed system logics. To say that the Wikiworld is anarchistic is not to

deny that it is also overdetermined, that is, its development is caused by

the multiple actions of the multiple actors. To paraphrase philosopher J.

L. Austin (1911–1960), the question on the Wikiworld is not only How

To Do Things with Words, but also How To Do Things with Edits, Saves,

Uploads, Downloads, Histories, Revisions, and Discussions.

The book is divided into six chapters. We start the first chapter by

locating our position in the critical discussion on education and maintain

that there actually is a tradition of educational research and thought that

helps in understanding the various characteristics of the Wikiworld.

Furthermore, this tradition can be advanced by theorizing the tools of

the Wikiworld in the context of a critical educational paradigm. In the

second chapter, we follow closely and analyze some of the central, often

taken-for-granted assumptions and conceptual schemes of the present

age. We adopt the view of political economy in making a division

between a netocratic elite and a consumtariat. The third chapter deals

with the question of radical monopolies, their problems as well as the

possibilities of overcoming them with radical openness in the

educational and other arenas. In the fourth chapter, we continue with the

theme of the present divided world, especially focusing on the youth

question and evolving forms of socialization. The fifth chapter is

dedicated to the issue of collaborative learning particularly in the

context of higher education. As the title of our last chapter states, the

essential issue in the Wikiworld is one of freedom – levels and kinds of

freedom. Our message is clear: we write for the radical openness of

education for all.

6 Wikiworld


This book includes a part of our joint collaborations, and concludes a

research project that has continued for the last six years. We would like

to thank the following persons for sharing their ideas on various themes

related to the Wikiworld: Michele Knobel, Reijo Kupiainen, Colin

Lankshear, Teemu Leinonen, Peter McLaren, Teemu Mikkonen and

Niklas Vainio. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to

Catherine Preus who corrected and proof read our English, and made

many useful comments during the writing and editing process.

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education

In his critique of political economy, Marx did not care much about

Nature as such, but about how human beings in their social relations use

its resources for their own purposes. He was interested in relations

between material substratum, capital and labor, which "is a creator of

use value, is useful labour, it is a necessary condition, independent of all

forms of society, for the existence of the human race; it is an eternal

nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material

exchanges between man and Nature, and therefore no life" (Marx 1867).

Marx put his emphasis on examining how it can be that the coat may be

"worth twice as much as the ten yards of linen." In the discourse of

digital media and digital literacy it is sometimes, maybe too often,

maintained that digitalization and digital apparati are sort of master

movers that change the world and us by their mere existence. This is

partly true if we take it that material being affects human consciousness.

But as we see it, more interesting and more important than binary strings

of ones and zeros – these rolls of linen of our time – are the uses, and

perhaps misuses, of digital media and digital literacy.

Thus digitalization as such is not in the scope of our book, but what

we as human beings can make of it. In this sense we tentatively define

digital literacies as various processes of using digital information and

communication technologies for the common good. In this book, digital

literacy refers not only to the ability to use digital technologies –

whether personal devices or communication networks – to locate, create

and evaluate information, but also and more importantly to build

alliances to increase material, social and individual justice and enable

social transformation. These aims are shared in the tradition of critical

pedagogy and by critical theorists in education who claim that at present

8 Wikiworld

we are witnessing and living through the first steps of a true revolution

in the modes of digital communication and convivial tools for

collaborative literacy and transformative learning.

To dramatize the issues at stake, we should consider the

claim that we are now undergoing one of the most

significant technological revolutions for education since

the progression from oral to print and book-based

teaching. … Furthermore, the technological developments

of the present era make possible the radical re-visioning

and reconstruction of education and society argued for in

the progressive era by Dewey and in the 1960s and 1970s

by Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, and others who sought radical

educational and social reform. (Kellner 2004, 10.)

In the vast theoretical literature of critical pedagogy issues of material,

social, political, and cultural modes of production with such related

topics as class, gender, race, and popular culture as critical social

formations have been analyzed during the past decades (Darder & al.

2003; McLaren & Kincheloe 2007; Macrine & al. 2008) However, there

are only a few attempts so far to try to capture the effects of the vastly

growing field of digital production with its ever-evolving technologies,

ideologies, and social codes – of course with some notable exceptions

(see Giroux 2000a; 2004; Kellner 1995; 2004; Peters & Lankshear 1996;

Lankshear & Knobel 2003).

In the debate, three general expectations towards digital media as a

"teaching machine" can be discerned: threats (or even fears), promises,

and possibilities. Firstly, new information and communication

technologies have been seen as threats from the point of view of their

implicit technical rationality, "technological determinism" and covert

features of alienation. As Henry Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux (2004,

268) have put it, the central threat is not what new technologies enable,

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 9

"but that such technologies, when not shaped by ethical considerations,

collective debate, and dialogical approaches, lose whatever potential

they might have for linking education to critical thinking and learning to

democratic social change." In other words "the real issue is whether

such technology in its various pedagogical uses … is governed by a

technocratic rationality that undermines human freedom and democratic

values" (ibid.). These fears were explicated early on by the German

philosopher Martin Heidegger in his critique of enframing and Herbert

Marcuse in his critique of technocracy (see Thomson 2003). Heidegger

thought that the ultimate danger of technology does not lie in its possible

breakdowns (nuclear disaster, climate change, etc.) but rather in the fact

that technology does not fail but works smoothly and faultlessly in its

own hermetic realm, making us think of ourselves as resources (see,

e.g., Heidegger 1982). To use Heidegger's idea, one could say that the

ultimate fear is that the "teaching machines" enhanced with information

technology will work seamlessly together with technological rationality

so that all emancipatory potential is finally lost.

For his part Marcuse saw technocracy as a political state in which

"technical considerations of imperialistic efficiency and rationality

supersede the traditional standards of profitability and general welfare"

(Marcuse 1941 cited in Thomson 2003, 61; see also Kellner 1998). But

what distinguishes Marcuse's critique of technology from Heidegger's

and also from most of his peers around the Frankfurt School was his

insistence that technology holds also a promise if its instrumentality can

be thought of differently. The idea is to modify technology by the

abolition of class society and the principle of reducing people to things

or mere resources to be optimized with maximal efficiency. For it is "not

only an ontological question of what technology is making of us; that

question needs to be posed, to be sure, but we must also ask the political

question of what we can make of technology" (Feenberg 1998). This

line of thought is to be found in most critical educators who, in

Marcuse's footsteps, "reject the hype and pretensions of techno-utopias

10 Wikiworld

and techno-fixes to the problems of education and society" (Kellner

2004, 13), and instead want to critically examine and reflect the uses of

information and communication technologies together with progressive

and transformative pedagogical theories.

On the other hand digital technologies and their evolving

applications have been seen as containing promises and ingredients of a

new public sphere and "hyperpedagogy" (Dwight & Garrison 2003) to

be formed in cyberspace with diverse digital learning tools; for some

this has promised a new, enhanced active citizenship. Referring to the

2,500-year-old Western teleological, dogmatic metaphysics with

predetermined and rational educational ends, technological enthusiasts

demand that digital learning tools "should free students to create their

own unique essences in the learning process rather than have their

essences proscribed by a teleological value system of predetermined

fixed ends" (ibid., 724). The latter promise has also been seen in the

rejuvenation of a Habermasian ideal communication (see Habermas

1981) consisting of open and free rational discussions in various web


Diverse spheres of digitally mediated communication – wikispheres,

blogospheres, podspheres, and so on – have held possibilities to enlarge

and enhance educational expertise into new areas of learning such as

private enterprise, consulting and digitally conducted distance education

by using new information and communication technologies. Critical

theorists have for their part asked for new emancipatory skills and

literacies needed in comprehending various digital spaces and

incorporating them in the settings of radical politico-social

transformation and educational change. In terms of new possibilities

Kahn and Kellner (2006) have maintained that

people should be helped to advance the multiple

technoliteracies that will allow them to understand,

critique, and transform the oppressive social and cultural

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 11

conditions in which they live, as they become

ecologically-informed, ethical, and transformative

subjects as opposed to objects of technological domination

and manipulation. This requires producing multiple

oppositional literacies for critical thinking, reflection, and

the capacity to engage in the creation of discourse,

cultural artifacts, and political action amidst widespread

technological revolution. Further, as active and engaged

subjects arise through social interactions with others, a

notion of convivial technologies must come to be a part of

the kinds of technoliteracy that a radical reconstruction of

education now seeks to cultivate.

Besides these questions of skills and literacy, only a few have dared to

ask the substantial questions pertaining to the critical or even

revolutionary potential of social media. In the following we want to

probe this question by using the effects of Wikipedia and other wikis

like it as examples. Wiki software seems to promise almost limitless

global open collaboration in terms of content production, discussion and

argumentation, and thus ideally exemplifies the Habermasian potential

of digital technology. However, we need to look further into the depths

of the nature of such technology in order to see how the much-hyped

promise of wikis and other types of social media interacts with the real

world's structural constraints and conflicts. To say it in a nutshell, it is

not the form but the content – what is said and why – that is crucial in

evaluating digital media's effects, its promises and perils in terms of

global justice. Consequently, the analysis of digital media in the context

of communication and educational theory has to be intertwined with an

analysis of critical political economy.

Although our book's topic is new digital literacies in the seemingly

fancy world of new information and communications technologies, we

have tried to keep globally growing social, economic and educational

12 Wikiworld

inequalities firmly in our minds. And as our frame of reference is

political economy of communication and media technologies and critical

sociology of education, we study these inequalities especially from the

point of the view of young people – those of us who inherit the world.

Therefore we want to remind ourselves and our readers at the outset that

even today there are over 100 million children who lack primary

education, and 55 per cent of them are girls. Wandering around – both

literally and metaphorically – in the Mall of America, in one of the

largest shopping paradises in the world, it can be hard to realize or

remember that according to UNESCO statistics almost 800 million

people aged 15 and above are still without basic literacy skills. Thus

writing about new information and communication technologies,

whether in the traditional sense or in the sense of social media, is

already extremely biased, and although we want to write critically and

against the grain, the old saying "the West and the rest" is highly

illustrative, as we hope to show in what follows. And yet two more

sobering facts: only one-sixth of the world's population uses the Internet

on a regular basis. Where are these people? If you can point out the

affluent countries on the world map, you can also point out the countries

with the most Internet users. Basically it is as simple as that.

Our Point of View: A Critical Paradigm of Education

"Now that self-education and fraternal education are becoming more

general, the teacher must, in the form he now normally assumes, become

almost redundant. Friends anxious to learn, who want to acquire

knowledge of something together, can find in our age of books a shorter

and more natural way than 'school' and 'teacher' are." (Nietzsche 1996,

353.) Friedrich Nietzsche wrote these words in the 1880's in his book for

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 13

free spirits, Human, All Too Human. If Nietzsche's 'age of books' was

replaced by 'age of lifelong learning', 'open learning', 'distance learning,'

'co-operative learning,' 'age of network learning,' or 'new learning

technologies,' the above quotation would tell part of the story of

contemporary educational thinking. Moreover, it summarizes thoughts

in critical paradigm of education. A case in point is Ivan Illich and his

ideas about deschooling society; they contrast the present culture of

learning and education as a commodity.

One basic belief in the critical paradigm of education is that learning

and education are fundamentally social and political activities reaching

from formal schooling to everyday life and ordinary activities. That is to

say that learning is a central intersubjective human activity which

belongs to and is part of our being in the world. Thus, there are at least

three different views in the critical paradigm of education approaches

which bear close resemblance to each other in their theoretical


The first one is developed by Bruner (1996). His seminal

developments in the area of cultural psychology are closely linked to

Vygotsky's cultural historical theories of development. The second view

consists of those theories which emphasize that learning is a social

phenomenon and plays a crucial role in different everyday- and workrelated

practices (Engeström & Middleton 1996). This includes the area

of learning through apprenticeship (Lave & Wenger 1991; Kvale &

Nielsen 1997). The third view can be called critical political economy of

education, for researchers in this field are not merely interested in the

sociality of learning as such, but ideological and political functions and

consequences of learning and systemic education.

In this third view it is argued that social learning and education have

to be understood as producing not only knowledge but also political

subjects. Furthermore, as a form of cultural production education and

learning are "implicated in the construction and organization of

knowledge, desires, values, and social practices" (Giroux, 1992, 3). In

14 Wikiworld

general, the critical studies in education approach tries to question and

formulate the old boundaries of educational research and practices. All

these research orientations share the theoretical assumption that

learning, like other human activities, always occurs in a certain place

and time, in other words, learning is socially and politically situated, and

that its primary aim is to fight against oppressive social and political

conditions, and further true democracy and enhance cultural and

political transformation (see McLaren & Jaramillo 2007; Giroux 2006).

In addition, it is believed that learning, like other human activities, is

historically and culturally bound.

Education in its diverse institutional forms has played a major role in

creating the modern era. It is said that in the West, as well as in other

post-industrial nations, we live in learning societies. Some theorists

(Giroux, 1995, Aittola & al. 1995) claim, however, that the modern

legacy of schooling has began to break down: the locus of significant

learning experiences has shifted from school to the peer-to-peer learning

situations; from the formality of the classroom to the informality of

diverse learning sites such as home, work, leisure-time and popular

culture, and those of the Net. This claim is based on the fact that because

of today's electronic information technologies there is much more

information available outside than inside the classroom.

These observations are, however, modern themselves and, besides

this, rather ahistorical. For if education and learning are looked at

through a historical perspective, we see that it is neither informal

learning nor learning outside the classroom but school learning that is a

recent phenomenon (see Table 1). Historically, human beings have

gained most of their learning experiences in their natural environments,

that is, from learning to stay alive. In other words, people have learnt

simply by living; that life itself has been, and still is, the greatest

educator (see also Antikainen & al. 1996). This applies also to the

Wikiworld with its information and communication abundance.

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 15

Table 1: History of Human Learning

Period Premodern Modern Late


Late Late-


Form Life itself School Life-long


Learning webs

Media Tradition Texts and





and life


Everyday life

Sphere Local National National and


Global and


Function Surviving Knowing Having Being

Moreover, it is crucial to note the differences between the modern and

the late modern eras of learning. Modernity was the time of school

learning. The modern school was a bureaucratic organization which was

characterized by multiple standardized procedures (Kvale 1997). It was

ruled by text-based learning and, especially, by formal and ritualized

examination. It was the examination which, according to Foucault

(1979, 192), was at the centre of procedures that constituted the

individual, guaranteed the functions of distribution and classification,

and, as a consequence, constant surveillance of pupils.

Largely, the school is the product of modern mass society, a response

to the needs of industrialization. Social and technological change have

forced people as laborers to keep on learning – learning to have, know

16 Wikiworld

and think correctly – throughout their lives, to become life-long learners

who embrace the right attitudes for being modern and postmodern

consumers. On the other hand, late modernity might mean different type

of approach to learning.

Assumingly in late modernity, if seen as the time of collapsing moral

and practical certainties (Bauman 1995), learning will be defined

through value rationality – in Weber's sense of the term – and

characterized as a way of personal and social transformation more than

through instrumental rationality and as a way to better competencies in

labor market. Similarly, as learning has shifted from the school to the

various sites of networked everyday life, learning and pedagogy will be

defined, using Giroux's (1994, x) words, as "the creation of public

sphere, one that brings people together in a variety of sites to talk,

exchange information, listen, feel their desires, and expand their

capacities for joy, love, solidarity, and struggle." As we shall see, this is

the picture Illich draws in his idea of convivial institutions.

In their current forms, it might be that schools no longer belong to

the order of things in the late modern era, and they are about to vanish

from the map of human affairs, "like a face drawn in sand at the edge of

the sea," to paraphrase Foucault's (1994, 387) prediction about the future

of human beings as an object of inquiry. This is at least Illich's

standpoint in his Deschooling Society. Before turning to some of Illich's

central arguments important to our own thinking against the schooled

society, and ways of deschooling it (through learning webs and a new

image of human being), we will describe some of the key points in his

general educational thinking. First and foremost, Illich is a utopian

thinker. Utopia, as u-topos, refers to a time or place which does not and

never will exist. Thus, that is both the tragedy and hope of all utopias

and utopian thinkers. Along with Paulo Freire, he is also one of the most

radical political and social thinkers in the second half of the twentieth

century. His aim was to analyze the institutional structures of

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 17

industrialized society and to provide both rigorous criticism and a set of

alternative concepts.

Illich's basic claim is that not only learning and education but also

Western societies in general have become schooled. He calls this the

Western tendency to institutionalize the teaching of values: People have

become dependent not only on school but also on other bureaucratic

agencies of modern capitalistic societies: the consumer-family, the party,

the army, the church, the media. According to him, all modern

conveniences have hidden curricula designed to make people believe

that they are essential services for people. Thus, he is a deconstructionist

in the sense that he is ready to abolish schools as we know them and

deschool a whole society. He is also a conservative in the sense that he

does not believe in progress through schooling. Quite the contrary, in his

view education leads "to physical pollution, social polarization and

psychological impotence." His devaluing of modern institutions can be

described as nomadic postmodernism, the basis for neo-Marxist

criticism of Illich as a conservative.

According to Paula Allman (1988, 90-91), Illich does not distinguish

between the symptoms and the cause of the problem. That is, he

wrongly locates the cause within schools and other institutions rather

than within the socio-economic superstructure of capitalist societies.

The neglect of material conditions and their ideological masking creates

even more social divisions and inequalities. Furthermore, Illich's ideas

about learning webs might work well in a socialistic order, but in market

economies, says Allman, they are only piecemeal tactics which lead "to

securing further privilege for the dominant groups in these societies."

Illich himself wants to remind his critics about the fact that modern

superstructures have effectively penetrated our lifeworlds and become

major employers and benefactors of society. That is why Marxists fail to

explain the triumph of the capitalist consumer society: the worker has

profited from it and "has a great deal more to lose than his chains"

(Fromm 1970, 30). This, and the fact that schools are a form of industry,

18 Wikiworld

is often forgotten by neo-Marxists who argue that the process of

deschooling must be postponed until other disorders are corrected.

However, Illich (1996) has said that he has been misunderstood. Rather

than deschooling society, he wanted to use the term 'disestablishment of

schools' and reminds us to be alert when learning needs and demands are

mentioned in the media.

Illich's attitude resembles that of Nietzsche's who, in Human All-

Too-Human, says that by means of school, rulers win the gifted poor

over to their side. Teachers, above all, become members of the rulers'

intellectual court by their unconscious striving for higher culture.

Modern critics, because of their faith in progress through the sciences

and emancipation of humans, do not share Illich's notion of late

modernism aiming at abolishing all institutions, whether economical,

administrative, ideological or political. In this sense Illich's criticism

applies both to capitalism and socialism. Natural framework for Illich's

approach, then, is the well-known social theoretical opposition between

the system and the lifeworld, elaborated by Habermas (1989) in his

theory of communicative action. Roughly speaking Habermas' central

argument is that the economic and administrative systems of modern

societies are the primary conditions of colonization of the lifeworld,

which, in turn, is the source of social integration, symbolic reproduction

and socialization.

Surprisingly or not, Illich is a learning optimist, for he separates

learning from teaching and schooling, learning from grade advancement

and good behavior, and from obedience and education. Thus, Illich's

views do not reduce to any simple definition, they do not fit in to any

narrow ideological frame: they escape all trivialized readings through

ready-made lenses. Illich maintains that learning belongs to a particular

person and to that person only; it is one's right and one's duty. Thus, this

position makes him along with his learning theory a proponent of

individualistic philosophy of education. His individualism is, however,

socially conscious, for, as his theory of learning can be interpreted,

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 19

individual actions form the basis for emancipation of human beings; a

genuine change is always based on one particular being's actions. In his

individualism Illich is also a Nietzschean free spirit. He says that school

makes human beings abdicate the responsibility for their own learning

and growth, and, in addition, makes many commit a kind of spiritual

suicide. What, then, would better define his attitude towards the task of

learning and self-transformation than Nietzsche's (1996, 379) aphorism

282: "The teacher a necessary evil. – As few people as possible between

the productive spirit and the spirits who hunger and receive!" Illich's

utopia is turning out to be more of a topical scenario of our so-called

information age than anyone ever thought. Illich's learning web

metaphor is in itself interesting. It represents nicely the current trend that

it is as if all the best minds in education are found from the virtual world

of the World Wide Web.

The point of departure in Illich's thinking is the idea of unlimited

access to learning: In his words, "[T]he most radical alternative to

school would be a network or service which gave each man [and

woman, our addition] the same opportunity to share his [and her, our

addition] current concern with others motivated by the same concern"

(Illich, 1971, 19). This requires "the return of initiative and

accountability for learning to the learner or his most immediate tutor"

(ibid., 16). Illich, thus, wants to correct the common mistake that

learning is the exclusive result of teaching, rather than that most learning

occurs outside schools:

Everyone learns how to live outside school. We learn to

speak, to think, to love, to feel, to play, to curse, to politic,

and to work without interference from a teacher. Even

children who are under a teacher's care day and night are

no exceptions to the rule. Orphans, idiots, and

schoolteachers' sons learn most of what they learn outside

the 'educational' process planned for them. (ibid., 28-29)

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Nowadays this is rather common wisdom among many educators.

Studies in educational anthropology have shown that even in

educational settings, in schools, there is a amount of "extracurricular,"

nonacademic and informal activities going on all the time: different

clubs, events, meetings, projects, sport events, informal relationships,

dating and romance (see Peshkin 1994). In his phenomenology of

schools, Illich identifies several underlying assumptions, or hidden

curriculum of schooling that denies the unlimited access to learning.

From Illich's global view point, most people are not able to provide

childhood to their offspring and those who do it feel that it is a burden

not a blessing; he sees that age, as we Westerners know it, is a

construction of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie. Furthermore, a

teacher-pupil relationship is based on the belief that culture must be

transmitted from the older generation to the younger: schools do not

fulfill this task because "pupils have never credited teachers for most of

their learning" (Illich 1971, 29).

In addition, full-time attendance at school "tends to make a total

claim on the time and energies of its participants" (ibid., 30). This makes

teachers into custodians, moralist-preachers, and therapists. Illich argues

that teachers' powers mentioned above, along with attendance rules,

creates an enclave which is more primitive, magical and total than the

everyday world of Western culture. In this magic zone, distinctions

between morality, legality and personal worth collapse into one and each

student mistake is made to be felt as a multiple offense.

Illich also analyses the broader hidden curriculum of schooling. This

analysis reveals that schooling serves as a rite of initiation into a growthoriented

consumer society creating "the myths of schooling". The myth

of unending consumption is strengthened by the idea that teaching

produces learning (compared to the idea of learning by doing or

participating in a meaningful setting). Learning is understood as a

product that has the same structure as other merchandise. Schools are

learning factories which produce demand for school learning. The myth

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 21

of measurement of values says that everything can be measured, from

personal growth, happiness and intelligence to development of nations

and progress toward peace. Furthermore, education and learning are

defined as consumer goods, as merchandise that is sold and bought on

the school market. Consumer parents, who can afford it, make education

investments and read college ratings in order to evaluate the exchange

value of their money. Schooling at all levels is big business.

The myth of self-perpetuating progress emphasizes that the number

of persons effectively treated by a teacher measures the success of

schooling. We have pupil-hours, study points and credits, and other

statistics, which allow competition and comparison between pupils,

schools, areas, and nations. This is the myth which is living well in

today's political rhetoric of education. In the present situation, schooling

is like an obligatory lottery machine. Children are allowed to play, but

the game is not fair. Those who "choose" the right parents as well as the

right race, culture and nation, that is, the family with social, educational

and economic wealth and capital, are more advantaged than others, and

collect the prizes in the fields of constant educational competition.

Schooling is not only the new world religion with its curses and

blessings, but also among the fastest-growing markets in the world. This

assertion has held good for the past decades, and is still valid. Thus,

schooling is a form of alienation, for it creates an illusion that students

are constructors of their own wisdom, although they are only objects of

the knowledge industry in which knowledge "is conceived as a

commodity put on the market in school" (Illich 1971, 47). According to

Illich, the school is the main evil, the institution of manipulative

institutions, which shapes people's vision of reality. The school

"enslaves more profoundly and more systematically"; it "touches us so

intimately that none of us can expect to be liberated from it by

something else," (ibid., 47). There are, however, other instances with

same functions and their own hidden curricula: family life, draft, health

care, and media. Hence, Illich splits institutions to manipulative and

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"convivial," and offers a classification of different institutions depending

on their totality or openness.

On the manipulative side are institutions like law enforcement, the

army, prison, mental hospital, nursing homes and orphan asylums.

Membership in these socially or psychologically addictive institutions is

achieved coercively: "by forced commitment or selective service" (ibid.,

54). Convivial or spontaneous institutions, on the other hand, are like

telephone links, subway lines, mail routes, public markets and free

exchange of ideas. This type of institution is like a network which

facilitates communication and co-operation among free agents. Illich

sketches a picture of the public place where learning and other kinds of

activities would flourish – naturally without charge:

There could be tool shops, libraries, laboratories, and

gaming rooms. Photo labs and offset presses would allow

neighborhood newspaper to flourish. Some storefront

learning centers could contain viewing booths for closedcircuit

television, others could feature office equipment

for use and for repair. The jukebox or the record player

would be commonplace, with some specializing in

classical music, others in international folk tunes, others in

jazz. Film clubs would compete with each other and with

commercial television. Museum outlets could be networks

for circulating exhibits of works of art, both old and new,

originals and reproductions, perhaps administered by the

various metropolitan museums. (ibid., 84)

Like the above quote clearly shows, Illich's thinking is holistic or

multidisciplinary in nature. For, he is not only suggesting an educational

reform with the idea of convivial institution but, at the same time,

working in the fields of urban planning, architecture and social policy.

Modern schooling reflects the consumer society as both cause and

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 23

consequence. It makes learning and education into commodities that can

be marketed, sold, bought, consumed, wasted and recycled; teaching

becomes a relation between a supplier and a consumer even though in a

quite paradoxical way: "it guaranteed the movement of knowledge from

the teacher to the pupil, but it extracted from the pupil a knowledge

destined and reserved for the teacher" (Foucault 1979, 187). All this is

made happen in various kinds of learning institutions. Not only is the

ideology of schooling restricted to childhood, but also, as Illich points

out, it is expanded to adulthood in the name of life-long learning. Illich

(1971, 69), obviously, neither believes in the ideas of life-long learning

nor open learning environments:

Now the teacher-therapists go on to propose life-long

educational treatment as the next step. The style of this

treatment is under discussion: Should it take the form of

continued adult classroom attendance? Electronic ecstasy?

Or periodic sensitivity sessions? All educators are ready to

conspire to push out the walls of the classroom, with the

goal of transforming the entire culture into a school.

The spontaneous use of institutions opens up the possibility of different

learning webs, including Illich's core idea of unlimited access to

learning. There are three demands for the creation of deschooled society

in Illich's utopia: changes in the arrangements of learning, new aims for

educational system and changes in teachers' roles. Thus, the

arrangements of learning, which could give each human being the same

opportunity to share their current concerns with others motivated by the

same concern, are (Illich 1971, 103):

1. Reference services to educational objects as a

system "to liberate access to things by abolishing

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the control which persons and institutions now

exercise over their educational values."

2. Skill exchanges as an adjustment "to liberate the

sharing of skills by guaranteeing freedom to teach

or exercise them on request."

3. Peer matching as a communication network

which liberates "the critical and creative resources

of people by returning to individual persons the

ability to call and hold meetings."

4. Reference services to educators-at-large as a

directory "to liberate the individual from the

obligation to shape his [or her] expectations to the

services offered by any established profession- by

providing him [or her] with the opportunity to

draw on the experience of his [or her] peers and to

entrust himself [or herself] to the teacher, guide,

adviser, or healer of his [or her] choice."

A good educational arrangement as a convivial system would, then,

provide everyone who wants to learn at any time in their life with access

to available resources; it would empower people to share their

knowledge; and it would give an opportunity to people to present an

issue to the public whenever it is necessary. To accomplish the task of

deschooling society certain types of teachers are also needed. First type

is composed of network administrators, who would build and operate

diverse learning networks. Second type consists of pedagogues, who

would facilitate learning and help people to find their own paths in the

networks. Third type is composed of educational leaders, primus inter

pares, whose task would be to create dialogical educational

relationships. This latter kind of educational relationship is, according to

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, like a moral type of friendship: "it

makes a gift, or does whatever it does, as to a friend". Thomas Aquinas

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 25

characterizes this relationship as an act of love and mercy. Illich says

that it is always a mutual luxury, a form of leisure for the teacher and for

the pupil.

In addition to the changes in the arrangements of learning, aims of

educational system and changes in teachers' role, new attitudes and,

what is of importance, a new image of human being also is needed.

Illich suggests that the above-mentioned learning webs should lean not

on technology but on co-operation, caring, and sharing of knowledge

and skills between people. Furthermore, Illich claims that changes in the

role and use of institutions are not possible without a dramatic change in

current worldviews, images of human being and functions of human

beings in the world. Currently we are living in a technological utopia in

which it is believed that all the problems created in modernity, social as

well as political and educational, are susceptible to a technical solution

and qualitative improvements are possible through technological

development. This is the dogma of institutionalizing of values.

According to Illich, we have to move to another utopia, which Erich

Fromm (1971) calls humanistic radicalism. Fromm's words are worth

quoting at length:

Humanistic radicalism is radical questioning guided by

insight into the dynamics of man's nature; and by concern

for man's growth and full unfolding. … All this means that

humanist radicalism questions every idea and every

institution from the standpoint of whether it helps or

hinders man's capacity for greater aliveness and joy. This

is not the place to give lengthy examples for the kind of

common-sensical premises that are questioned by humanist

radicalism. … I want to mention only a few like the

modern concept of "progress," which means the principle

of ever-increasing production, consumption, timesaving,

maximal efficiency and profit, and calculability of an

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economic activities without regard to their effect on the

quality of living and the unfolding of man; or the dogma

that increasing consumption makes man happy, that the

management of large-scale enterprises must necessarily be

bureaucratic and alienated; that the aim of life is having

(and using), not being; that reason resides in the intellect

and is split from the affective life; that the newer is always

better than the older; that radicalism is the negation of

tradition; that the opposite of "law and order" is lack of

structure. In short, that the ideas and categories that have

arisen during the development of modern science and

industrialism are superior to those of all former cultures

and indispensable for the progress of the human race.

Illich's new image of human beings can be translated into a less

metaphysical language of learning. In Table 2, two conceptions of

learning are opposed. The table also shows some of the thinkers who

have elaborated these conceptions. Illich's conception is placed on the

right column, with the other critical humanists.

Here we further explicate Erich Fromm's (1996, 16) distinction, in

which he separates two concepts, those of having and being, which refer

to two fundamental but distinct modes of experience and learning.

Learning as having, on the one hand, reflects the archaic idea of

incorporating a thing in order to possess it. Fromm says that the attitude

inherent in consumerism – and, we might add, schooling and the Net as

commodity and the market place in the spirit of Illich – is that of

incorporating, "of swallowing the whole world" (ibid., 27). On the other

hand, learning as being refers to internally motivated learning, learning

without other purposes than ethically meaningful self-transformation,

and learning as an end in itself.

It seems as if Illich's utopia drew society as an island of free spirits

sharing opinions and ideas in an Eden like purity without social powers,

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 27

social divisions or other modern pollutions. This is, of course, a

caricature of Illich's utopian or nomadic postmodernism.

Table 2: Two Conceptions of Learning

Learning as…

consumer good an end in itself (Kant)

having being (Fromm), sharing and caring

political bargain and rhetoric self-transformation (Foucault)

manifestation of instrumental


an act of love and mercy (both eros

and agape) (Thomas Aquinas)

domination the practice of freedom (Freire)

surveillance and social status quo social criticism (Apple)

engineering and economic utility askesis, experiment, pleasure (hooks)

and taking place in…

manipulative institutions "convivial" institutions (Illich)

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Zigmunt Bauman (1995) claims that, unlike in modernity, in late

modernity people are left alone with their moral dilemmas. Modernity

was the era of philosophers as moral legislators, preachers as ethical

experts and teachers as therapists, whereas late modernity demands that

people take care of their own moral decisions, ethical dilemmas and

educational tasks. In postmodernity, there no longer is a solid foundation

of morality in the form of institutions, grand narrative or ideas. In

Bauman's (ibid., 43) words "it is possible now, nay inevitable, to face

the moral issues point-blank, in all their truth, as they emerge from the

life experience of men and women, and as they confront moral selves in

all their irreparable and irredeemable ambivalence".

In our interpretation this is the intellectual landscape in which a

thinker like Illich can be understood. There are, however, a number of

problems in Illich's thinking. In the same way as other utopias, Illich's

individualism and radical humanism is based on a too positive image of

human beings. It forgets that people are capable of evil (like Goethe

says: "that there is no crime of which one cannot imagine oneself to be

the author") and inclined to laziness. Along with other utopians, Illich is

a true believer of fair play; he believes in a just society (in the manner of

John Rawls 1971). He does not want to take into account the evident

fact that all social institutions, no matter how sophisticated in design,

contain free-riders such as learning consultants, therapists of different

kinds and degree hunters unconcerned about actual learning.

Furthermore, his model assumes that everybody wins and nobody loses,

a practical impossibility in human activities.

Although Illich does speak about social institutions and their powers

over individual learners, he, like other utopians, does not analyze the

concept of power deep enough. He believes that people are good in

nature, that learning webs are democratic in themselves, and people in

them work on an equal basis. Like all good utopians he also believes

that people are ready for the proposed changes, that they are willing to

adjust their attitudes and behavior. Moreover, he assumes that they will

1. A Critical Paradigm of Education 29

act like autonomous learners and use their reason with courage, as Kant


Illich would not be a utopian thinker unless he took his ideas to

extremes. He seems to think that schooled society, devoted to "the god

of Consumership" (Postman 1996, 33), is fanatic and hegemonic, that is;

it offers no alternatives to its grand narrative of competition through

schooling. Keeping these reservations in mind when reading Illich, it is

still possible, we believe, to face the moral issue of education, schooling

and learning point-blank, in all its truth whatever we mean by truth as it

emerges from the life experience of men and women, teachers and

administrators, children and politicians.

Thus, a close reading of Illich's prophetic and utopist book also poses

nowadays rarely mentioned questions: How to be an autonomous learner

when autonomy revolves around the educational techniques of power?

How to break free from the oppression of the system when there is no

oppression anymore, only free enterprise and happy learning? In the

spirit of critical education, Illich invites us to ask: What are schools for?

Why are schools? What is the reason for schooling? Is there any reason?

What are the forms of counternarrative in the world of constant freedom

of educational choices? With these questions in mind, it is possible to

develop a readiness to find what surrounds us, and what is usually

common and commodity, strange and odd, to develop a sharpened sense

of educational reality.

30 Wikiworld

2. Digital Literacy and

Political Economy

At a certain stage of their development, the material

productive forces of society come in conflict with the

existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal

expression for the same thing – with the property relations

within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms

of development of the productive forces these relations

turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social

revolution. With the change of the economic foundation

the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly

transformed. In considering such transformations a

distinction should always be made between the material

transformation of the economic conditions of production,

which can be determined with the precision of natural

science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or

philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men

become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as

our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks

of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of

transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary,

this consciousness must be explained rather from the

contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict

between the social productive forces and the relations of

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production. No social order ever perishes before all the

productive forces for which there is room in it have

developed; and new, higher relations of production never

appear before the material conditions of their existence

have matured in the womb of the old society itself.

Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it

can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will

always be found that the task itself arises only when the

material conditions of its solution already exist or are at

least in the process of formation. (Marx 1859.)

An image may be "1. An optical representation of a real object, or 2. A

mental picture of something not real or not present."

( http://en.wiktionary .org/wiki/image ): the image of the information

society is like the persona of a human being, concealing something by

showing itself in full nudity. Nevertheless, does not an image reveal the

truth insofar as it has its causal history and its consequences? What if

the questioning, the polemos, of the information society – like any other

society – has to be done precisely on the level of its image, its influence,

mobility and speed? What if the image of the information society as a

"logic of networks," "informationalism" and "risk society" is true,

corresponding to the reality of the wealthy First World countries like

Finland, a country with one of the highest rates of suicide mortality in

the world? The image responds with a wry smile, and tells us that we

should not be so dense: Truth is relative, the truth for or by someone.

For whom is the contemporary society an information society or a

network society? What is its price to humanity?

If we ask who we are and what characterizes the times we are living,

one of the prominent answers is the notion of risk society. We live in a

time when modern societies have progressed to a stage where, as Beck

(1995, 16) points out, the social, political, economic and personal risks

are beyond the control of traditional institutions. At first, risks are

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 33

produced as if nothing had happened, then they rise to the focus of

political discussion, shadowing other conflicts and clashes. With the

inevitability of contemporary economy-driven development, the risk

society is not an option to be chosen, but an inevitable consequence of

modernization (ibid., 17.) The same goes for the logic of networks and

"informationalism that is replacing industrialism as the hegemonic

form" (Castells 2000, 139); you have to take part in the networks or face

degeneration. The frontline of information society does not exist

between workers and capitalists but between a netocratic elite and a

consumtariat (!i"ek 2004a, 192).

The fundamental difference between the netocracy and the

comsumtariat is "that the former controls its own production of desire,

whereas the latter obeys the orders of the former. Hence there is vital

symbolic value for netocracy in continually signifying in one's choice of

lifestyle that one is independent of consumptive production of

manipulated desire, and thereby indicating one's social distance from the

vulgar masses." (Bard & Söderqvist 2002, 141.)

Netocrats travel to places without a tourist industry, listen

to music that is not available from any record company,

get their entertainment from subscription channels or

websites that neither carry adverts nor advertise their own

existence, and consumer goods and services that are never

mentioned in the media and which are therefore unknown

to the masses. This lifestyle can never be fixed: it will

always be in a process of constant change. When the

netocracts tire of one desire and the experience has lost its

value, they can always throw it to the masses – recreating

it for the comsumtariat with the help of adverts – and this

also has its economic advantages. But whatever is

reserved for the time being for the netocracy will always

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be unknown, incomprehensible and out of reach for the

consumtariat. (Ibid.)

Furthermore it is maintained that to recognize and to understand this and

other dialectics of the present era is to be 'reflexively modern'. If the

reflexivity of modernization is seen as a normative or pedagogical – i.e.,

political – concept, we enter the field of politics of recognition: who

recognizes what and why? We are inclined to think that at this state of

modernity reflexivity is flawed by any measures of social equality and

global justice. In its current forms reflexivity produces mere social

frigidity and greedy competition between people of the West. The risk

society is a risk first and foremost because common sense, political

decision-making and philosophical reflection have not kept up with the

ecological, sociological and ideological changes not to mention new

ethical demands in terms of equality and caretaking. Corporative and

militarist globalization has totally eluded these issues in their empty

discourses of open markets and free competition. If these socio-political

sea changes are mentioned, they are used to justify the inevitability of

current phenomena of the U.S. and WTO-controlled organization of the

global order. But does the notion of risk society make possible the

change of current socio-political structures? How does it measure up to

the actual (absolute, substantial, real, material) events and forms of

alterity that emerge outside the Western sphere, or up to the real

anomalies of the West itself (including structural violence, drugs,

medicalization, depression, exhaustion…)?

What reflexive modernity can embrace is the steady individualization

and atomization of the human being; we are doomed to become

individuals forced to "design and re-design" (Beck 1995, 27) our own

autobiographies, especially with regard to work, where the world is

divided into winners and losers (Castells 2000, 147). This individual is

no longer the autonomous subject of enlightenment, but rather a

heteronomous postmodern chameleon and nomad, rearranging herself

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 35

and her identity according to the situation, always slipping from the

pincers of totalizing systems. Economic production, the individual as a

subject and politics are all ad hoc projects, as already explained by

Gilles Deleuze; reality itself is continual becoming, and humans the

machinistic realization nodes of non-subjective affects, drives and

desires. Reality contains a virtual aspect that connects the seemingly

solid everyday objects to a necessary but invisible web of connections,

influxions and investments (Deleuze & Guattari 1993; 1987).

Staging the Information Society

In order to overcome these anomalies, reflexive modernity invents the

idea of "reinventing the political." This is the call to which the idea of

digital social media answers with a promise of reorganizing the political

and breathing new life into democracy. Information technology contains

a huge promise: "Technology will make it increasingly difficult for the

state to control the information its people receive. … The Goliath of

totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip," as

Ronald Reagan observed already in 1989 (quoted in Kalathil & Boas

2003), long before Al Gore allegedly invented the Internet. The crucial

thing is not the availability of information but the relationship between

information as reality and ourselves: "As game programmers instead of

game players, the creators of testimony rather than the believers in

testament, we begin to become aware of just how much of our reality is

open source and up for discussion. So much of what seemed like

impenetrable hardware is actually software and ripe for reprogramming.

The stories we use to understand the world seem less like explanations

and more like collaborations." (Rushkoff 2003, 37). The "interactive

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renaissance" predicted by Rushkoff (2003, 39) promises a return of the


Interactivity, both as an allegory for a healthier

relationship to cultural programming, and as an actual

implementation of a widely accessible authoring

technology, reduces our dependence on fixed narratives

while giving us the tools and courage to develop

narratives together. … We have witnessed together the

wizard behind the curtain. We can all see, for this moment

anyway, how so very much of what we have perceived of

as reality is, in fact, merely social construction. More

importantly, we have gained the ability to enact such

wizardry ourselves.

The promise of social media is that technological innovation is giving

voice to a plurality that used to be choked by the bottlenecks of

"broadcasting". In harmony with the logic of networks, the ailment and

the cure stem from the same root: the centralized subject of

totalitarianism and authoritarianism is replaced by a multitude of voices

generated by the immateriality of work in the information society. As

Hardt and Negri (2000) point out, immaterial production makes

ownership superfluous and gives the workers the possibility of

mastering their own social order. A dream is born; the dream of

cybercommunism, where the networked subjects interact in producing

intangible bits in a cornucopian community unlimited by the scarce

resources of a material world (see also Merten 2000).

This dream is preceded by the idea of a frictionless capitalism.

Corporations outsource risks, both economical and ecological, to

consumers who also work as co-designers of the new products. In

addition this means individualization of corporate risks, a phenomenon

sociologist Richard Sennett (2003) has labeled as "cd-rom economy." In

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 37

the center there is a laser which reads the most essential information

needed to run economic operations properly. In the present 'lean'

organizations these lasers consist of a group of executives and operative

leaders who rule, makes decisions, set tasks, and assess the results.

Reinventing the political gives two new directions for "creative and

autonomous" action. First, it means the overcoming of the old left-right

classification, and, second, the birth of politics of the everyday or

biopolitics. While class-consciousness as an empirical experience has,

indeed, faded in many First World countries, class structures have not

gone away. Politics is no longer an attempt to make decisions according

to an analysis of these positions (left vs. right, working-class vs.

capitalists) but rather reaches to a world categorized beyond the old

distinctions. The basic questions are: how do you deal with uncertainty,

foreigners, living together? (Beck 1995, 65.) These questions are faced

in the rocky waters of everyday life, far beyond the familiar shores of

political parties. Immense possibilities for economic and political action

(double-dealing, free-riding, being an entrepreneur) and unsatisfied

needs (new age, spiritualism, porn, reality-reality) are created alongside

with urges for a new clarity and hardness (extreme sports, selfmutilation,

anorexia, obsession with health and food, religious and

atheist fundamentalism). Reflexive modernity does not imply the

fulfillment of the broken tradition of enlightenment, a renaissance of the

people and its freedoms, but rather a renaissance of a staging of the

people and the staging of a renaissance of the people (Beck 1995, 66).

"Information society" is properly understood as a name for this

charade, the reality TV or, better yet, reality-YouTube of everyday life,

where we try to act so as not to reveal that we are acting. Reality TV is

at its best when it stages a real competition or takes home the

advertising money while someone presents the unorthodox choices they

made in their everyday life. For instance, they might have chosen not to

wear underwear ever again or to find a suitable sexual partner for their

parents. Being extravagant and being a freak is tolerated as long as it

38 Wikiworld

does not disturb the peace of the consumtariat; what if somebody

decided to be a Nazi or a racist? As !i"ek (2002a, 542) asks: "Can one

imagine a better summary of what the freedom of choice effectively

amounts to in our liberal societies?"

Demos and Actuality

The theory of reflexive modernity does recognize some of the problems

of postmodernity and the need for new conceptual and pragmatic

models, but the tools it offers (politics of the everyday, creativity, new

solutions to new problems, new one-issue movements) are not sufficient

to shake the structures of economic production or social life. The liberal

system is by definition ecumenical, listening to the voice of all particular

groups (from feminists to fair trade activists) equally and patiently, as

long as these groups do not reach outside democracy itself. All critique

is allowed, even welcomed, as long as the plethora of critiques is under

the umbrella of "critique of globalization" and without any meaningful

unity. We have created a politics without the political, where all you can

do is either stay in (to form alliances and try to be close to the core of

decision making) or form yet another social movement and join the


What both of these possibilities neglect is the level of "concrete

universality" where a single-issue movement no longer stands only for

itself but for the whole, the society as a totality:

the members of the demos (those with no firmly

determined place in the hierarchical social edifice)

presented themselves as the representatives, the stand-ins,

for the whole of society, for the true universality ('we – the

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 39

'nothing,' not counted in the order – are the people, we are

all, against others who stand only for their particular

privileged interest'). Political conflict proper thus involves

the tension between the structured social body, where each

part has its place, and the part of no-part, which unsettles

this order on account of the empty principle of

universality, of the principled equality of all men qua

speaking beings, what Étienne Balibar calls égaliberté.

Politics proper thus always involves a kind of short circuit

between the universal and the particular; it involves the

paradox of a singular that appears as a stand-in for the

universal, destabilizing the 'natural' functional order of

relation in the social body. The singulier universal is a

group that, although without any fixed place in the social

edifice (or, at best, occupying a subordinated place), not

only demands to be heard on equal footing with the ruling

oligarchy or aristocracy (that power) but, even more,

presents itself as the immediate embodiment of society as

such, in its universality, against the particular power

interests of aristocracy or oligarchy. (!i"ek 1998, 988-


If the multitude of movements acts as critiques of power and as

"resistance", what happens when power is no longer criticized or

resisted but taken and used? As !i"ek (2004a, 199) writes, the Zapatista

leader "subcommandante Marcos" – also known as Rafael Guillén –

who speaks for various voices of criticism of globalization is an

important icon of resistance. But what happens when this masked man

who speaks for the oppressed and knows the feelings of his people turns

into a powerful president? Vestibulia terrent. The politics of multiple

voices is faced with a dilemma: ad hoc diversity is by definition

resistance, while the wielding of power necessarily turns into a

40 Wikiworld

totalitarianism that is forced to swallow the bitter pill offered by the

World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.

Does not the dilemma of reflexive modernity also characterize the

concept of information society? Does not the notion also cover up its

material roots? Does not the information society contain a notion of

freedom that is purely formal? In other words, does not the information

society exist in a vacuum created by ideological-economical necessities?

Do we not need an information society of actual freedom, where the

structure of the ideological setting, its material conditions and the nature

of the subject can all be changed? !i"ek (2002a, 544) defines formal

freedom "as freedom of choice within the coordinates of the existing

power relations, while actual freedom designates the site of an

intervention that undermines", contradicts and problematizes these very

coordinates. Thus an act of actual freedom breaks the seduction of

symbolic order and even if coerced chooses as if not (!i"ek 2001, 121).

The idea of actual freedom demonstrates how what we used to call the

information society (like any other form of society a symbolic order) is

lived and reproduced as if it were real or at least in the process of

becoming real. In this precise sense actual freedom refers to the social

existence in which the expression 'as if' always already defines that

which is only just becoming. Actual freedom thus draws a revolutionary

line in which the future is at hand and "we already are free while

fighting for freedom, we already are happy while fighting for happiness,

no matter how difficult the circumstances" (!i"ek 2002a, 559). Freedom

is based on a misunderstanding: The king is still alive, but we act as if

he was dead.

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 41

Political Economy and Digital Media

When we want to analyze digital literacy as separate from a more

general notion of media literacy, the analysis has to be based on the

properties of digital media and the uses that give them their distinctive

nature. An account of digital literacy guided by an understanding of

digital technology will, in turn, direct attention to the overall features of

the development of information societies. Views of what we want to call

strong digital literacy should imply a vision of what a desirable

information society is all about. The differentia specifica of digital

media – interactivity, multimodality and non-linearity, possibilities for

recombination and perfect copying – are not neutral toward established

forms of society. To take one example only, the convergence of media

technologies made possible by digitalization is rapidly changing the

entire landscape of forms, use and ownership of the media. And when it

comes to the concept of digital literacy there is a hegemonic struggle

going on regarding its uses and definition. As Lankshear and Knobel

(2006) characterize the two aspects of the current debate:

First, currently prevailing views of digital literacy share in

common the ideas that there is a ‘thing’ we can call digital

literacy; ‘it’ is singular; its essence can be rendered as a

standardised measurable competency – or unified set of

more specific competencies and skills; and it comprises a

‘truthcentric’ ideal of information proficiency. Second, in

the established world of conventional print-based literacy

various agents and organisations take it upon themselves

to define what literacy is, to teach it, measure it, assess it,

and remediate it – in a word, to universalise and

standardize it. Similarly, we find government bodies as

well as non-governmental organisations like the Global

42 Wikiworld

Digital Literacy Council, the Educational Testing Service

(ETS, USA), the International Society for Technology in

Education (ISTE), and the OECD’s Program for

International Student Assessment (PISA) currently taking

it upon themselves to do exactly the same in the area of

digital literacy.

From the critical point of view one can argue that digital literacy has

been rapidly colonized by various international bodies as well as

supranational and intergovernmental unions who use it as their tool to

govern, or who, in Foucaultian vocabulary, they practice "governmentality."

The battle over definitions is one thing; another is an unprecedented

concentration of media ownership as the key consequence of the digital

revolution. In terms of political economy "the complex structure of

power between states, capitalist markets and social groups has shifted to

a great extent towards the interests of powerful private capitalist actors

and institutions in what is often described as global civil society"

(Wilkin 2002, 18). Thus, one obvious answer to the question of why a

perspective of political economy is needed when analyzing digital

literacy is that "we are living at a particular historical juncture of

unregulated capitalism with an overwhelming income reconcentration at

the top" (McLaren 2000, 98), and as a consequence, power has shifted

out of the public realm and into the realm of private corporations.

Simultaneously, the digital media have been celebrated as a tool that

inevitably leads toward democratization and the emergence of different

kinds of grass-roots civil society activities. Digital literacy promises a

leap to authorship, the transformation of "receivers" into active creators,

collaborators or authors of new media content. However, this promise is

counteracted by contemporary large scale economic trends "in which the

market becomes the master template for all human affairs, … a

dystopian vision designed to affect almost every dimension of everyday

life, including large cutbacks in social programs, freeing market forces

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 43

from government regulations, and the ongoing privatization of

government services, public goods, and non-commodified spheres"

(Giroux 2003, 468). As a result, information societies face an internal

tension between the technology- and a profit-driven information society

agenda promoted by the international mega-companies and the richly

varied agendas of the civil society representatives, including the hackers

and hactivists who still today initiate groundbreaking technological

developments. This internal tension is well portrayed in the declaration

called "Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs" that was

issued by the civil societies to the UN World Summit on the Information

Society in Geneva 2003:

We are conscious that information, knowledge and the

means of communication are available on a magnitude

that humankind has never dreamt of in the past; but we are

also aware that exclusion from access to the means of

communication, from information and from the skills that

are needed to participate in the public sphere, is still a

major constraint, especially in developing countries. At

the same time information and knowledge are increasingly

being transformed into private resource which can be

controlled, sold and bought, as if they were simple

commodities and not the founding elements of social

organization and development. Thus, as one of the main

challenges of information and communication societies,

we recognise the urgency of seeking solutions to these


1 The same sort of emphasis as in this Geneva declaration can be found from the

final report "A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All" (2004) of The

World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, which was

initiated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as an independent body

to respond to the needs of people as they cope with the unprecedented changes

that globalization has brought to their lives (see

44 Wikiworld

The notion of digital literacy is at the very heart of this tension. From

the political economy perspective it is not enough to analyze and define

(digital) literacy as a mere technique or a simple question of basic

literacy taught at schools. As Lankshear and Knobel (2003, 5) point out

in a Freirean tone, literacy is a form of political action and political

acting in the world. In this sense to be (digitally) literate is "to read the

word and the world", that is, to analyze and understand the results and

consequences of one’s actions better than before in their socio-political

context. And based on the new understanding of the world, to criticize

and to change the world for the better.

Furthermore, as a politico-structural concept defining the character

of the information societies to come, digital literacy contains the issues

of authorship and ownership of information and thus invites a

perspective of political economy (for a definition of political economy

of communication, see McChesney 1998; Wilkin 2002). Political

economy of communication and digitalization often refers to the issues

of ownership and control of the means of communication, that is, to the

issue of media concentration, and its effects on the structures of power

that exist between states, capitalist markets, and various social groups

seen in terms of class, gender, ethnicity, race, and nation (Wilkin 2002,

p. 20). The crucial point from a political economy perspective is that

media concentration fosters two problems in the media; those of

hypercommercialism and denigration of public service (McChesney &

Nichols 2002, p. 52). As McChesney & Nichols (ibid. p. 55) state:

Nowhere is the commercial marination of the American

mind more apparent than in the case of children, where

advertising assault was increased exponentially in the

1990s. … This desire to indoctrinate fuels the commercial

drive into education and suggests that the moral foundations

for coming generations may be resting on a dubious

base. Nobody knows what the exact consequence of this

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 45

commercial blitzkrieg upon children will be, but the range

of debate extends from ‘pretty bad’ to ‘absolutely terrible.’

The only thing we know for certain is that the media

giants and advertisers who prosper from it do not care and

cannot care. It is outside their frame of reference.

Thus, the basic lesson to be remembered in political economy of digital

literacy is that the frame of reference of the media corporations and their

entertainment industry is to make a profit, and not to teach democratic

thinking or public understanding. The latter is our and our fellow

citizens' global task as human beings, social actors and media activists.

Vandana Shiva (2003), one of the leading figures of the global

democracy movement, writes:

We are witnessing the worst expressions of organized

violence of humanity against humanity because we are

witnessing the wiping out of philosophies of inclusion,

compassion and solidarity. This is the highest cost of

globalization – it is destroying our very capacity to be

human. Rediscovering our humanity is the highest

imperative to resist and reverse this inhuman project. The

debate on globalization is not about the market or the

economy. It is about remembering our common humanity.

And the danger of forgetting the meaning of being human.

As a politico-structural concept that defines the character of the

information societies to come, digital literacy contains the issues of

authorship and ownership of information and thus invites a perspective

of political economy. This means that in order to be able to live a

democratic life, digital literacy in its various forms is a fundamental

prerequisite. In a political economy context, digital literacy is crucial "to

our ability to act as critical, reasoning beings, making judgments about

46 Wikiworld

the factors that affect our daily lives" (Wilkin 2002, 59). Thus we would

like to envision – largely in the spirit of the declaration above – that in

the near future the primary educational as well as political meaning of

digital literacy has to refer to a world in which everyone has an

opportunity to create, access, share, and disseminate information and

knowledge free of charge in order to educate and empower themselves,

and define their quality of life locally and in their own terms. This task,

of course, is a contested one, and contradicts the official – yet illusory –

world-scale politics of economic agencies, such as the WTO.

One of the most obvious examples of how the WTO policies are

further polarizing the information societies to come is the TRIPS ('traderelated

aspects of intellectual property rights') agreement that "was the

first stage in the global recognition of an investment morality that sees

knowledge as a private, rather than public, good." (Drahos &

Braithwaite 2002, 10.) The agreement "effectively globalizes the set of

intellectual property principles it contains, because most states of the

world are members of, or are seeking membership of, the WTO. …

Every member for example, has to have a copyright law that protects

computer programs as literary works, as well as a patent law that does

not exclude micro-organisms and microbiological processes from

patentability." (Ibid.). Consequently, "no one disagrees that TRIPS has

conferred massive benefits on the US economy … or that it has

strenghtened the hand of those corporations with large intellectual

property portfolios." (Ibid., 11).

The problem here is double. First, there is the basic ethico-political

problem that knowledge and information that have been created by the

many during centuries if not millenia are now, in the 21st century, closed

and commodified, given to the hands of the few. Second, there is the

practical problem that an agreement like the TRIPS treaty structurally

tends to favour established mega-companies, not the 'copyright-holders'

of, say, indigenous knowledge (see Shiva 2001). As for the first,

fundamental problem, the UN Economic and Social Council Sub2.

Digital Literacy and Political Economy 47

Comission on Human Rights suggested in August 2000 that

implementing the TRIPS agreement may violate basic human rights

including "the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific

progress and its applications … there are apparent conflicts between the

intellectual property rights regime embodied in the TRIPS agreement,

on the one hand, and international human rights law, on the other"

(quoted in Drahos & Braithwaite 2002, 200).

In sum, an outline of the core ideas of the political economy

approach related to the various forms and practices of digital literacy

can be presented as follows. First, social phenomena such as

digitalization locate and exist within a historical and structural context

shaped by the mode of production and class relations, which change

over time. Second, these phenomena of digitalization should always be

analyzed in the global context for they have global effects. Third,

different classes and groups have different interests in a digital world,

which are often contradictory and conflicting. Fourth, besides the global

level the conflicts in the digital world are reflected at the state level, and

hence national and regional public policies (i.e. EU-policies) should be

analyzed in terms of the varying forms and conditions of inequalities in

society (Rantala & Suoranta 2008). Fifth, intellectual and cultural life is

formed by the capitalist mode of production, and the struggle for

ideological hegemony must happen both in the globalities of the Net and

the Wikiworld, and in the institutions of the state and in the civil society.

And sixth, we need to emphasize, as Youngman (2000, 30) does, that

"opposition to the existing capitalist socioeconomic order is expressed

not only by political parties but also by social movements and other

organizations in civil society which articulate alternative conceptions of

society and how it should develop." In addition, it is extremely

necessary to maintain that at the present age of digital literacies many

organizations of civil society "seek to transform people's understanding

of society and thereby engage their support in struggles to change

48 Wikiworld

society" (ibid., 30). The message we take is that the ideological game is

not over. It is only starting.

Strong Digital Literacy: the Leap to Authorship

Digital technology creates cultural spaces – such as the Internet – in

which the participants are not designated clear cut roles as "senders" or

"receivers". "Interaction" is the key word of the digital age. Digital

technology is different from the previous media precisely in that it

makes it possible to take part in shaping the "how" (the vehicle carrying

the message) of the storytelling as well as the "what" (the content of the

message) of the story itself. Even if these two could be separated on the

abstract level, in practice they work together; the total effect of the story

is in the combination. Therefore the analysis of media should also bring

the "what" and the "how" ultimately together. This need for unity is only

increased by the digitalization of communication technologies.

If digital literacy is considered only from the point of view of skills

of interpretation and strategies of reception, the digital media are

degraded into just another channel of distribution. This weak or narrow

interpretation of digital literacy has to be augmented by a stronger

version that includes as its core element a leap to authorship. The

concept of authorship in digital literacy refers to the idea of actual

freedom as separate from formal freedom. Paradigmatic examples of

formal freedom would be choosing from the preset electoral candidates

or ready-made curricula or from the pre-existing matrix of proprietary

software. On the other hand, actual freedom would mean learning from

experiences in the context of everyday life in order to transform and

change it (for instance, creating revolutionary uses of the Net for local

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 49

empowerment or using and creating free software according to

particular needs).

An essentially Western assumption is, and has been for several

decades, that the learning and teaching of diverse modes of literacy

belongs to the school. As many thinkers and commentators across the

political spectrum and from various disciplines have suggested, this

assumption does not necessarily hold anymore, for the schooling

system, as we know it, is a modern institution which cannot meet the

needs and demands of strong digital literacy, and actualities of the

everyday life. As Stanley Aronowitz (2004) has pointed out, fiscal

exigency and a changing mission have left public education in the US

and elsewhere in a chronic state of crisis. Among the main issues is the

question of whether schools are failing to transmit the general intellectual

culture, its democratic institutions "and the citizens who are, in the

final analysis, responsible for maintaining them." Aronowitz refers to

the words of Hannah Arendt who (1961) went "so far as to ask whether

we ‘love the world’ and our children enough to devise an educational

system capable of transmitting to them the salient cultural traditions."

The leap towards digital authorship prompts an analysis of questions

of political economy from a fresh angle. The possibilities of strong

digital literacy are not affected only by ownership of channels of

distribution or by the impact of social class on education, but also by the

self-organizing and self-determining creation of communities of

communication. In the digital era, the creation of communities implies

questions of the ownership of the "code" which is more like an abstract

form than a material quantity. Digital code can be re-programmed and

re-distributed, unlike physical objects. The malleability of code, and the

"softness" of software, has given a reason for hoping that digital media

is in some sense more democratic than the previous forms of

communication. The freedom to create discussion groups, newsletters,

global communities, Web logs and so on has been seen as a sign of a

new renaissance of creativity and resistance in terms of democratic civil

50 Wikiworld

society. As the eminent peace researcher Johan Galtung has observed,

the trend of media concentration has been counteracted by the Internet

revolution. According to Galtung’s (2003) optimistic view:

The access monopoly is to some extent broken. Even a

poor village, with neither electricity nor telephone, may

sustain one computer powered by solar cells, and connect

with a cellular phone if the signal is good enough. They

can download technologies produced by intellectuals who

have not sold their souls in those Faustian deals with State

and Capital. And they may make inputs themselves to the

WGIP, the World Gross Idea Product. Sooner or later this

will have a revolutionary effect, particularly on the

position of the intelligentsia. The world's libraries are

available and search engines do the search, which means

people not educated/brain-washed by established

institutions may see new connections, or prefer to work on

the basis of immediate, less mediated experience. The sky

is the limit.

Indeed, digital technology has provided new counter-media to the

prevalent corporate media. In March 2003, after the attack on Iraq, "Al

Jazeera" replaced "sex" as the most sought-after term on the Lycos

search engine ("Al-Jazeera Site Clicks with Net Users" 2003, "Web

surfers flock to Al-Jazeera", 2003). This indicates at least two things.

First, the Net is possibly more pluralistic than a corporate TV or

newspaper media. Second, it means that people in the North can be

moved culturally, socially, and politically by information that contradicts

some of their cultural assumptions. In this sense they are capable of

being challenged – of being touched, and influenced – and in that sense

"wounded" by the content that does not share their presuppositions of

the world. While the Qatarian Al Jazeera might not be that far from a

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 51

cultural setting more familiar to us, it proceeds from concerns and cares

which are somewhat different from those of the Western corporate

media, and can therefore, at best, throw new light on cultural

perceptions and manufactured consent. In a more cynical, or perhaps

realistic, sense one can imagine that there is a constant (information)

warfare in the media sphere, and as a consequence, all the possible

means of propaganda and ‘perception management’ are in active use in

the fight between the West and the rest of the world.

However, in the era of digital hegemony and an endless "war on

terror", the idea of digital freedom is more a suggestion to which it is

easy to pay lip service than a realistic option. As digitalization is driven

by the push for commercialization as opposed to the pull of cultural

pluralism, there are few signs in the apparently free markets of

digitalization that would benefit the poorest of the poor. Those critical

minds living and sharing the everyday traumas of capitalism in

developing countries, such as the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, see the

present predatory globalization as a war launched by the rich against the

poor in which poverty and protesting against further impoverishment are

"being slyly conflated with terrorism" (Roy 2004). As Roy (ibid.) puts

it: "It goes without saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just

War. This, in large part, is due to the role of the corporate media. It’s

important to understand that the corporate media doesn’t just support the

neo-liberal project. This is not a moral position it has chosen to take, it’s

structural. It’s intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media works."

The leap to authorship and the possibility of being touched by

information and communication over cultural barriers are needed in

overcoming the digital hegemony of the Western media giants. Authorship

and "the ethics of being wounded" are among the key factors of

strong digital literacy. This pluralist view of the information age implies

that we should not think of "information societies" in the singular with a

linear uniform transformation from the industrial era to an informational

age and beyond. On the one hand, pluralism and non-linearity mean that

52 Wikiworld

the wealthy people of the West are able to be and should be wounded by

digitally transported messages and contents from other parts of the

world, and, on the other hand, that non-Westerners as "significant

others" are free to find ways of authoring their own digital contents.

Digital Contents as Resources

Digitality as a property of information processing is created by different

technological means (electrical, optical, magnetical, etc.), but has the

general characteristics of making possible the (near) perfect copying and

(near) unlimited distribution of the information content. Digital

information is essentially binary, consisting of, e.g., 1s and 0s coded in a

suitable physical medium. The reproduction, copying and distribution of

digital information (strings of 1s and 0s) are substantially different from

the reproduction, copying and distribution of analog information (such

as the printed page or speech). The crucial point is that not only is the

copying and redistribution of digital information much more precise but

digital information can also be copied and redistributed with a minimal

price compared to analog information.

As Wilkin (2002, p. 59) has maintained, "in order for citizens to be

able to develop their ideas about politics, economy and culture, it is

necessary that there is an adequate supply of information that is both

diverse and which aims to inform and challenge received opinions." But

this is not enough. There also have to be adequate means and

technologies for the production, distribution, reception and storage of

the relevant information. One of the technological beauties of the

Internet is that the network is an effective multi-purpose distributor of

information packets. The net does not discriminate between packets on

2. Digital Literacy and Political Economy 53

the basis of their content (in fact, the TCP/IP protocol does not provide a

way of knowing what the content is).

This basic technological fact has wide socio-political consequences.

The most pertinent implication in terms of political economy of digital

literacy is, first, the near to zero price of copying and, second, the nearly

perfect quality of copies which make digital contents possible as free

public resources. This means that digitalization has democratic

potential: It can act as a scarcity-remover. After the adequate

infrastructure exists, digital information can become available for

everyone for a very small price. However, this technological possibility

is far from reality at the moment. Since the business model of large

content-producing corporations (Hollywood industry, software industry,

news and entertainment industry) is based on the scarcity of content, and

since digital information and communication technology (ICT) has the

potential of removing that scarcity, it is in the interest of the corporate

world to try to create mechanisms of "artificial" scarcity, and to erect

barriers to the abundance of digital content. These mechanisms include

legislation ("intellectual property"), technology, policy, and education.

Digital technology is reducing scarcity, legislation is producing it: this is

one of the basic tensions built in information societies.

Even if digital information can remove major barriers of distribution,

there is no guarantee that it would actually do so. On the contrary, there

is every reason to believe that relative wealth rules the Internet. The

notion of "intellectual property" functions largely as a scarcity-producer.

Most assets on intellectual property rights are owned by a few megacompanies

from the Northern hemisphere. The idea of intellectual

property rights is to commodify content by creating both the legal and

technological means, and, more importantly, the ideological will to treat

digital content as commodities, with the ensuing benefits of protection

that property enjoys. Given the current forms of economic production

and corporate markets, it is important to notice that the liberating

potential of digital information necessitates countermeasures that

54 Wikiworld

manifest not only in media ownership, but also policy, legislation, and

the development of technology. The details of the technological

infrastructure both on the hardware and the software side have wide

consequences for possibilities of use. And again, what matters is not

only the architectural details per se, but even more importantly the

questions of ownership of technological means (patents, etc.) as well as

digital content (copyrights, etc.). The digital technologies that liberate

information are the very same technologies that give the possibility for

almost perfect control over the distribution of content. A systematic

tension between civil societies and the corporate world occurs again and

again since the possibility of liberating content applies to copyrighted

content too, and because in the digital age the extension of copyright has

grown almost exponentially.

The profusion of digital technology contains a mixed if not

contradictory set of practices that both support and undermine the

development of wide-spread digital literacy. The basic contradiction is

the following: The quick development and distribution of digital

technology promises to deliver digital information to any place at any

time. This is the great democratic potential of digital technology.

However, the structure of production and the corporate logic are based

on a market where digital content (like any other “consumer good”) is

considered as a scarcity and in which its distribution can be controlled

so that a continuous revenue stream can be guaranteed. Both an

authoritarian national regime and a mega-company like Disney or

Microsoft want to control access to information, the former for reasons

of controlling political opinion, the latter for reasons of continued

demand for commodified information and profit. For both, however, the

need for control of digital information creates a need for control of

digital technology and, a fortiori, of the skills and abilities needed for

digital creation. This explains the emphasis on computer and media

literacy in the national curricula across the globe and gives a new

urgency to the call for strong digital literacy.

3. Radical Monopolies

The wish to control digital information implies a need to control and

monopolize digital literacy. According to Ivan Illich (1980, 55)

monopoly has traditionally meant "exclusive control by one corporation

over the means of producing (or selling) a commodity or service."

Radical monopoly, on the other hand, means "the dominance of one type

of product rather than the dominance of one brand." In other words

monopoly is radical when "one industrial production process exercises

an exclusive control over the satisfaction of a pressing need, and

excludes non-industrial activities from competition." Illich’s (ibid, 56)

example is the school institution which has tried to extend the idea and

practice of radical monopoly on learning by redefining learning as

education and training.

One important yet problematic aspect of radical monopoly has been

the rise of an expert and corporate-led society through modern schooling

systems. Thus, radical monopoly has existed where learning as school

education has ruled out natural competence. In addition, the

transformation of learning into education paralyzes human beings'

"poetic ability," that is, their power to endow the world with personal

and socially rewarding meaning. "Radical monopoly imposes

compulsory consumption and thereby restricts personal autonomy. It

constitutes a special kind of social control because it is enforced by

means of the imposed consumption of a standard product that only large

institutions can provide." (Illich 1980, 56.) Radical monopolies have

been exercised by mega-corporations that train obeying workers.

Illich (1980, 58) maintains that people have a natural capacity for

practices like healing, learning, building their homes, and burying their

dead. Each capacity meets a need, and the means for satisfying these

56 Wikiworld

needs are abundant "as long as they depend primarily on what people

can do for themselves, with only marginal dependence on commodities."

In other words these activities have locally relevant use-value instead of

abstract exchange-value.

The crucial turning point is the moment when these basic capacities

can no longer be met by abundant competences; in such a situation

peoples’ basic satisfactions become scarce. In consequence the

establishment of radical corporate monopoly occurs; people are forced

to give up their native ability to do what they could do for themselves

and for each other. Radical corporate monopoly thus substitutes the

standard packages for the personal and social response. It introduces

new classes of scarcity (teachers, physicians, information technology

technicians, consultants, lawyers, software engineers, and many more

experts), and new devices to classify people according to their

possibilities to act as good consumers. (Illich 1980, 58.) Therefore,

radical corporate monopoly makes people dependent on global corporate

forces that are neither in people’s social nor political control.

Like literacy in general, digital literacy is rapidly becoming

dominated by a radical monopoly in the Western world. Hackers and

computer enthusiasts from the 50's up to the 70's were able to build their

own computers and thus to have a native capacity to satisfy their own

ICT needs. While this might still be true for a group of hackers, most

people have to learn ICT skills in a world that is almost perfectly

controlled by pre-configured computers with monopoly operating

systems and web browsers, pre-configured uses of the Internet and the

mobile phone. It is this radical monopoly that we need to see as a real

threat to strong digital literacy.

The Wikiworld consists of those "tinkerers" who, in the words of

Vaidhyanathan (2004, 100) while repairing equipment "often master the

skills of dubbing, editing, remixing, and distributing video” and other

media. However, this kinds of "nativity" in the abilities and mastery of

the symbolic forms necessary for the production of digital content is

3. Radical Monopolies 57

currently being counteracted by a massive trend of commodification of

digital information and the architecture of digital technology. This trend

not only concerns digital content (such as music, movies, and stories)

but increasingly the very "code" in which digital content is expressed.

The commodification of code happens under the name of "intellectual

property" – a 20th century innovation that spells trouble for the

enlightenment ideals of non-authoritarian use of reason and growth of

scientific knowledge. Intellectual property is created through legislation

concerning immaterial rights including patents, trademarks, and

copyrights. During the last century, the term of copyright protection was

extended 11 times in the US (Lessig 2001). At the same time, the scope

of patentability has grown considerably; in the US concurrently both

software (i.e., algorithms and their applications) and the biological

"code", such as genes, of organisms can be patented. More importantly,

through the actions of institutions such as WIPO and agreements such as

TRIPS, the US-style IP legislation has been increasingly globalized. At

the same time, through the concentration of ownership of media,

software and related companies, intellectual property has become

increasingly concentrated. It has been estimated that industrial countries

hold 97% of the world’s patents.

The imbalance and inequality of the commodification of IP has been

graphically illustrated in the case of bio-patents. Western companies

have been able to patent genetic lines of plants, such as rice, which have

been in indigenous use for centuries in the developing countries. Such IP

schemes clearly create further dependence. However, it often goes

unnoticed that when it comes to digital content, the current trend of

commodification threatens to create equally big problems of dependence

and to create obstacles for digital literacy. If the (software and hardware)

tools and skills needed for digital content production are increasingly

owned by media and software companies, the possibilities of a globally

balanced digital literacy look bleak.

58 Wikiworld

In many developing countries a very high percentage of computer

software exists as illegal copies – illegal in terms of the TRIPS-related

copyright law. The "piracy" rates often exceed 90% of the total number

of programs. When the price of a legal copy of a program often

corresponds to several months' if not years' mean income, it is easy to

see that the notion of IP effectively functions as a tool for widening the

digital divide. Again, there are two issues involved. One concerns the

economic side of the issue: the US Congress decided in the 19th century

not to recognize European "IP" legislation because paying license fees

to the old continent would have slowed down economic development. It

is safe to assume that the emerging global IP regime works in the same

way hindering the economic possibilities of the developing countries.

The other side of the issue has to do with literacy. It is well known

that some sort of "piracy" is often connected to the birth of a widespread

native literacy. The Catholic church did not exactly call the early

protestant translators of the Bible "pirates", but the content and the tone

of the Church was quite close to the content and tone that, for instance,

the most rabid proponents of the recording or software industry use

against illegal copying. The historical example also points out that a new

kind of literacy is a phenomenon of wide cultural ramifications.

Radical Monopoly and Public Education

Public education is also under corporate attack and radical monopolization

by multinational corporations that view education as a frontier to be

conquered. Critical educators want to fight against the tide of corporate

assault and they want to give teachers and practitioners in formal and

non-formal education the necessary tools to fight the capitalist wave.

The problem is that more and more education is lacking public funding

3. Radical Monopolies 59

not only in developing countries but also in such welfare states that are

rapidly turning into helpfare states as in Finland. As Giroux (2003, p.

471) has put it, the recent space of power "appears beyond the reach of

governments and as result nations and citizens are increasingly removed

as political agents with regards to the impact that multinational

corporations have on their daily lives." As a result, those public places

are eliminated that "link learning to the conditions necessary for

developing democratic forms of political agency and civic struggle."

Manuel Castells (2001, 259-260) has acknowledged the fact that new

learning technologies are not used properly in public education. It lacks

sufficient technological resources, since it is territorially and

institutionally differentiated by economic and ethnic factors (class and

race). Access to the Internet requires teachers with appropriate

proficiencies, but such teachers are unevenly distributed from place to

place. In addition, pedagogical climates vary greatly between

educational institutions in different countries. In some countries

emphasis is put on ‘opening the mind’ (via experimental curricula,

progressive learning and teaching methods, and with the help of new

information and communication technologies), whereas in other

countries, due to a lack of material and human resources, schools are

more or less forced to act as child warehouses. Finally, the lack of

resources leads to a form of parentocracy in schooling. Parentocracy is a

phenomenon in which parents (very often single mothers) have to take

over all of their children’s upbringing and their overall education and

training. Under hard economic and social pressures the burden can

sometimes become too heavy to handle. In these circumstances children

are bound to learn their "attested inferiority" (Tammilehto 2003, 47).

The general problem of the corporatization of public education is that

whereas learning is one of the basic human functions both in coping

with and in transforming reality, formal education in the modern era has

primarily served the aims of the state or capitalism; in the words of

Althusser, it has served as a major ideological apparatus. Hence, in the

60 Wikiworld

age of digitalization of information, formal and non-formal education

systems in the West have ended up in both internal and financial crises.

In order to "survive", to keep their authorities alive in the field of

information, schools, adult education centres, and other sites of teaching

and learning need to be transformed from ‘islands’ into ‘hearts’ of their

own communities, for learning and teaching have always been shared


One step towards this transformation is to begin to see formal and

non-formal education as phenomena which are tightly integrated into

their virtual and ‘real’ communities. In general terms this integrated

view of education consists of two parts (see Suoranta & Lehtimäki 2004,

85-87). The foundation would involve learning general skills needed in

an information society. However, what constitutes these general skills is

a controversial issue: the components that were perceived as general

skills before are not necessarily central in today’s society. In the end, the

notion of general skills is subject to socio-historical context, agreements

and values. For example, it may be that, as a result of changes in a

nation’s values, versatile self-expression is replaced or supplemented by

the skill of listening and remaining silent while others speak (see Welton


With respect to comprehensive education, the following can probably

be counted among general skills, the significance of which does not

diminish with time and upon which other know-how can be built:

reading and writing (understood in the wider sense of digital literacy),

counting, and physical and playful cooperation in the form of physical

activity that prepares children for sociability and coordination. In

addition to these general skills, in school education, adult education, and

higher education, there is a need for integrated multidisciplinary

thematic units, which could combine traditional literacy with digital

literacy in the use of the various media technologies and versatile and

experimental expressive skills. Henry Giroux (2000a, 33) writes about

experiences in the United States:

3. Radical Monopolies 61

A growing number of alternative school programs and

universities have developed very successful media literacy

programs and mass communications programs, which,

unlike computer technology programs, do not reduce

digital literacy simply to learning new skills. These

programs allow children and young people to tell their

own stories, learn to write scripts, and get involved in

community action programs. They also challenge the

assumption that popular culture texts cannot be as

profoundly important as traditional sources of learning in

teaching about important issues framed through, for

example, the social lenses of poverty, racial conflict, and

gender discrimination.

The integrated view of education should not be based on a shortsighted

preparation for the information society. Rather, it should be based on a

shift from learning isolated subjects alien to reality toward a multimodal

curriculum that would respond to the change in society, reproducing and

challenging the media world as encountered both by children and adults,

and through these means enabling the reinforcement of their identities

and skills in the art of living as well as the analysis and critique of the

global media-cultural situation. If we were to add here the aim of

transforming formal and non-formal educational institutions into the

nuclei of democratic society, into arenas for participation and oases for

caring about other members of the community, we might locate certain

values that could foster people’s growth into participatory and critical

human beings.

We believe that these changes, although necessary but not by any

means sufficient, would have dramatic effects in the way we see and

define not only information and teaching as transmitting information,

but also the idea of human being in general. These changes in the ideas

of formal and non-formal education are part of a struggle against the

62 Wikiworld

machine, that is, against the recent trend of super states like the US and

the EU to turn educational institutions (from primary school to

universities) into pure profit-making factories and radical monopolies of


Radical Monopoly and Computer Software

Let us take another example: computer software. A classic question

concerning literacy has been the question of the access to information

using one's native language. The question easily translates to questions

of, for instance, the language in which information on the web is

presented or the localization of computer software. Again, the loop

should be widened to include questions that have to do with the ability

to produce digital content (e.g., web content, software, images, video

and sound). These abilities are closely related to skills that have to do

with the use of the computer and other digital devices; these skills

crystallize in their most basic and most powerful form in the skill of


A computer program is typically owned by its author. The end user is

given permission to run the program if she accepts a license agreement.

The license agreement states, among other things that the user is not

allowed to copy modify or redistribute the program. Such an act would

be technologically possible, even easy (especially if the program were

not made technologically more cumbersome by copy-protection

measures), but the possible cooperation and abundance is cut short by

the legislation proper. This in itself is already an artificially produced

loss to the possibilities of strong digital literacy, as well as to the

promotion of civil society through digital technology.

3. Radical Monopolies 63

The problem, however, runs deeper. The user receives the program in

a binary format that the computer can run but which is unintelligible to

humans. A person or a programmer would need the source code (written

in a programming language, not in 1s and 0s) of the program in order to

study, understand and eventually modify or produce new versions of the

program. Distributing software in closed binary code and bound by strict

end user licenses is like distributing books in a format through which

one cannot learn the letters or the words, and in which the book cannot

be lent to a friend. The proprietary closed-source model for software

distribution strongly discourages digital literacy, and in this case the skill

of programming. Indeed, it can be claimed that even in the affluent

countries the skills needed for digital authorship have not received the

attention they would need. Digital literacy has deteriorated from the skill

of programming to the skill of using Microsoft Windows.

Computer software is a telling example because it is always encoded

digitally. Therefore its possibilities of distribution are the widest, and the

measures needed for creating artificial scarcity are most severe. The

measures include legislation concerning intellectual property rights

(patents, trademarks, copyrights), copy-protection technology, patents

on document formats, and patents on hardware. The radical

monopolization of the desktop computer space is also a way of creating

scarcity and discouraging openness.

The case of software is closely analogous to scientific knowledge

(including theories represented in formal code, such as mathematics,

large parts of natural science, programming, etc.), which receives its

special status and credibility from the very fact that it is not owned:

knowledge becomes scientific only through the open and free critique of

the scientific community. To quote Jacques Derrida: "… in a scientific

text … the value of the utterance is separated, or cuts itself off, from the

name of the author without essential risk, and, indeed, must be able to

do so in order to lay claim to objectivity" (Derrida 2002, 47). As a

speech act, a scientific text has to be distinguished from the person or

64 Wikiworld

persons who "sign" it, otherwise we are not dealing with a text that can

assume the special characteristics, and authority and allowances acceded

to a scientific text. This has been and still is largely the way in which

scientific information and knowledge are severed from a concept of

private property that is dependent on the link between a person and an

entity. The author, the one who "signs" science, is the scientific

community. A particular way of speaking, a particular type of speech

act, i.e. scientific texts, creates a community and a way of appropriating

knowledge that is different from the case of private property (as

understood, e.g., in the Lockean sense).

A similar device for co-operating without the intrusion of private

property has been developed in the case of computer software. So-called

free/open source software is built by a community of share-and-share

alike: the goal is to develop software that the user is free to use, modify

and redistribute provided that the same freedoms are transferred. In this

sense the ideal is close to the ideal of science. For this purpose the

movement needs a legal and social tool, one that uses the copyright

claim set on a piece of software for community building rather than

private property building. This tool, developed by Richard M. Stallman

and his co-workers is often colloquially called "copyleft": the copyright

statement in question gives the user the right to modify and redistribute

(the modified version of) the software provided that the right is also

transferred (see Stallman 2002). This cumulative nature of the

"copyleft" copyright protects the information and knowledge amassed in

the software from becoming closed by ownership. The knowledge is

appropriated inside the common control of the community.

Both in science and free software, the goal and the prerequisite is a

community of sharing based on a certain set of common values and

practices. Both can be seen as ways of acting, as power-structures, that

are instrumental in creating an information society that contradicts the

trends of seeing everything as code and setting up a system of ownership

for code. As such the practices of these communities also demonstrate

3. Radical Monopolies 65

that digital information processing (or any other technology) does not

force us to accept the commodification of code and the ensuing radical


Radical Monopoly and Social Media: Wikipedia and Freedom

Wiki, from the Hawaiian word for 'fast', is a web technology that

enables users to modify existing web pages on the fly, to see the history

of these changes and to discuss the contents of the page with other users.

The technology is best known for the fast growing encyclopedia,, but is used also in many other projects of knowledge

creation around the Internet. Wiki pages, or in the following just wikis,

including different wikipedias, benefit from this technology of fast and

easy creation and editing. However, it is only in connection with the

hacker-originated culture of freedom on the Net that the Wiki

technology gains its true potential.

The Wikipedia project has its roots in the hacker movement working

in order to provide free software. The ambiguity of the word "free"

merits further attention. Wikipedia is free in the sense of "gratis", but,

more importantly, it is free in the sense of "free speech". The Wikipedia

is licensed under the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL)

innovated by Richard M. Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. In

essence, the license says that one can use, distribute and modify text

licensed under the GFDL provided that the redistributed and modified

versions are also licensed under GFDL. This makes GFDL a so-called

copyleft license. It uses copyright law in order to give the users more

rights: the rights of redistribution and modification.

A copyleft license guards the content from lock-in or privatization:

no institution can take the content and commodify it. Ideally, this

66 Wikiworld

freedom is forever. In fact, like free software, free information under the

GFDL has no exchange value, but does have a potentially big use value.

In this sense a combination of Wiki technology and of copyleft licensing

(such as exists in the case of the Wikipedia and many other wikipedias

and wikis) provides a germ form of a new kind of "knowledge work".

The social and political effects of such production are highly interesting

and debated (see, e.g., Hardt & Negri 2004, 301ff, !i"ek 2002b, 2006b,

Merten 2000). From the economical point of view, the question of

motivation is one of the most crucial: why do people engage in

volunteer work like this without immediate economical rewards? The

conditions under which voluntary non-alienated work are possible are of

the utmost importance for the critical potential of open collaborative

projects like the Wikipedia. We will return to this question after looking

more closely at the promise of Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia has an obvious Gutenbergian potential. It is a free

encyclopedia providing all the emancipatory potential of encyclopedias

of the Enlightenment era, such as the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire

raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72) by Diderot and

D'Alembert. It makes encyclopedic knowledge accessible for free

everywhere where the Internet is available, and in some cases even

where it is not. CD-ROMs with a stable version of Wikipedia and even

printed editions and special wikibooks are being produced to overcome

the lack of Internet infrastructure. If Gutenberg's revolution was about

making printed media more abundant, the Wikipedia has the same effect

on digital information but on a different order of magnitude.

The Gutenbergian effect of Wikipedia with its different language

versions is already being felt in educational institutions. Students

borrowing material from the Wikipedia up to the point of "cheating" is a

well-known phenomenon. Educators relying on the reproduction of

ingested material in order to supervise the process of learning are having

a hard time fighting this kind of use. More noteworthy is the fact that

many teachers on different levels of education from the primary to the

3. Radical Monopolies 67

university levels are starting to feel that some topics that have

traditionally been lectured (like 3D animation engines, TCP/IP protocol

and other "nerdy" subjects where the current state of Wikipedia is most

advanced) are now better presented in the Wikipedia, and it is better to

use the effort on something else. This wave will be felt during the next

decades in all subjects in one way or another and will contribute to the

changing nature of education and expertise.

However, this Gutenbergian potential is not the most interesting part

of Wikipedia with regard to issues of critical media literacy or pedagogy.

The fact that the Wikipedia is free in the sense of free speech, is, in our

estimate, going to be much more influential. This second freedom has

two important consequences that together can over time completely

change our views on things like education, literacy and expert

knowledge. Let us call these the internal and the external perspectives:

internal meaning the process of creating wikipedia content, and external

concentrating on wikipedias as whole entities. We do not want to call

these the producers' and users' perspectives, as the point is precisely that

the division between these roles will be blurred (Peters & Lankshear

1996, 62).

The External Perspective: The Proliferation of Wikipedias

From the external perspective the "free speech" freedom of Wikipedia

makes possible limitless forking, that is, new modified versions based

on the existing ones.2 We should, indeed, be talking of the class of

wikipedias, in which the current Wikipedia with its various language

versions is one case and wikipedias – such as the Conservapedia

(, "The Conservative Wikipedia" – with

2 For forks of Wikipedia, see:

68 Wikiworld

different viewpoints or attitudes form the next class. In fact, the different

language versions can already be classified as content-forks, since their

content is different to some extent (see, e.g., the English and French

articles on human reproductive organs). The reasons for forking

Wikipedia have so far included reasons of editorial policy, attitudes on

advertising and, most importantly, different rationalities or points of

view behind the content. In essence, when talking about the forks of

Wikipedia or the class of wikipedias in general, we are dealing with the

politics of knowledge production.

Currently, Wikipedia has a policy of "Neutral Point of View"

(NPOV): while discussing controversial issues, Wikipedia articles "must

represent all significant views fairly and without bias." The NPOV is

self-consciously a view, not the absence of all views. This means that

like the Encyclopedias of the Enlightenment, the Wikipedia does contain

a rationality of its own. The excessively scientific-positivist rationality

of the Enlightenment has been amply criticized in the last 100 years or

so. We have learned that far from being a boon to all humanity, as it

believed itself to be, Enlightenment rationality meant the suppression, if

not worse, of different rationalities and people believing in them. While

Wikipedia's NPOV is not as rabid as the most virulent forms of

Enlightenment rationality, it is clear that the growing prominence of

Wikipedified information will be corrosive towards certain types of

communal, religious and other rationalities. However, the possibility of

forking the Wikipedia somewhat mitigates this negative aspect.

Some kind of common rationality is necessary for any kind of open

collaborative project to work. In the case of free/open source software,

the criteria for an improvement of the code are quite straightforward. If

the new code works better, it is better. In the case of Wikipedia, the

NPOV provides the necessary goal-oriented rationality and makes it

possible to decide what is an improvement over an existing version of an

article. It is clear that the NPOV is not the only possible criterion of

improvements. Consequently, different wikipedias with different

3. Radical Monopolies 69

rationalities are emerging. This possibility of non-neutral wikipedias

goes way beyond the Gutenbergian revolution. Editing Wikipedia

articles is easy. Given time, many political, gendered, geographical,

ethnic and so on viewpoints will have wikipedias of their own. Already

a whole universe of different wiki-projects exists on the Net, from the

sustainability wiki of Finnish eco-villages to the gambling wikis of Las


This radical proliferation of non-neutral point of view (nNPOV)

wikipedias will provide a wide spectrum for critical literacy. Not only

are we able to learn from various points of view, we will also be able to

formulate and argue for our own. The radical proliferation does not only

concern points of view. The level of difficulty and need for active

participation from the reader may be varied at will, as well. Already

many Wikipedia articles are formed by providing a combination of short

versions of longer articles. This fractal nature of wiki-information will

also provide an active playground for critical reason: Sometimes

understanding demands more information, sometimes less.

Limitless forking is not a value in itself; the Internet is already full of

more or less useless information. However, in the hands of a group of

committed individuals and intellectuals working towards a more or less

shared goal in incremental steps, wikis provide essential possibilities.

Free knowledge production in terms of copyleft does deliver – mutadis

mutandis – something about Marx's ideas in his Critique of the Gotha

Program (1875):

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving

subordination of the individual to the division of labor,

and therewith also the antithesis between mental and

physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not

only a means of life but life's prime want; after the

productive forces have also increased with the all-around

development of the individual, and all the springs of co70


operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can

the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its

entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each

according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

The Internal Perspective: Wikis as Ideal Communication

A wikipedia article comes not only with a button to the edit page, but

also with a history and a discussion page. These two provide a unique

perspective on how the content has been created, criticized and cooperated

on. Already the existence of the "edit" button indicates a subtle

but profound epistemological shift: knowledge comes with a past and a

future; it is not immutable "black on white".

The birth of the public has also been credited to the Enlightenment.

Especially the newspaper as a media in which argument based on the

public use of one's reason – Kant's definition of adulthood and maturity

in his "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment" (1784) –

has been celebrated as a cornerstone of democratic discussion and

decision making. The newspaper has also been criticized by Kierkegaard

and others as leveling down genuine expression. Now that commodified

messages and mainstreamed content is taking over even so-called

quality newspapers, their role as an open and participatory public

discussion forum in the sense of Habermas or Dewey is rapidly

declining, and Kierkegaard's worry seems grounded.

However, something of the Kantian-Habermasian public space is

being recreated in the discussions around wikipedia content. The NPOV

explicitly endorses Habermasian discourse, where the conditions of

ideal communication are explicitly upheld by the guidelines of NPOV

3. Radical Monopolies 71

itself. These discussions have two aspects: the political and the


On the epistemological side, the processual nature of wiki-content

emphasizes the pragmatic and public aspects of knowledge, disregarding

or circumventing aspects of authorship and credentials. The discussions

on the reliability of Wikipedia articles often miss the interesting internal

change: the reliability of a Wikipedia article is not (only or mainly) to be

examined on the basis of the article as it stands, but also by looking at

how it has been developed and what kind of criticism it has withstood.

This widely distributed peer-review gives wiki-content a reliability that

is different from that guaranteed by authors with institutional

credentials. Currently proposals are being made on how visual cues – for

instance, color – could be used in highlighting well-established content

on a wiki-page (see Cross 2006).

On the political side, the Wikipedia, and even more importantly,

other open, collaborative wikis, are currently functioning as hotbeds for

democratic discussion and education throughout the world. The nNPOV

wikis formed by special interest groups or communities with common

problems have perhaps the most to gain as the pre-existing non-digital

goal and motivation works as a dynamo for collaborative knowledge

creation. With the edit, history and discuss buttons, information on a

wiki-page is obviously a collective process, not an individual's

possession. This epistemological shift together with the proliferation of

wikipedias will have dramatic effects on education and learning.

Community wikis and larger, open wikipedias are already building the

public spheres of the future.

72 Wikiworld

Breaking Radical Monopolies: Digital Opportunities and Real


The hope brought about by the emergence of social media like

Wikipedia lies in the promised post-scarcity and non-alienated mode of

labor. Even if a cybercommunist utopia is still far away – What will the

hackers eat? Will everyone be a hacker? – a change can already be felt

inside the hegemonic forms of production. By adopting aspects of the

social media, the first economy of commodities and markets – or less

euphemistically, capitalism – tries to present itself "with a human face".

This imitation is felt on many fronts: schools and universities want to

expand their scope by providing access to informal learning using

social-media tools, presenting themselves as hubs of social interaction,

rather than as formal institutions of power; nation states want to shift

attention from traditional industries to competition in terms of design

and high-quality experiences; and companies invite their customers to

co-create their future products in a process in which innovation itself is

supposedly dispersed and equalized (for "innovation" in the new setting,

see Thrift 2006).

Again, !i"ek (2006b) has his finger on the pulse when he discusses a

new form of business, in which "no one has to be vile". One crucial step

removed from the utopia of cybercommunism, !i"ek calls this new ideal

of capitalism with a human face "liberal communism":

These are the rules of the new nomadic, frictionless

capitalism, geared toward the cultural industry:

1. You shall give everything away free (free access, no

copyright); just charge for the additional services, which will

make you rich.

2. You shall change the world, not just sell things.

3. Radical Monopolies 73

3. You shall be sharing, aware of social responsibility.

4. You shall be creative: focus on design, new technologies and


5. You shall tell all: have no secrets, endorse and practise the

cult of transparency and the free flow of information; all

humanity should collaborate and interact.

6. You shall not work: have no fixed 9 to 5 job, but engage in

smart, dynamic, flexible communication.

7. You shall return to school: engage in permanent education.

8. You shall act as an enzyme: work not only for the market, but

trigger new forms of social collaboration.

9. You shall die poor: return your wealth to those who need it,

since you have more than you can ever spend.

10. You shall be the state: companies should be in partnership

with the state.

This is all well and good, as far as it goes. But the liberal communist

economy conveniently forgets the essential structural conditions of its

own existence. For Bill Gates to give away to charity huge sums from

his fortune, he first had to collect it using ruthless monopolistic

practices. More generally, "Developed countries are constantly ‘helping’

undeveloped ones (with aid, credits etc.), and so avoiding the key issue:

their complicity in and responsibility for the miserable situation of the

Third World. [O]utsourcing is the key notion. You export the (necessary)

dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labor, ecological

pollution – to ‘non-smart’ Third World locations (or invisible ones in the

First World)." (!i"ek 2006b). What liberal communism hides, deliberately

or not, is the structural violence inherent in global capitalism.

!i"ek points out that liberal communism can work only by masking

the structural (economic, social and political) violence on which its

outsourced practises are based. Against this he insists on a true

universalism that transcends all local (ethnic, national, gendered, etc.)

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identities. Local identities are not, for !i"ek, a force against global

capitalism, as it is only too happy to manipulate, create and commodify

such identities. We might ask does not the utopia of liberal communism

itself contain a certain amount of structural violence, a violence that is

familiar from the earlier stages of cultural change?

Let us proceed according to the hypothesis that the areas designated

by the phrase "creative industries" are precisely the places where the

structural bias and consequent violence of the cybercommunist utopias

may be discerned. Since the free/open-source software movement is so

often presented as the paradigm of the new forms of intellectual labour,

let us consider for a moment the crown jewel of that movement, the

GNU/Linux operating system. Linux is available free for anyone to use,

modify and redistribute on the Net. In 2002, it was estimated that a

typical GNU/Linux distribution (Debian) contains more that 55 million

lines of source code, and if it were to be created using traditional

proprietary methods of software development, the cost would be 1.9

billion US dollars (Gonzáles-Barahona et al., 2002). That was in 2002;

by now, its value will have grown further. It is easy to see that this kind

of value created and distributed freely is indeed something not

previously seen: germs of non-commodity exchange, indeed. The fact

that GNU/Linux does have a tremendous use value for thousands of

people around the world shows how freely co-operating and selforganizing

communities can do real work. The transfer of skills and

knowledge happening in the Linux community may be one of the best

examples we have of a global volunteer organization.

Nevertheless, the structures of inequality quickly kick in. Most

Linux-kernel developers are male and relatively young. Moreover, most

of them come from North America or Europe. In the case of Debian, this

holds true. The developers have typically received some academic

education, and the number of PhD holders in the group is quite high –

over 10 percent. Again, most of the developers come from the global

North (see, e.g., Mikkonen & al., 2007). This geopolitical bias is not just

3. Radical Monopolies 75

a historical fact, a fossil created by the initiation of these projects in the

North. During the 15 years or so the projects have been in progress, only

minor change has occurred, with individual programmers from Brazil,

India and some other Southern countries getting involved. Indeed, there

is as much reason to believe that the economic divisions in the real

world are exacerbated in the digital world as to believe that there are

grounds for hoping that digital technology could bridge these gaps. If we

consider the fact that, during the year from summer 2005 to summer

2006, the Linux kernel took in more code from the .mil domain (US

military) than from most third world countries, we instantly get a feeling

of the old colonialism continuing in new guises.

Or let us go back to Wikipedia. The English Wikipedia has circa

2.275 million articles (March 11, 2008), and other language versions are

developing quickly. The non-neutral neutrality of the NPOV was

mentioned, above. If we like the Habermasian communicative

rationality, the NPOV is nice, but it is corrosive with regard to certain

types of communities. In order for a wikipedia to work, it needs a

certain critical mass (to resist vandalism, to promote increased content,

diversification of contributor roles, etc.). The smaller the (linguistic)

community, or the group with a common rationality, the slighter the

chances of a vibrant Wikipedia. Furthermore, critical mass means

normalization, which in itself works against certain types of communal

identities. From the user’s point of view, the fact that the English

Wikipedia is so much better than, say, the Finnish one, provides an

additional pull towards the hegemonic language and its values.

These two small examples should serve to indicate that the liberal

communist utopia is by no means neutral with regard to local identities.

Indeed, we might suspect that the power structures of the first economy

are visible in the digital sphere. If this is the case, the drive towards

culture as the playground of global commerce reveals a new side. The

possibilities for small linguistic areas like Finland to make successful

business out of the creative industries look bleak, notwithstanding the

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digital opportunities. The Sibeliuses and Alvar Aaltos of previous

generations learned their trade from Europe, and by cleverly infusing it

with "local" coloring, sold it back to the source. Being a classical

composer or being a modern architect are European occupations, and a

Finn can succeed in these only in so far as she is able to become

European. And what else is "European" than an ideological discoursive

construction? Why would things be any different with regard to digital

creation? Finland, to be sure, is a wealthy, highly modernized nation,

with a well-educated population. This is one of the reasons why

advanced technology has been one of our success stories. But what, after

all, is this "ours", and "us", and what is the "Finnish culture" in, say,

Nokia mobile phones? Precious little. Again, even the design of the

phones is recycled global style, with minor improvements, and

production is outsourced to the point where nobody wants to know

about the toxic trail leading to illegal mines in Nigeria. If the promise of

"creative liberal communism" is as an empty one, as in the case of

Finland, what can it be like in other, equally small, but less wealthy

cultural areas?

Corresponding to the demand for stylish mobile phones in the

market, there is zero demand for the non-European parts of Finnish

culture, such as "eräkirjallisuus" ("wilderness literature"), in which

hunting and fishing trips are described in endless variations on the shortstory

formula. This type of literature is not politically correct, since it

involves the killing of animals, is mostly read and written by non-elitist

males, and in a ritual way always revolves around the same narrative:

leaving home for nature, hunting or fishing, and gaining something in

the process. No amount of digital revolution will wash away this

political incorrectness and make Finnish wilderness literature desirable

for the European or global public. Better to write detective novels – a

European genre – with a local flavor; the rise of the Scandinavian

detective is already in evidence.

3. Radical Monopolies 77

All of this points to the fact that, in the case of small cultures and

linguistic areas, the problems and possibilities of the digital era are

significantly different from those of the bigger, more dominant players.

It also means that attempts to understand intellectual labor or the

creative industries cannot rely exclusively on the tools created in critical

discussions in the heart of Europe. The post-post-isms springing from

Italy or France have only so much purchase in a landscape that is only

now entering the phase that cultural critics like Adorno described in

their classic postwar writings. In Finland, the first generation that likes

to shop, and which has never really worried about spending money and

not saving it, is only now emerging. Likewise, a mass public for soap

operas is a very recent phenomenon. Consequently, the critical analysis

of a mass society and cultural industry is becoming topical at the same

moment that it is also being left behind.

If this non-synchronicity is true of such a pseudo-European area as

Finland, what can be said of other non-European or non-Westerns

places? We strongly suspect that a co-existence of different world-eras

around the globe makes it impossible to utilize only the latest theory

from Paris or California, as if only the latest would be advanced enough.

Indeed, globalization is reinforcing, for instance, both class-distinctions

(as a mobile phone assembler in Finland and China face similar

problems that are widely removed from Finnish or Chinese managers)

and ethnic identities (as environmental crises threaten local nature). If

there are histories of the world that are not the history of Europe, then

we also need multiple theories of the information society.

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4. The World Divided in Two

As the above-mentioned example of a different "world eras" hopefully

shows, we are living in a world of dramatic cultural, economic, social

and educational distinctions. These distinctions are largely dependent on

whether the person in question was born in the rich North or in the poor

South. By North and South, we refer to the economic, social and

educational gulf prevailing in the world at the moment. In the South,

people die of malnutrition, whereas in the North, the most common

causes of death result from being overweight. While in the South people

are living under the regimes of corrupted governments, in conditions

best described as a state of societal chaos, people in the political

totalitarianism of the North are discussing the reasons and consequences

of the democratic deficit. While in the North the use of the appliances of

information and communication technologies (ICTs) is skyrocketing, in

the South a significant portion of the population – over 800 million

adults, two thirds of whom are women – still lack basic literacy.

From a very general perspective, peoples' living conditions appear to

consist of a wide variety of different ingredients. First, we can’t

sufficiently stress the fact that people today are growing up in

economically, culturally and socially different and differently timed

worlds. However, in contrast to this immense variety of living

environments, there exists a grand narrative: an unprecedented and

unifying educational power of global media culture, which challenges

and often surpasses such traditional forms of socialization as family and

school. As observed by Douglas Kellner (2000, 305):

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Culture had been a particularizing, localizing force that

distinguished societies and people from each other.

Culture provided forms of local identities, practices, and

modes of everyday life that could serve as a bulwark

against the invasion of ideas, identities, and forms of life

extraneous to the specific local region in question.

At present, however, the status and meaning of culture has changed:

"culture is an especially complex and contested terrain today as global

cultures permeate local ones and new configurations emerge that

synthesize both poles, providing contradictory forces of colonization

and resistance, global homogenization and new local hybrid forms and

identities" (ibid., 305) In literature, this complex cultural situation,

where people are forced to struggle for their lives, living conditions and

identities, has been given a variety of names. Some call it the

information or informational age, others term it technoculture (Robins &

Webster 1999) or techno-capitalism, global media culture or simply

globalization, referring to the dialectic process in which the global and

the local exist as "combined and mutually implicating principles" (Beck

2002, 17). A number of other labels, such as post-industrial, virtual or

cybersociety, are also in use (see Hand & Sandywell 2002), but the

notion behind these descriptions is that across the globe, ICTs are

playing a central role in people’s lives, as well as in society at large.

The first assumption behind these terms is that the proliferation of

ICTs is causing rapid transformation in all branches of life. The second

underlying idea is that ICTs function to unify and standardize culture. A

wide variety of grand narratives have been written on the topic of media

culture. In the following citation, Manuel Castells (2001, 2) analyzes

some of the demands that have characterized the transformation from

the industrial to the informational era:

4. The World Divided in Two 81

The needs of the economy for management flexibility and

for the globalization of capital, production, and trade; the

demands of society in which the values of individual

freedom and open communication became paramount; and

the extraordinary advances in computing and telecommunications

made possible by the micro-electronics


The grand narratives of contemporary society are rarely told from the

standpoint of the ordinary citizen, not to mention children and young

people. The processes behind the afore-mentioned terms would deserve

a more thorough analysis from the point of the view of people’s

experienced life-worlds. The same that is true of the above-mentioned

buzzwords can be said of media culture in its entirety: It is largely

affected by Western values. When talking about bridging the digital

divide, it is thus important to recall that ICTs carry a number of Western

values – a cultural package, so to speak – not directly transferable to

other cultures. The media culture comprises both traditional media,

including print media, television and the telephone, and the more recent

ICTs, such as computers, the Internet and mobile phones. All of these

appliances are saturated with Western popular culture and advertising.

Typically, the debate about the meaning of ICTs moves between two

polarities: utopias and dystopias. Pessimists and cynics who believe that

the core meaning of ICTs is one of cultural barbarism challenge

technology enthusiasts who believe that ICTs will revolutionize every

aspect of the world. Somewhere in between there are those who collect

statistics about the global diffusion of ICTs with little emphasis on their

interpretation. The latter group forgets the fact that the very act of

reasoning is value-laden in itself. Furthermore, the media itself is keen

to inform the public but lacks the critical capacity to evaluate the core

meaning of ICTs (Castells 2001, p. 3). Those more or less autonomous

researchers who are doing their best to gain a better understanding of the

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current situation provide another vantage point. Unfortunately, critical

and analytical thinkers with the capacity and willingness to put forward

ideas that go beyond technological determinism remain few.

Our perspective is twofold. First, we fully appreciate the fact that

ICTs represent a Western value package, but it is also our understanding

that people are capable of interpreting and using ICTs in diverse and

novel ways, thus filling them with their own meanings. Second, we

share deep misgivings about the technology deterministic attitude

evident in many discourses on ICTs. Technology determinism fosters

assumptions about ICTs having the power to overcome the current

maladies of the world including poverty, hunger and deprivation and the

conflicts arising from them. Our stance on the issue could be described

as a critical yet cautiously hopeful and optimistic, the main question

being, what are the terms on which ICT optimism can be sustained in

the age of technological cynicism?

Global Media and Information Culture

A wide range of definitions and characterizations has sprung up around

global media and information culture. Generally, the concept "media

culture" refers to the socio-cultural condition where most of young

people’s daily perceptions and experiences are indirect and transmitted

through various ICTs, whether traditional (radio, television and

newspaper) or new (mobile phone, computer). Some of the definitions

emphasize the significance of information and information technology

that has emerged around it. Manuel Castells’ magnum opus, The

Information Age in three volumes (Castells 1996, 1998), is a paramount

example of this emphasis. Castells’ account of the network society, the

economic and social dynamics of the new informational age, is strongly

4. The World Divided in Two 83

reminiscent of the analysis once conducted by Marx on the industrial

society. The most fundamental difference between the two is that where

Marx emphasized industrial labor as the basis for all productivity,

Castells (1996, 17) stresses the meaning of information and information


In the industrial mode of development, the main source of

productivity lies in the introduction of new energy

sources, and in the ability to decentralize the use of energy

throughout the production and circulation processes. In

the new informational mode of development, the source of

productivity lies in the technology of knowledge

generation, information processing, and symbol


In the footsteps of Marshall McLuhan, Manuel Castells (2001) has

further argued that the Internet is the message of our times; that it is the

medium that forms the fabric of our very lives. For Castells, the network

represents the leading idea of our era and functions as a metaphor

extending its influence to various aspects of human activity: "Core

economic, social, political, and cultural activities throughout the planet

are being structured by and around the Internet, and other computer

networks," he contends (ibid. p. 3) and continues: "Exclusion from these

networks is one of the most damaging forms of exclusion in our

economy and in our society." He then goes on to compare the meaning

of information technology with that of electricity in the industrial era,

likening the Internet to the electrical grid or the electric engine: The

Internet can distribute the power of information throughout the entire

realm of human activity.

The central position of information also dictates the type of

competencies required from a labor force in the future. Perhaps the most

central capabilities are those of learning and re-learning and managing

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information. Yet Castells’ accounts on the matter are not one

dimensional, but do justice to the versatile and contradictory character

of the global media and information culture. For instance, Castells is

well aware of the fact that ICTs can be used both as the accelerator of

immaterial flows of value, such as money and free trade, and as the

information channel for various social movements and anti-corporate

activism. The foundation of Castells’ analysis as well as its conception

of the essence of the information society rests on economic activity. In

fact, the term "information economy" is exactly right for the model of

society constructed in Castells’ theories. More than technological

determinism, Castells’ thinking seems to be guided and motivated by the

ICT imperative. The following quote from Hand and Sandwell (2002,

198) does well to illustrate this type of thinking: "Where information

technologies have been singled out as key causes of progressive change

and democratic enlightenment, we not only have an instance of

ideological simplification but also an advanced form of technological


Where Castells and his kind emphasize access to information as a

factor to global and macroeconomic success, a number of other people

(e.g. Kellner 1995; Webster 2000; Norris 2001; May 2001) highlight the

importance of surrounding cultural, political and social factors in the

construction of the global media and information culture. In short, they

believe that the lifeworld should, involve other things than just ICTs.

Only after a thorough analysis of these factors surrounding ICTs can we

say something about the significance of the global media culture in

general and ICTs in particular. From a sociological viewpoint, global

media culture has often been associated with the substitution of the

national by the global: "the logic of manufacturing is displaced by the

logic of information; and the logic of the social is displaced by that of

the cultural" (Lash 2002, 26). The sovereignty of nation states – the

economic, political and cultural relationships between independent

states – is being replaced by global flows such as finance, technology,

4. The World Divided in Two 85

information, communication, images, ideas or people. The logic of

manufacturing is giving way to the logic of information. This means that

a vast array of products is becoming more informationalized: for

instance, toys and computer games are becoming increasingly

digitalized. Moreover, work and production processes are no longer

labor-intensive, but information, knowledge and design intensive.

Furthermore, the social is being displaced by the cultural: Where the

social was tied to place and tradition, in the world of wired connections,

the cultural flows freely as money, ideas and popular images (ibid., 26).

In his largely skeptical take on the information society, Christopher

May (2001, 12-17) has located four central, yet problematic, claims

about current media culture. The first claim is that, above all, the

meaning of media culture is that of a social revolution induced by the

manifestations of information technology, such as computers, mobile

phones and the Internet. As observed by May, the claim represents

technological determinism and forgets that the meaning of technology is

not to be found in technology itself, but arises from its usages and the

cultural-political context. May (2001, 14) goes on to contend: "Once we

recognize that there has been a long gestation of the relevant

technologies and of their interaction with societies across the globe, then

the claims for revolution start to look a little strained."

The second claim foresees a replacement of the rigid social, political

and judicial institutions by an ICT-based new economy and Californian

ideology. The global development of Californization is about

autonomous individuals who communicate with other autonomous

individuals with the primary aim of finding new ways to make money.

The new economy offers no hope for longstanding or permanent jobs

that would create stability and social security in young people’s lives. In

the weightless economy of the future, young people in the North work

primarily in flexible, half time, half-pay service-sector jobs, while the

youth of the South slave away in sweatshops. The third claim suggests

that in the pre-Internet world, many writers stressed the significance of

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expert power afforded by management, control, ownership and

distribution of information. The age of the Internet has witnessed the

spread of what one might call a do-it-yourself ideology. Its central

assumption is that people automatically mobilize into small and efficient

interest groups and social movements that they act in and no longer

require traditional parties or social institutions to forward their aims.

The final claim argues that nation states are slowly disappearing

from the political scene. According to this view, "the information revolution

has undermined the state’s ability to control information for its

own ends, with fatal consequences for its overall authority" (ibid., 16).

Of course, the claim is exaggerated, as in many senses the nation state

remains a powerful category in the scene of global politics and there are

no signs of its disappearance. To summarize, the discussion on media

culture and the information society contains powerful simplifications. In

addition, the debate also operates on exaggerations and often has very

little to do with reality as experienced by young people.

The Media Culture

It is hardly necessary to dwell on the fact that the majority of the content

of current media culture is of Western origin and is produced mainly in

the US by Hollywood's entertainment industry. Its contents are blind to

people's – defined as consumers – cultural, economic, and educational

backgrounds as well as their social status. The logic of Western media

culture is largely based on the old model of broadcasting: from few

mastodons of communication to the many. The same is true of big

portions of the Internet, which has been hailed as a subversive

instrument, thanks to its opportunities for many-to-many

communication. Prevailing media culture is, at least to some extent,

4. The World Divided in Two 87

culturally blind and ruled by a small number of media giants. The

concept of media culture refers to an increase in different mediated signs

and messages and a play of interlacing meanings. The media saturated

by popular culture penetrates such fields of reality as politics, economy,

free time and education. At present, global media culture is a pedagogic

force that has the power to far exceed the achievements of

institutionalized forms of education. As Giroux (2000a, 32) puts it:

With the rise of new media technologies and the global

reach of the highly concentrated culture industries, the

scope and impact of the educational force of culture in

shaping and refiguring all aspects of daily life appear

unprecedented. Yet the current debates have generally

ignored the powerful pedagogical influence of popular

culture, along with the implications it has for shaping

curricula, questioning notions of high-status knowledge,

and redefining the relationship between the culture of

schooling and the cultures of everyday life.

However, the concept of media culture does not refer simply to symbolic

combinations of immaterial signs or capricious currents of new and old

meanings, but an entire form of life (see Lash 2002, 13), where images,

signs, texts and other audio-visual representations are connected with

the real fabric of material realities, symbols and artificialities (see also

Giroux 2000a, 98). Media culture is pervasive: its messages are an

important part of the everyday lives of people and their daily activities

are structured around media use. The stories and images in the media

become important tools for identity construction. Films stars, musicians,

and other celebrities provide models for the purchase of new outfits, and

language used by a cartoon character becomes an important factor in the

street-credibility of young people. In the present situation, there aren’t

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many corners of the world left to escape the meanings embedded in

televised media culture.

In a mediated culture, it can be difficult for young people to know

whose representations are closest to the truth, which representations to

believe and whose images matter. This is partly because the emergence

of digitalized communication and the commoditization of culture have

significantly altered the conditions of experiencing life and culture.

Many people perhaps still feel attached to the romantic image of the old

organic communities, where people would converse with each other

face-to-face and live in a close-knit local environment. Digital

communication, however, is gradually wiping out the romantic image:

Most of the ways in which we make meanings, most of

our communications to other people, are not directly

human and expressive, but interactions in one way or

another worked through commodities and commodity

relations: TV, radio, film, magazines, music, commercial

dance, style, fashion, commercial leisure venues. These

are major realignments. (Willis 2000, 48.)

Media culture is produced and reproduced by diverse ICTs. Thus it

would be imperative to replace the teaching and training of knowledge

and skills central in the agrarian and industrial societies by education in

digital literacy. A similar point is made by Kellner (1998, 122), who

contends that in a media culture it is important to learn multiple ways of

interacting with social reality. Students must be provided with

opportunities to develop skills in multiple literacies, in order for them to

be able to better work on their identities, social relationships and

communities, whether material, virtual or combinations of the two.

The media culture does not simply concern signs and symbols, but

also manifests in people’s bodies. Media culture covers the body

through means made available by the currently prevailing fashion. The

4. The World Divided in Two 89

body is a sign that can be used efficiently to produce cultural identities.

Furthermore, various kinds of media cultural skills and knowledge are

stored movements of the body. This is evident in a number of

subcultures, including certain popular sports and different games and

dances such as street basketball, skate boarding and hip hop. The body is

also highly susceptible to different technologies of control. In typical

schools, the student bodies are regulated by control mechanisms

(schedules, sitting still, health monitoring, etc.) and cognitive knowledge

production (writing tests, reports, discussing civilly, etc.). Conversely, in

the streets, youth clubs and private spaces, bodies function according to

a different logic. Media cultural, informal knowledge does not simply

equal conscious memorizing, but also involves somatic materiality

produced for commercial purposes. The trouble with commercialized

corporality is that it holds nothing sacred; if necessary, it will make use

of material such as pornographic images of children and youth (Giroux

& McLaren 2001, 53, 219-230). Furthermore, in the experience of

young people, media culture represents a culture of pleasure and relative

autonomy compared to home or school. As Willis (2000, 37) states:

Informal cultural practices are undertaken because of the

pleasures and satisfactions they bring, including a fuller

and more rounded sense of the self, of ‘really being

yourself’ within your own knowable cultural world. This

entails finding better fits than the institutionally or

ideologically offered ones, between the collective and

cultural senses of the body – the way it walks, talks,

moves, dances, expresses, displays and its actual

conditions of existence; finding a way of ‘being in the

world’ with style at school, at work, in the street.

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The ICT Debate

The current discussion on ICTs is dominated by several viewpoints,

among them a technological-administrative viewpoint. From this angle,

the main issues constitute Internet diffusion, access to the Internet and

use skills. The discussion is seemingly value neutral. Nonetheless, a

firm belief in progress, technology and market economy is evident in

this discourse. As can be expected, enabling access to the Internet

constitutes a key issue for the players in global economy. The

opportunity to use the Internet is also a central issue in welfare politics

promoting equal opportunities for young people. Aside from concerns

related to market value and equal opportunities, an important form of

criticism concentrates on the digital divide, which is perceived as

distinct from the more elementary worldwide problems (cf. Castells

2001, 269). Another viewpoint emphasizes social structures of the

Internet and the unequalizing social structures constructed around it. The

emphasis is on social problems that emerge as by-products of the

Internet culture. The polarization between the rich and the poor is

another serious concern in this respect. The adoption and use of

technologies is believed to reflect and aggravate social inequalities, but

also to increase the rate of employment and build up the information

technological infrastructure required by social justice.

Yet another viewpoint is that of digital divide, or the viewpoint of the

information rich and the information poor; it demonstrates a belief in the

traditional political intervention. Political decision-making and

independent scientific research and development hold a key position

when tackling the economic and social problems of information

societies and especially the problem of the digital divide, which in many

texts is seen as a grave structural problem. The discourse of the

information rich and the information poor advocates welfare state

politics as a central and natural solution to economic and social

4. The World Divided in Two 91

problems. The spread of ICTs fosters inequity in terms of language

barriers, geo-ethnic background factors, and Internet access and media

literacy. The flow of data does not dissolve existing social structures: if

anything, the old structures are reinforced by the new technologies. In

this sense, new technologies increase structural inequity. The

technologies and markets on their own are unable to solve the social

problems of media culture.

The information elite uses the gap generated by the technologies for

its own benefit. The ideology is based on the capitalist logic of earning,

where technology is turned into a necessity, the acquisition of which

signifies growth in sales and the birth of new markets. This tendency is

exemplified in commercial software, the capitalist tradition of copyright

and the high cost of telecommunications infrastructure: factors that

make the use of ICTs impossible in poorer countries. Aspects like these

turn economic politics into power politics and a new form of

colonialism. Taking into account the different viewpoints of the

information rich and the information poor thus opposes neo-liberalist

globalization and stresses the need for global politics and research as the

promoters of equal opportunities. Though the opening up of the world is

a good and important objective, national governments, NGOs and

organizations such as the United Nations constitute necessary instances

of control that have the opportunity to advance equal development in the


The fourth viewpoint, labeled visionary utopianism, strives to

unravel ways of thinking described above. It stresses the reconsideration

of values and promotes what has been termed ICT avant-gardism, the

creative and unexpected use of ICTs to support identity politics and

many practical aims. Others endorse a complete change of course, as

they perceive information and communication technologies as a part of a

global conformity project based on capitalist profit seeking and the war

of all against all. This change of course is expected to take place partly

with the help of a new world ethics emphasizing equality, ecological

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thinking and tolerance as the most central values. The new paradigm of

ICTs would mean the end of the Diaspora of Africa, the emergence of a

humanist ethics in the new technologies and the global openness of

scientific information in virtual universities. As a result of these

developments, ICTs would no longer function as an instrument of

inequality but would serve to unite people’s fates in the global village.

The viewpoint of visionary utopianism includes the idea of children and

young people as our hope for the future and as heralds of better things to

come, as characterized by Buckingham (2000, 44) as follows:

Thus, it is argued that computers bring about new forms of

learning which transcend the limitations of older methods,

particularly ‘linear’ methods such as print and television.

And it is children who are seen to be most responsive to

these new approaches: the computer somehow releases

their natural creativity and desire to learn, which are apparently

blocked and frustrated by old-fashioned methods.

In contrast to this view, especially children and young people are

sometimes seen as innocent victims of media powers (see the discussion

in Buckingham 2000). This way of speaking evokes all the beasts of the

apocalypse and a wealth of other evils to threaten the idealized world of

childhood and youth. The breakdown of the nuclear family, teenage

pregnancies, venereal diseases, pedophilia, child trade and child

prostitution spreading through the Internet, drug use, youth crime, the

degeneration of manners, suicide and religious cults are all seen as

problems exacerbated or even inflicted upon us by the world of media.

According to this view, the parents have either died of AIDS or for some

other reason lost their handle on their child’s education. Schools have

been transformed into teaching factories incapable of providing young

people with the skills necessary in media culture (see also Castells 2001,

259-260). The media, especially television, feeds children material that

4. The World Divided in Two 93

makes them disturbed and passive, and they "as a result of their

developmental stage" are incapable of processing it. Children and young

people are seen as passive recipients of messages, as spellbound viewers

and dim-eyed zombies susceptible to a range of addictions from drugs to

the media. ICTs steal children from their parents and eliminate the

natural life phases of childhood and youth.

Perhaps an even clearer manifestation of a way of speaking

proclaiming the end of childhood and youth is a form of media panic

where children and young people are seen as victims of ICTs. The term

media panic refers to a concern, worry or fear that arises from the use of

new devices or new cultural forms that children and teenagers adopt at

the same time challenging earlier cultural practices and conceptions. It is

useful to remember, however, that in its time, the spread of the cinema

to a wider audience unleashed a panic reaction and inspired a wave of

research intended to empirically prove the destructive effects of motion

picture viewing. Another panic reaction emerged when in the early

1950s in the United States and in the following decade in the Nordic

countries, the television became standard equipment in every home. The

third media panic regarding the detrimental nature of ICTs is, of course,

occurring as we speak. A sad fact about media panics is that they rarely

evoke questions about what we might call problems of the factual world.

It may be, however, that media panics are becoming less fierce in nature

as social reality is becoming increasingly pluralistic with regard to its

ethnic foundation, gender codes, political map and cultural meanings

(see Fornäs 1995). The discourse examined above serves to create rules

for dealing with the problems of the networked societies and the

globalizing world, but it also functions to construct a demonized image

of youth.

Whatever the case the fact is that in the global village children and

youth with their own practices and consumer choices often are the

vanguard of the developments in ICT use. A number of thinkers from

diverse ideological camps suggest (see Tapscott 1998; Papert 1996;

94 Wikiworld

Rushkoff 1996; Katz 1997; Jenkins 1998; Kinder 1999; Giroux 2000b;

Buckingham 2000) that children and young people can act as

"oppositional intellectuals" and "semiotic guerrillas" of the Internet age.

In the current situation, certain economic visionaries of the IMF speak

of providing network connections to the developing corners of the world

and advocate a cultural leap directly from agrarian societies to digital

and post-industrial societies. On the other side are a number of critical

pedagogues who have always had faith in the wisdom of youth and are

now channeling their hopes to the possibilities of using ICTs as a tool

for resistance. For the latter, ICTs represent a powerful tool for selfexpression,

avant-garde, digital situationism, semiotic guerilla war,

media criticism and influence through media, interaction and research.

Some of these people (e.g. Giroux 1996; McLaren 1995; 1997;

Lankshear et al. 1996) adopt a systematically critical attitude toward the

capitalist and commercial foundation of media culture.

The critics maintain that not all of the teachings of media are worth

learning. The messages received from media should be critically

negotiated nationally, locally and between family members examining

the meanings carried by them, whether visible, invisible, public or

implicit. It is often argued that children and youth are not just more

familiar with the practices of media culture than their parents and

teachers, but also create new media culture independently of formal

pedagogy or curricula. Without underestimating the capabilities of

young people, it is reasonable to claim that children and young people

are unable to manage their everyday lives on their own. They need to be

loved, supported and understood by adults who also provide them with

limits and advice. It does not seem likely that global predatory

capitalism could fulfill these needs.

In the context of media culture, the basic needs of children and

teenagers remain unaffected. In fact, they may even be highlighted.

While some are forced to comply with an inhuman pace of work and the

resulting socio-psychological anxieties and others must live in an

4. The World Divided in Two 95

inhuman idleness under a constant threat of starvation, the meaning of

social safety networks and lasting human relationships is bound to be

increased. The debate on children and youth reflects not just worry for

our own lives and the lives of people close to us, but also concern for the

state of the world. The viewpoint on the state of the world and the

welfare of people as seen in the above discourses is altered completely

when we begin to discuss the problems of media culture as societal

concerns affecting the whole world. It is thus our opinion that discussion

on childhood and youth should be broadened to cover the general

conditions and structures of life, or, in other words, social justice in a

world ruled by global corporations.

Generally speaking, discussion of media culture has largely been USbased

and dominated by liberalist viewpoints stressing individual,

national or corporate interests. The people actually affected by this

webwork of problems have no voice in the conversation. They live on

the other side of the digital divide, on the outskirts of the means to

power available in the networked world. Critical voices have claimed

that in reality there is little intention to demolish the digital divide. It can

be narrowed down somewhat, but not enough to lose the economic

advantage derived from it. As perceptively noted by Eduardo Galeano

(2001, 36): "And don’t forget the ferocious protectionism practiced by

developed countries when it’s a matter of what they want most: a

monopoly on state-of-the-art technologies, biotechnology, and the

knowledge and communications industries. These privileges are

defended at all cost so that the North will continue to know and the

South will continue to repeat, and thus may it be for centuries upon

centuries." Is a situation where the South would teach and the North

would learn completely inconceivable in this respect?

96 Wikiworld

Forms of Digital Divide

All of the international organizations including the European Union, the

United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the G-8 countries and

the OECD have expressed their awareness of the fact that the

proliferation and use of ICTs form yet another dimension in the division

of the worlds’ youth into fortunate and less fortunate ones. As Castells

(2001, 265) puts it, "the new techno-economic system seems to induce

uneven development, simultaneously increasing wealth and poverty,

productivity and social exclusion, with its effects being differentially

distributed in various areas of the world and in various social groups."

International agencies, both inter-governmental and non-governmental

as well as those belonging to the corporate sector, discuss the digital

divide and compile charts and agendas for the purpose of bridging it.

In the debate, the concept of the digital divide is used in at least four

different ways (Norris 2001, 414; Castells 2001, 256-258). First, there is

the notion of the global digital divide that is used to refer to the

differences in the use of ICTs between people living in different corners

of the world. An important dividing line in this respect can be drawn

between the rich North and the poor South. From the point of view of

economic activity, ICTs are expected to significantly increase the

reachability of potential customers in terms of both marketing and direct

sales. The Internet is also believed to benefit the development of public

services, such as administration, healthcare and education. The problems

that make up the digital divide are being tackled by hundreds of projects

carried out by hundreds of governmental and non-governmental

organizations around the world.

The second interpretation of the digital divide concerns the unequal

opportunities for ICT use within countries. Important factors here are the

individual’s socio-economic position, level of education and place of

residence. The lesser the income and education and the further away

4. The World Divided in Two 97

from the capital the locality, the more likely the person is to be left

outside of information flows and networks. This type of social

stratification is connected with the third version of the digital divide

pertaining to democracy and its possibilities after the digital revolution.

The theme of the democratic divide is particularly significant with

regard to the civic engagement of young people. The opportunities of

children and young people to express their ideas and opinions about the

different issues in society have traditionally been very limited. Often,

the means of influencing the world around them have been limited to

peer relationships, rebelling against the boredom of school or the

resistance expressed at home (Buckingham 2000, 13). Furthermore,

some researchers have claimed that mobile-based interaction through

cellular phones between adolescents and their parents tends to diminish

productive conflicts between them, thus robbing adolescents of the

opportunity to develop their sense of self through such conflicts.

The increasingly mediated and digitalized essence of culture has

opened up the world both geographically and socially. Media culture and

ICTs do not automatically equal the globalization of economy: they also

provide new opportunities for engagement and resistance. Yet for the

moment, it is impossible to know what ICT-based democracy and

activism will mean in practice, although the global network and email

have already in many instances been successfully used for globalize

civic activism. In this sense, the Internet is a contested terrain used by

both the right and the left, by dominant media corporations from above

and by radical media and other activist groups from below. In the likely

event that new technologies constitute the dominant forces of tomorrow,

"it is up to critical theorists and activists to illuminate their nature and

effects, to demonstrate the threats to democracy and freedom, and to

seize opportunities for progressive education and democratization"

(Kellner 2000, 316).

The discussion on the digital divide has sparked a notion called

participation hypothesis, under which ICTs would have a dual effect on

98 Wikiworld

the participation of people (Norris 2001, 195). First, the new

opportunities for participation created by ICTs may strengthen the civic

engagement of those who are active in this respect to begin with.

Second, ICTs may serve to mobilize those who weren’t previously

interested in any form of political or social engagement. Similarly,

people who do not read newspapers or follow the news on television

may be drawn in by the opportunity to participate in societal debate

through the Internet. However, as there has been no research into the

field yet, it is too early to tell whether the participation hypothesis is

accurate on either of these counts.

The fourth type of divide concerns the division in technology and

knowledge. One characteristic of the development of ICTs is that as one

technological gap seems to be narrowing, another opens up. This is due

to the rapid cycle in which the current technology is replaced with new

technology. As stated in a maxim termed Moore’s law, computing power

doubles every eighteen months while costs remain constant. Thus, in the

opinion of Castells (2001, 256), "it could well happen that while the

huddled masses finally have access to the phone-line Internet, the global

elites will have already escaped into a higher circle of cyberspace".

Castells’ point appears rather cynical as, from the point of view of

sustainable global media culture, the real question naturally concerns the

type of ICTs that people need and the kind of technology they use in

their everyday activities, whether to do with worklife, gaming, personal

contacts or schoolwork. Here we encounter a discrepancy between ICT

manufacturers operating on the basis of commercial interests and young

people driven by the interests central in their life-world.

The concept of digital divide merits also some criticism. The use of

the concept has certain social consequences: it functions to shape social

reality and contains unarticulated value judgments. This involves the

danger of shutting out alternative ways of thinking and constructing a

uniform vision of culture. The discussion on the digital divide may in

fact serve in reproducing the myth of the Internet economy based on

4. The World Divided in Two 99

"the magic of technology but, more important, upon a belief in

capitalism as a fair, rational, and democratic mechanism" (McChesney

1999, 121).

In his book on the Internet, Castells (2001, 258-260) unleashes a

relatively powerful attack on contemporary educational systems that

sustain the digital divide based on the knowledge gap. Castells’ critique

is based on the idea turned common belief that education and lifelong

learning constitute central resources that add to the individual’s work

qualifications and enhance his or her personal development. In his

opinion, most schools in developing countries, but also in the overdeveloped

countries, function more as storage for children and youth. In

global assessment, schools display tremendous variation with regard to

teachers’ qualifications and other resources. Castells goes on to argue

that schools have failed to adopt the type of pedagogical thinking

required by the Internet era, thinking that originates in the old idea of

learning to learn: "what is really required is the skill to decide what to

look for, how to retrieve it, how to process it, and how to use it for the

specific task that prompted the search for information." Resulting from

the misery of schools, the task of preparing young people for the new

era is left to the homes, a fact that is likely to further add to the

disparities in the knowledge, skills and attitudes of children and young

people. Along with a number of other ICT enthusiasts, Castells (2001,

269) stresses that postponing the launch of the Internet in developing

countries until after having attended to the more pressing difficulties

experienced by the population would be a grave mistake. Without an

Internet-based economy, writes Castells, there is little chance for any

country to survive in the global race.

Sugata Mitra, who leads an Internet project in a slum in India,

supports this line of thinking. Although digital appliances are of little

use without the ability to read, the notion that only after a global

campaign to organize general education for everyone should we

contemplate a quantum leap to digital age does not seem entirely

100 Wikiworld

palatable. According to Mitra, synchronicity is important in shaking

colonialist attitudes: "The information in the Internet should be available

as easily as water and electricity. We can’t take the attitude that first we

need school, then teachers and children who go to school and only then

the Internet. Instead, I would say give them the Internet now" (Tuohinen

2001). It is important to recall, however, that children not only need the

resources generated by ICT economy but also require social security and

good-quality basic education and healthcare. In this situation, even basic

education, learning to learn and reflexivity are not enough. In order to be

able to build their lives in the society of the future, young people need to

develop a capacity to critically adapt their learning to the prevailing

global, societal and local circumstances. With no intention to undermine

the global significance of especially girls’ and women’s education, some

local projects have indicated that schooling and basic literacy aren’t

always necessary to up people’s capacity for action. Often, it is possible

to depart from very practical problems and to rely on locally

accumulated oral tradition combined with a technology suited for the

need and use context. As Sanjit Roy, the founder and director of the

Barefoot College in rural India, states: "’We have looked at the problems

that the poor face from their point of view and not from the point of

view of a so-called expert looking from outside,’ says Roy. ‘We have

come to the conclusion that, using their own knowledge, skills and

practical wisdom, it is possible for them to solve their problems

themselves.’" (Coles 2002, 42.)

With regard to the global digital divide, the uptake of ICTs entails a

number of practical problems that are particularly relevant in the poorest

nations of the world. The primary concern is the lack of money and ICT

resources. It is a generally accepted view that the amount of

development aid should be at least doubled from the current total of 50

billion dollars (Annan 2002b). According to this view, poor countries

need external funding and technological assistance for basic investments

before they are capable of functioning independently on the global

4. The World Divided in Two 101

market (Annan 2002a). Nonetheless, financial aid provided without the

teaching of human and property rights is not sufficient, as because of

corruption, development aid often ends up in hands other than those it

was intended for. The second problem is also a financial one: the newest

ICT applications are far too expensive from the point of view of

developing countries. One suggested solution for this has been the

utilization of freeware and the development of devices that are sufficient

for the needs of the user without representing the newest and the fastest

technology. A commonly acknowledged problem with ICTs is that

instead of originating from the actual needs of people, its development is

based on a constant pursuit of financial gain and a never-ending race for

bigger and better egged on by the market.

The third problem is the language used in ICTs. Today, English is the

global lingua franca. According to estimates, there are some 3,000 to

4,000 languages in the world, but 80% of all web sites exist in English

alone. A number of possible solutions exist for crossing this language

barrier. Young people learn languages spontaneously through watching

the English-language programs produced by multinational media

corporations. Schools around the world teach English as the first foreign

language. The language barrier can also be conquered through the help

of better-skilled individuals, who, like the scribes of the old days, assist

others in their community through translating texts from the local

language into English and vice versa (see La Page 2002, 44). Young

people learn languages more easily than adults and can in many

situations function as translators or, more commonly, as interpreters

between people speaking different languages. Moreover, the deeply

disturbing fact that the Chinese have begun to cut off a muscle

interfering with the pronunciation of English from underneath their

children’s tongue no doubt says something about the position of the

English language in the world today.

Thinking optimistically, the perception of international actors on the

problem of the digital divide is based on "a technologically deterministic

102 Wikiworld

assumption that closing gaps in access to computers will mitigate

broader inequalities, an assumption requiring enormous faith in the

capacity of a technology to bring about major social change" (Light

2001, 723). From a more critical angle it could be conjectured that we

are not dealing with technological determinism at all, but have simply

encountered a new case of word magic that manages to keep the

discussion on global development going while the predators of global

economy are allowed to roam free, unhindered by any international


The World Divided in Two

Because of the recentness of the ICT revolution, there are no long-term

statistics available that would enable conclusions concerning general

trends in the development of ICTs. The most central worldwide statistics

concern the diffusion of the Internet and people’s opportunities to

connect to the network. As can be expected, the statistics are very

general in nature and limited to certain parts of the world, making it

impossible to draw worldwide comparisons on young people’s use of

ICTs. The picture painted by the statistics of the digital divide speaks the

same language as all other indicators of the state of the world: it reveals

an accelerating tendency towards polarization. As the Internet is the

most central technology in global media culture, observing its use

provides some understanding of the proportions of the overall ICT

polarization. Examining the proliferation of the Internet use also affords

an idea of the overall significance of ICTs for young people on a global


The methods used in assessing the number of Internet users vary, and

it is worth remembering that the figures always constitute estimates.

4. The World Divided in Two 103

There is no denying that in the last five years, the world has witnessed a

veritable Internet explosion. In early 1997, the number of Internet users

was estimated at less than 60 million globally. In 2002, the number of

users is tenfold: some 580 million. In less than 5 years, in early 2007,

the world total was doubled into 1,1 billion. Reviewing the figures of

different continents offers a simplified yet revealing picture of the

situation: the distribution of Internet users is extremely uneven.

A regional view reveals that the vast majority, that is, about a half

(544 million) of all the Internet users live in North America and Europe.

The number of Internet users in the Asia Pacific region has risen rapidly

in recent years from 170 million in 2002 to 390 million in 2007, that is

35,6% of all the users. A growing proportion here consists of the

Chinese (the proportion has risen from some 57 million users in 2002 to

132 million in 2007), though the number is still relatively small

compared to the relative proportion of Internet users in the population of

Japan (83 million) and South Korea (34 million). In Latin America, the

number of Internet users has grown from 33 million in 2002 to 89

million in 2007. In the same time in Africa, there has been an increase

from some 6 million to 32 million, which is the highest relative growth

rate in this five-year period. The number of Internet users in the Middle

East has grown from 5 to 20 million in the years 2002–2007. (See

The Internet is thus highly illustrative of the differences between the

Northern and Southern hemispheres; the statistics reflect an image of a

world split in two. Proportioned to the population of the world, the

differences are dramatic. The following fact reported by Galeano springs

to mind: "Two out of three human beings live in the so-called Third

World, but two out of three correspondents of the biggest news agencies

work in Europe and the United States" (2001, 282). Pekka Tarjanne

(2002) of the United Nations ICT Task Force has examined the digital

divide and the position of young people in the changing world.

According to Tarjanne, "ICT has created a new world of opportunity",

104 Wikiworld

but only for the lucky few. The new world has opened up "to the

individuals fortunate enough to be able to access these technologies".

Like many others, Tarjanne believes in the idea of progress accelerated

by the Net: "Without access, history’s exponential progress is evolving

without global participation, resulting in what we today call the digital

divide, one of the glaring inequalities of our modern society."

Consequently, in the current situation where the Internet reaches less

than 10 per cent of the world’s population, reducing the digital divide is

dependent on "the participation and support of all players in different

sectors of society, including government, the academic world, civil

society, the private sector and non-governmental organizations".

Tarjanne expands his view by stating: "The impact of the information

revolution touches all of society, and . . . [the revolution] is being led by

the young adults of the world, on both sides of the digital divide. Young

adults from developing countries are increasingly realizing the wonders

of foreign cultures and customs." Tarjanne’s perception of young people

is one of explorers who, free from economic and cultural binds, look for

information in other countries and have grasped the importance of

networking in the global labor market of the future: "The tools of

information technology have provided the next generation with faces

and customs of alien places … Universities and small cafés are flooded

with young adults attempting to find news not available to them in their

city or village. They realize how important this knowledge economy

will prove for their future."

This view is close to the idea of cosmopolitanism (Beck 2002),

according to which young people in particular feel as one with global

processes and phenomena through popular culture. In the words of Beck

(ibid. 31), "the sphere of experience, in which we inhabit globally

networked life-worlds, is glocal, has become a synthesis of home and

non-place, a nowhere place." However, there are at least two critical

issues to bear in mind here. The idea of progress emphasized by

Tarjanne can no longer be thought of as a monologic Western formation

4. The World Divided in Two 105

capable of functioning as a measure of a range of other cultural

formations defined as non-Western. Furthermore, we need to be aware

of the fact that not all young people have unlimited access to these

glocal experiences or the opportunity to speed up on the information

superhighway. As to the question of equal opportunities for young

people and the quality of their lives, we may well fear that the digital

divide will maintain and increase the present gulf between rich and poor


According to Norris (2001, 49), there is nothing out of the ordinary

about the absolute differences in media cultural structures between rich

and poor countries. The disparities in media cultural possibilities reflect

the previously recognized differences in national income, healthcare and

education. Instead, from the viewpoint of diminishing the digital divide,

it is disconcerting to realize that even the traditional media is not equally

distributed around the globe, but its use has accumulated to affluent

countries. Norris predicts that the Internet is most likely to be adopted in

countries where the old media, such as radio and television, are in active

use. In other words, Norris sees no easy end to the development

separating the poor Southern countries excluded from the information

flows and the rich Northern countries not only firmly attached to the

currents but also steering them.

The profound statistical analyses carried out by Norris thus indicate

that the problems in the spread of the Internet to developing countries do

not result from the medium itself. The differences in the diffusion of the

Internet and traditional mass media are the consequences of the

profound economical, political, social and educational discrepancies

between societies:

The problem, it appears, is less whether Namibians lack

keyboard skills, whether Brazilians find that few websites

are available in Portuguese, or whether Bangladesh lacks

network connections. Instead, the problems of Internet

106 Wikiworld

access are common to the problems of access to other

communication and information technologies that have

been widely available for decades in the West. (Ibid., 66)

This being the situation, (ibid. 51) Norris recommends the following

approach: "rather than any short-term fix, such as delivering beige

desktop PCs to wired schools in Mozambique, Egypt, and Bangladesh,

the long-term solution would be general aid, debt relief, and economic

investment in developing countries." She (ibid., 67) also makes the

following remarks about the stages of the Internet revolution:

In the first decade, the availability of the Internet has

therefore reinforced existing economic inequalities, rather

than overcoming or transforming them. The reasons are

that levels of economic development combined with

investments in research and development go a long way

toward explaining those countries at the forefront of the

Internet revolution and those lagging far, far behind. … If

countries have the income and affluence, then often (but

not always) access to the Internet will follow, along with

connectivity to telephones, radios, and television.

Norris’ argumentation thus departs from that of Castells in a number of

important points. As Castells sees that efficient utilization of ICTs can

lead to economic success, it is Norris’ contention that the uptake of ICTs

must be based on a sufficient economic and political foundation. The

juxtaposition constitutes a classic chicken-and-egg problem. On the one

side, there are the ICT enthusiasts, such as Castells, who argue that

access to information sources, particularly the Internet, improves the

competitive positions of nations as well as the desirability of individuals

in the labor market. The narrow scope of this view is, of course, easily

revealed when it is considered from a standpoint outside of the Western

4. The World Divided in Two 107

idea of progress. Moreover, it emphasizes the significance of a single

type of information: one that is published in the format of bits. Clearly,

people’s life-worlds contain many other modes of information, such as

stories, narratives, music, beliefs, myths, artifacts, tools and local

practices of different forms and shapes.

The opposite view is taken by commentators who, like Norris, see

that the digital divide cannot be explained through the characteristics of

the medium, such as the Internet, or the opportunities provided by it.

Instead of linking more schools to the Internet, instructing teachers in

issues connected with digital literacy and establishing network

connections in poor areas, the focus should first be on the basic tasks

such as the realization of basic rights and the diminishing of economic,

social and educational inequalities. This is not to say that alongside with

these aims we should not act to demolish the digital divide through

solutions such as those suggested above.

It does seem, however, that the issue of ICTs is offering a harmless

facade behind which to conceal the complex political, economic and

social problems concerning the state of the world. The idea of bridging

the digital divide is an aim supported by actors regardless of their

political orientation. Conversation on the diffusion of ICTs is much

more convenient and less conflict-prone than a fundamental debate on

important reforms in the global economic and political order. As Light

(2001, 716) contends:

It is comforting to imagine that the diffusion and use of a

particular technology will remedy complex social

problems. … Certainly, for the myriad of claims makers,

the simplicity of the concept and the restricted scope of

existing debates are virtues. These simplifications help to

generate broad support that more comprehensive

constructions of inequality could not.

108 Wikiworld

Here we are again faced with the commonly repeated questions arising

from the illusion of progress: the most important of which is, what is the

standard of living that the worlds’ resources can support? By themselves

ICTs are not terribly energy consuming, but what should we make of the

material well being demanded and also created by them? Should

ecological values be incorporated in the debate on ICTs? Would it be

possible for ICTs to generate a reversal of values that would allow

people to see the world as containing differences and different ways of

defining concepts such as well being? Perhaps the next direction of ICTs

is to be found in sustainable development, where the production of new

bulk devices in the hope of easy profit would end and young people

would no longer be tricked into buying devices most of the features of

which are useless. Instead, designers and manufacturers would focus on

rolling out simpler and more easily usable technology, as exemplified in

products such as the mobile terminal device Simputer

( or the 100-dollar laptop (

Information and Communication Technologies

as New Forms of Socialization

Children and youth in the affluent part of the world seem to be living

their lives amidst the wonders of media culture like fish in water. Their

media-filled life incorporates the use of ICTs, which is something that

they do flexibly in their practices along with other more traditional

activities. The mere existence of ICTs makes the lives of today’s

children and youth differ in important ways from the lives of the earlier

generations. The products of media culture teach children different

attitudes as well as vast amounts of informal skills and knowledge.

4. The World Divided in Two 109

However, children’s everyday learning is often compromised and

complicated by the stereotypical attitudes and cultural fantasies of the

less-than-ideal adult world (cf. Internet child and teenage porn sites).

One might contend that children and youth in ICT-rich countries are

currently experiencing the second stage of media culture characterized

by two types of phenomena. First, ICTs are used multimodally, which is

to say that the different technologies intertwine in many ways in the

lives of children and young people. Second, the technologies are

becoming an increasingly important part of the everyday lives of

children and young people, which have implications for the ways in

which young people use time and interact with people close to them.

In rich countries, the ways of life of children and young people

display a tendency towards accumulation of hobbies (cf. accumulation

hypothesis). On the one hand, this development generates an active

group of children and teenagers, who are versatile in their use of the new

ICTs, but also engage in sports and culture-related activities. On the

other hand, there emerges a group of passive young people, whose

everyday life is filled by television viewing, which, incidentally, has

been considered as one of the central factors in the diminishing of social

capital and solidarity between people (Putnam 2000). A number of

scholars have voiced the well-founded claim that in the rich countries of

the North, public spaces are disappearing and life in general is

undergoing a process of privatization (Putnam 2000; Giroux 2001),

which also entails erosion of social cohesion and trust. As Galeano

(2001, 274) puts it in his criticism of the present communication world

and the unchallenged faith in ICTs:

This sort of progress just promotes separation. The more

relations between people get demonized – they’ll give you

AIDS, or take away your job, or ransack your house – the

more relations with machines get sacralized. The

communications industry, that most dynamic sector of the

110 Wikiworld

world economy, sells abracadabras that open the doors to a

new era in human history. But this so-well-communicated

world looks too much like a kingdom of loners and the


An examination of the power relations at work in commercial media

opens up another global dimension on the use of ICTs by children and

teenagers. The contents of the media culture targeted at children and

young people are decided by a few of global ICT and entertainment

companies that dominate the culture industry: Vivendi in Europe and

AOL-Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom and News Corp. in the US.

Although the issue is kept relatively quiet, the ICT market is revolving

increasingly around children and young people. There are two main

reasons for this. One is that children and young people are capable of

adopting and, because of their developmental stage, are keen to adopt

new things as parts of their life-world. The second reason is that

children in the affluent Northern societies are becoming an increasingly

important consumer group: they have their own money and also

influence their parents’ purchase decisions with their opinions.

Yet, the vast majority of the children and young people in the world

are unable to take part in the Western consumption frenzy, as it is known

that almost a half of the world’s population has to get by on no more

than a few dollars a day and that four out of five under 20-year-olds live

in the poor South. With comparable income levels, it is quite impossible

to conceive of purchasing information and communication technologies

for one’s personal daily use. In this context, the digital divide amounts to

nothing more than one more dimension in global inequality.

When discussing young people and ICTs, it is impossible to overlook

the fact that the young people of today simultaneously inhabit multiple

worlds. On the one hand, they are forced to struggle with a range of

vastly different problems concerning livelihood and adjustment. While

some toil in conditions best described as slavery and inhabit shanty

4. The World Divided in Two 111

villages that have sprung up on the outskirts of metropolis, others

contemplate their identities in their bedrooms, chatting away by their

personal computers. Also, while some strive to escape the authority of

parents, others look for someone to offer security and consolation. On

the other hand, the youth of today are also faced with the global world.

For them, global media culture represents a unifying force, a type of

cultural pedagogy that educates them in how to consume, act, "and what

to think, feel, believe, fear, and desire" (Kellner 1995, xiii). It is

possible, and even very likely, that young people throughout the world

are dreaming about the glamorous life of a pop star or a top athlete and

wishing for a stereotypical Western youth with its broken hearts and

other minor miseries. In any case, global media culture filled with

popular culture is bumping against the real world adolescents live in like

a pressure wave. The pressure for homogenization effected by media

culture varies from one culture to another and depends on the young

person’s media competence and his or her power to resist outside


Culture permeated by ICTs creates a setting where the traditional

modes of socialization are altered and, at least to an extent, replaced

with new ones. The viewpoints vary, but on the whole it is a generally

accepted notion that in today’s world, mediated popular culture and ICTs

constitute a socialization force more powerful than the home or school.

It makes sense to perceive the relationship between people and

technologies as a two-way one. People invent, use, appropriate and

modify technology. Yet, through using technology we learn to live with

it, and in this way it makes us the historical beings that we are. This can

be seen to constitute dialectical socialization, where we create

technological environments, which, in turn, create us. This is the central

lesson of the social history of technology.

In this fundamental sense, it is possible to think that a person’s

lifespan and the general circumstances of life are dependent on the time

and place of birth. It can be concluded that in this important sense, life is

112 Wikiworld

largely determined by demographical, generational and geographical as

well as cultural and political factors. This results in a situation where

different generations are living different eras, even though existing at the

same point in history. Another consequence of this is that the living

conditions and opportunities of young people vary greatly. Above, the

meaning of ICTs has been observed from a quantitative and rather a

general viewpoint. It is important to recall, however, that above all, the

emergence of ICTs is a cultural phenomenon. As Light (2001, 711)

reminds us: "Technology is not a neutral tool with universal effects, but

rather a medium with consequences that are significantly shaped by the

historical, social, and cultural context of its use." This means that ICTs

should always be examined contextually or socio-historically: in this

instance, as a part of the changes that have occurred in the life-world of

young people.

The three-way division of culture into postfigurative, cofigurative

and prefigurative by Margaret Mead (1971) provides an interesting

opportunity for this kind of examination. The three abstract cultural

forms do not form a clear temporal continuum but can live and prevail

simultaneously in different parts of the world, as, in fact, is the present

situation. In a postfigurative culture, socialization occurs from the older

generation to the younger. In a cofigurative culture, people also learn

from peers and organize a versatile formal education. In a prefigurative

culture, the direction of socialization changes so that the younger

generation may instruct the older generation in how to function in a new

cultural situation. The mere speed of cultural change is an important

reason for this reversal. In a new cultural situation, old skills, knowledge

and attitudes lose their meaning. Naturally, the transformation is never

complete: even in a society thoroughly permeated by ICTs, post- and

cofigurative cultures continue to live on as traditions nurtured by people.

However, considering the present cultural position of young people,

the notion of a prefigurative form of culture acquires new importance,

for its central idea corresponds to what has been called global media

4. The World Divided in Two 113

culture. The assumption that in prefigurative media culture socialization

would occur exclusively from the immaturity of childhood to the

maturity of adulthood is clearly problematic. The problem is contained

in the essence of culture itself. In post- and cofigurative culture forms, it

was possible for culture to be transmitted exclusively from the older

generation to the younger. In a media culture, the situation has altered,

as cultural transmission can no longer take place just from the old to the

young, but also occurs the other way round. The accelerating cultural

change thus serves as grounds for the two-way socialization, or the fact

that it is also possible to learn from children and young people, that

children can teach each other and their parents and learn from each

other. The popular stories and narratives become a part of the

experiences of childhood and youth, while at the same time children and

youth become a part of the narratives of popular culture.

This type of cultural change is also a reason why the cultural

practices and meanings generated by children and young people need to

be listened to, read, explored and studied with particular sensitivity. As a

part of the life-world of children and teenagers, ICTs create public

spaces where new couplings are formed between knowledge, skill and

pleasure (Giroux 2000a, 30). In critique departing from the notion of the

two-way socialization prevalent in the prefigurative culture, school is

seen as an institution that both upholds and reforms tradition. School is a

sanctuary of closed knowledge protecting its educational autonomy with

every means available. The closed code of school can be compared, for

instance, to the open code of the Internet. For the media savvy teacher,

ICTs constitute a never-ending source of information and pedagogical

challenges, as they provide the opportunity for establishing virtual

classrooms uniting school classes in different parts the world. In the

progressive school, ICTs might serve a fundamental pedagogic purpose:

to generate discussion across all barriers. The purpose is not to persuade

those who think, act and look different to conform, but to look for

opportunities for a common understanding and a better future together.

114 Wikiworld

It is interesting to consider the unprecedented range of opportunities

for learning the use of ICTs offers: young people use ICTs in searching

for information using web engines or traditional electronic databases;

surfing the Internet as a leisure activity; listening to music in digital

format; writing e-mails; engaging in an online chat session; attending a

virtual school; playing virtual reality games; studying via diverse forms

of distance education or participating in projects that call for

organizational learning with the help of different information and

communication media. The literacy requirements of media culture

expand from the ability to read text to capacities to operate and

understand the meanings delivered by a variety of equipment (CD- and

other music players, the computer, the mobile phone, the video),

something that often precedes the acquisition of traditional literacy. In

addition, it is possible to conceive of online chat as a pedagogical site

that enables learning in fields such as skilled use of words, interaction

unattached to gender and demarcations crucial for identity work. The

sending of text messages on the mobile phone produces its own

medialore and in its way functions to reform the language, whereas

gaming culture enhances sensory and aesthetic perception and produces

cognitive skills that have so far been studied very little but have already

been declared to provide access to the digital future. Furthermore,

increasingly affordable computers and powerful and versatile software

enable young people’s own music production in cheap self-made

studios. Furthermore, a range of subcultures is springing up around

globally and ethically moving issues and appears to be spontaneously

generating a new generation of communication.

According to Willis (2000, 124-125), confidences in one’s own skills

and the motivation for the creative learning that occurs in media culture

arises from creative consumption, fandom and the copying of pleasuregenerating

cultural products. Learning based on the consumption of

culture should be perceived as a normal way to learn, and no distinction

should be made between production and consumption in this context.

4. The World Divided in Two 115

Cultural practices are the practices of learning, and learning – even in

school settings – is filled with media cultural meanings. According to

Willis, we really are on the verge of a new electronic folk age. The

prefigurative media culture has important implications on the position of

young people in the labor market. Young people seem to take in

knowledge, skills and attitudes from media culture almost by osmosis.

Some of these skills are highly useful in a prefigurative culture:

language skills become tradable assets and computer literacy is hard

currency in ICT companies investing in the field. In other words, the

new qualifications acquired through informal learning serve to construct

a more skilled and knowledgeable labor force.

Moreover, the attitudes pushed forward by media culture have

functioned to mould young people into compliant consumers of the

future. As concluded by Naomi Klein (2000, 275), it seems that brandname

corporations, who have targeted their offers and goods to young

people, are abandoning youth "at the very moment as youth culture is

being sought out for more aggressive branding than ever before".

Equipped with skills and attitudes necessary for survival in media

culture, young people have become the targets of gross exploitation

unparalleled in the past: "Youth style and attitude are among the most

effective wealth generators in our entertainment economy, but real live

youth are being used around the world to pioneer a new kind of

disposable workforce" (ibid., 275).

The ideology of flexibility promoted by the market has placed young

people in a difficult position. By attaching their identities to popular

cultural messages, they have adopted some of the ideals and ways of

thinking promoted by media culture. Yet they are currently finding

themselves in a situation where it is impossible to feel secure enough to

make any long-term plans, let alone model their lives and futures

according to the ideals adopted from the media: "A hit soap opera is

generally the only place in the world where Cinderella marries the

prince, evil is punished and good rewarded, the blind recover their sight,

116 Wikiworld

and the poorest of the poor receive an inheritance that turns them into

the richest of the rich" (Galeano 2001, 301). Some proponents of

privatization stressing the viewpoint of capital perceive the situation

based on endless flexibility and insecurity as ideal. They should perhaps

be reminded that the price of this insecurity is paid in violent behavior,

psychological exhaustion, social maladjustment and general restlessness

in society. As Robins and Webster (1999, 172) state: "The race is on to

establish increasingly individuated work relationships, with labor ideally

linked on a network which allows him/her to be constantly and routinely

monitored, while also supplied with the technological know-how and

motivational characteristics to allow self-stimulation and autonomous


The construction of a new, individualistic work culture is founded on

the promulgation of a new philosophy of education. The principles of

this philosophy can be summarized as follows: rather than subjects,

young people are taught competencies and skills; teaching occurs by

means of problem-solving methods rather than didactic principles;

introduction of individual learning contracts in which students assume

responsibility for their own development; increased emphasis of

business training and more co-operation between schools and business

companies; stressing the importance of technology education and

computer literacy as well as commitment to corporative lifelong

learning perceived as imperative for success in working life (ibid., 172-

173). In this discussion, young people easily become defined as mere

instruments of economic activity. Their value is often determined based

on the extent to which they can benefit the culture of corporations, a

concept that refers to "an ensemble of ideological and institutional

forces that functions politically and pedagogically to both govern

organizational life through senior managerial control and to produce

compliant workers, depolitized consumers, and passive citizens"

(Giroux 2000a, 41).

4. The World Divided in Two 117

The relationships and causalities between ICTs, young people and

economy are often observed slightly too deterministically. It is claimed

that the success of ICT companies has a direct effect on the growth of

economy and thus the well being of young people. As has been

successfully indicated by a number of scholars, in reality, the

relationship is reversed. Generally speaking, the social infrastructure of

society (democratic government, even distribution of income, social

security and public services) must be intact to enable the adoption and

utilization of ICTs for the purpose of enhancing the sustainable

development benefiting everyone.

It seems reasonable to claim that the mediated practices of young

people, at least in the affluent West, point towards a phenomenon called

network sociality. The concept of network sociality can be understood in

contrast to the idea of community. The notion of community evokes

meanings such as stability, coherence, common history, embeddedness,

belonging and a certain social recognition (Wittel 2001, 51). It involves

strong interaction and long-lasting ties as well as rich narratives of the

collective. Conversely, network sociality is not based on a common

narrative but on informational acts; as observed by Andreas Wittel

(ibid.), network sociality is "not based on mutual experience or common

history, but primarily on an exchange of data". In network sociality the

social bond is created on a project-by-project basis.

The information and communication technologies and media culture

in general shape the thinking of children and young people, as they form

their understanding concerning themselves and others in close

interaction with ICTs and the messages carried by them. Thus, in a

pessimistic interpretation, it is possible to claim that we are moving

towards a mode of sociality that is likely to significantly narrow the

relationship between a child and his or her caretakers. Furthermore,

sociality maintained via ICTs erodes enduring relationships and

alienates people from each other. Richard Sennett (1998) has been one

of the most prominent social critics of the decline of lasting and trustful

118 Wikiworld

relationships. He argues that flexible project-to-project life without

routines and security leads to a number of losses, including the loss of

commitment and a trust both at work and in family life. These losses

then turn into psychological and social pathologies such as forced

loneliness, violent behavior, unnecessary divorces and other everyday

problems ranging from harmless unfriendliness to social exclusion and

racist stigmatization.

However, there is also a positive interpretation of the current

situation. Margaret Mead (1971) was among the first optimists to

suggest that the new prefigurative era carried with it a seed of change

for a better future. In her view, the new era necessitated a number of

shifts in social relations between people. In the new era the learning

process has been turned upside down. For the first time in the history of

humanity, children are afforded the opportunity and the responsibility to

teach their parents and teachers, to guide their elders on their way to the


In a similar vein, Norris (2001, 84) mentions generational differences

as the most important in the adoption of ICTs. An interesting point in

Norris’ analysis is that when looking for explanations for Internet use, a

person’s generation surpasses factors such as income, education and

profession. In other words, the cultural and social capital and material

resources available to the individual do not mean everything: "The

Napster generation is already experiencing a virtual world as they

develop that is different from formative lives of their parents and

grandparents" (ibid. 85). Thus, the young are not just experiencing the

new era, but are also actively shaping the future with their digital

practices. Mead (1971) demands that as adults we too must teach

ourselves to change our behavior and give up old ways of thinking in

order to keep our minds open to new ideas generated by the younger

generation. According to her, only by developing new ways of

communicating and new modes of interaction is it possible to free

people’s imagination from the past. It is her conviction that the

4. The World Divided in Two 119

development of culture is dependent on a continuous dialogue between

younger and older generations.

The dialogue between generations can occur in many ways: the use

of ICTs is one possibility if at the same time, it is remembered that

communication over a distance can never replace flesh-and-blood

interaction. Physical closeness necessary for and nurtured in thick

interaction is of deep-seated importance in relationships not only

between the child and the caretaker but also between adults. In the

prefigurative age of media culture, it is highly probable that, as Mead

suggest, the competencies necessary in media cultures are best achieved

through parent-adolescent, teacher-adolescent and parent-teacher

dialogue, where young people get to be heard as experts and as teachers,

too. For, in the present media culture, it should be imperative for parents

and teachers to perceive children and young people’s informal skills in

the use of ICTs not as threats but as opportunities for personal growth

and social change and gateways to mutual respect.

120 Wikiworld

5. Edutopias and Active


It is clear that young people are learning new skills and attitudes in the

spheres outside classroom, and thus the internal and the external

freedoms of wikipedias, the possibilities for forking and for

collaborative and processual content creation, will cause a complete reevaluation

of institutions of education. Like noted, already Wikipedia

content is replacing the need for "information-delivery" lectures. What

is the best way of using time when students and teachers are gathered

together in a situation when wiki-tools exist? What is the best way of

using time when students and teachers are gathered together in a

situation when a relatively completed Wikipedia exists? In a few

decades, there will be no need to lecture in order to transfer information.

Rather, people gathered together can overcome the limitations of the

cyberspace by discussing, criticizing, arguing, synthesizing and building

an understanding. What is the role of the teacher or any other expert in

such a situation? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves

while charting a route towards future critical pedagogy. Do we still need

places like high-class higher education institutions with their campuses

and the related infrastructure, or can we put them into better use, for the

people's needs in the Marxist sense of the word?

The situation resembles visions launched by many late 20th century

philosophers who maintained that technologies of various kinds would

play an important part in the democratic society to come. It seemed as if

new information technologies were fulfilling some of the early

prophesies of these and other democratic utopias. John Dewey's

elementary pedagogical idea geared around the idea of "associated life",

122 Wikiworld

a cover term for all sorts of educational ideas and practices, old and new,

in which people depend on one another and learn with one another

(Bruffee 1995). Ivan Illich (1980) for his part talked about convivial

society, networked communities with their and autonomous free street

corner learning clubs and learning webs in which people can enjoy

media and create their own contents and messages. Using Gilles

Deleuze and Félix Guattari's (1987) concept of rhizome some thinkers

claim that the basic division in the politico-educational arena is that

between hierarchal democracy and rhizome-like democracy (Vail 2005).

The concept of rhizome refers to a "subterranean root-like stem that

builds up a network of interconnections with no central organization"

(Morss 2003, 134). The division between hierarchical tree-like

democracy or an organization and that of the rhizomean democracy or

an organization has not only political implications in the ideas of

"leaderless revolution" and networked dissidence but also educational

implications in how to organize curriculum in the era characterized by

the end of foundational epistemology. In this situation teaching cannot

be easily seen as a authoritarian activity but more like "subversive

activity" (Postman & Weingartner 1971) in which teachers along with

their students compare information from various sources, negotiate their

knowledge and experiences together, and interpret the world.

When Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984, 53) claimed that "the age of the

Professor" is ending he meant that academic professionals and other

experts (in their often exclusive ivory towers) are no longer "more

competent than memory bank networks in transmitting established

knowledge, no more competent than interdisciplinary teams in

imagining new moves or new games." Think of the team compiling

Encyclopeadia Britannica compared to the team compiling the

Wikipedia. Lyotard gave only two options for the future of higher

learning. Whether it was the 'teaching machines', data banks and sorts

which would provide and transmit the necessary information, this is the

passive or digestive version of the future of higher education, or as in

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 123

the more active version, it was creative teamwork which would be the

kernel of the production of new knowledge. The latter option was in

Lyotard's view an elitist version of the future, reserved only to the

chosen ones inside the academia.

In the Wikiworld the situation is rather different. For Lyotard did not

take into account an opportunity of the use of collaborative media, like

wiki, in which the former "memory bank networks" could be used

actively and be defined almost as 'live' by-participants of human cooperation.

This however is lived reality in the case of today's modes of

co-operation between students and teachers, and between citizens and

activists of various kinds in their daily studies and the search for the

good and just society, as well as in pursuit of new ideas, information,

innovations, social justice, peace, knowledge, love and wisdom. Michel

Foucault (1988) for his part once dreamt about diverse methods of

critical communication and broadcasting:

I dream of a new age of curiosity. We have the technical

means for it; the desire is there; the things to be known are

infinite; the people who can employ themselves at this

task exist. Why do we suffer? From too little: from

channels that are too narrow, skimpy, quasi-monopolistic,

insufficient. There is no point in adopting a protectionist

attitude, to prevent "bad" information from invading and

suffocating the "good." Rather, we must multiply the paths

and the possibilities of coming and goings.

It is relatively easy to see that since these and other discourses all the

visions have been reproduced in diverse technoutopias including our

own, that of 'digital social creativity'. These utopias are in sharp contrast

with the recent university policies and discourses in the Western world.

We are repeatedly told that higher education is in crisis due to lack of

public funding. As Mary Evans has put it in her Killing Thinking – The

124 Wikiworld

Death of the Universities, the end of the Millennium "has not been a

happy time, since those years have seen the transformation of teaching

in universities into the painting-by-numbers exercise of the hand-out

culture and of much research into an atavistic battle for funds" (Evans


The university system is regarded as our best resource and potential

not only for intellectual vitality and creativity but also more

straightforwardly for the national economic competitiveness in the

global markets. Yet those potential resources are increasingly

marginalized by cultures of assessment and regulation (Evans 2004).

The crucial hegemonic struggle concerns the language implicit in the

use of the new information and communication technologies. Whose

language is it? What language is it: technocrats, students or teachers?

Are there many languages, many vocabularies? Who has the power to

define the leading vocabulary? There is a threat that the very same

forces that are managerializing and thus ruining the critical potential of

the universities will set the standards for the language proper. Thus an

initial resistance would be urgent; it could start as "a refusal of a

language now inflicted upon university staff" (Evans 2004, 74). In this

refusal "out would go consumers, missions statements, aims and

objectives and all the widely loathed, and derided, vocabulary of the

contemporary university. In could come students and reading lists" (ibid.

74). To the 'in-list' we would include the use of social media in their

various forms, and enough time for discussion, reflection, and debate.

It is said that the institution of education as an invention of a modern

era was born to educate the people as citizens. At the same time as it

was supposed to guide them, it also governed and disciplined them. But

education – as well as literacy – is more or less a double-edged sword.

As Raymond Williams nicely puts it in his book on Television (1974), if

you teach people to read the Bible, you cannot stop them from reading

the radical press. Whereas modern education emphasized obedience to

authority, mostly "rote memorization, and what Freire called the

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 125

‘banking concept’ of education, in which learned teachers deposit

knowledge into passive students, inculcating conformity, subordination,

and normalization" (Kellner 2004, 10-11) in today's education the

emphasis should be elsewhere, for today it is practically impossible to

control peoples' learning by the means of formal education. Therefore

we should now reach for and foster digitalized ways to learn and

communicate in co-operation with each other to make a progressive

social change; these skills we can call collaborative literacies.

In terms of literacies modern education imposed dominant forms of

literacy "associated with formal organizations, such as those of the

school, the church the work-place, the legal system, commerce, medical

and welfare bureaucracies" (Hamilton 2005). "In dominant literacies

there are professional experts and teachers through whom access to

knowledge is controlled. To the extent that we can group these dominant

literacies together, they are given high value, legally and culturally.

Dominant literacies are powerful in proportion to the power of the

institution that shapes them." (Ibid.)

In contrast, what Mary Hamilton names as vernacular literacies, and

we call collaborative literacies, are literacies "which are not regulated or

systematized by the formal rules and procedures of social institutions

but have their origin in the purposes of everyday life" (ibid.).

Collaborative literacy practices develop, and are learnt informally. They

are rooted in action, but are not valued by formal social institutions.

Often they develop in peoples' critical responses to authoritarian regimes

and are part of the local and global protests against the institutions of

power. Hamilton (2005) describes these literacies as follows:

Vernacular literacies are as diverse as social practices are.

They are hybrid in origin part of a "Do-It-Yourself"

culture and often it is clear that a particular activity may

be classified in more than one way since people may have

a mixture of motives for taking part in a given literacy

126 Wikiworld

activity. Preparing a residents association newsletter, for

instance, can be a social activity, it can be part of leisure

or political activity, and it may involve personal sensemaking.

They are part of a “Do-It-Yourself” culture that

incorporates whatever materials and resources are

available and combines them in novel ways. Spoken

language, print and other media are integrated; literacy is

integrated with other symbolic systems, such as numeracy,

and visual semiotics. Different topics and activities can

occur together, making it hard to identify the boundaries

of a single literacy event or practice. This is in contrast to

many school practices, where learning is separated from

use, divided up into academically defined subject areas,

disciplines and specialisms, and where knowledge is often

made explicit within particular interactive routines, is

reflected upon, and is open to evaluation through the

testing of disembedded skills.

In order to develop collaborative and vernacular literacies as parts of

political protests as well as projects of participatory democracy and

lifelong transformative learning we should increase physical spaces for

people and groups to meet and exchange ideas, and access points for

information (libraries, cyber cafes, bookshops, advice centres, Internet

buses, community halls) so that citizens can engage in virtual or actual

meetings with each other and with experts; strengthen open local

government structures and forms of participatory democracy that

facilitate social change and citizen action; support local media which

help to break the power of the media giants; and provide structured

opportunities to learn both content and process skills and link up with

others interested in the same issues. (Ibid.)

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 127

Has Meaning Been Lost from Higher Education?

We want to defend the following argument: in higher education it is

possible to save and renew higher learning's critical and revolutionary

function by applying various digital information and communication

technologies and use them wisely to create abilities or literacies what we

would like to call 'digital social creativities'.

This debate has levels within levels, and discourses within

discourses. Three major attitudes can be discerned: first those who look

at this crisis from the point of the view of educational and economical

policy making, second those who see it from the vantage point of

structures and administration, and third those who define it as a part of

such megatrends as capitalist globalization (i.e. Burbules & Torres 2000;

Bok 2003; Noble 2003). As William Tabb (2001) has put it:

When people think about globalization, most focus on

sweatshop labor and the loss of manufacturing jobs overseas.

It is easy to understand the race to the bottom that

results as factory workers in one place face more intense

competition from lower-cost labor on the other side of the

world. College teachers would do well, however, to

include their own future prospects as they consider the

impact of globalization over the coming years. The

university will be a very different place in another decade

or two, and what it will look like depends to a large degree

on what version of globalization wins out.

Broadly speaking, higher education seems to be in crisis at least in terms

of economics, structural matters, demographics, epistemology, and

pedagogy. These crises have different faces in different academic and

other contexts, and they vary between countries, but common

128 Wikiworld

characteristics have to do with economics and accountability, and also

with the idea of knowledge as a commodity. These are variants of recent

capitalist tendencies in global economics, in national public sectors, and

in universities as "diploma mills." Corporate capitalism has set itself

inside academia in the form of a "neoliberal model of education."

Critical scholars have feared that traditional values of Western

autonomous academia will be replaced by elements of the neoliberal

model: "making the provision of education more cost-efficient by

commodifying the product; testing performance by standardizing the

experience in a way that allows for multiple-choice testing of results;

and focusing on marketable skills" (Tabb 2001). As Tabb (ibid.) further

notes, at the moment these neoliberal principles are manifested as

"cutbacks in the public sector, closing ‘inefficient’ programs that don’t

directly meet business needs for a trained workforce," and in higher

education courses and degrees being sold and packaged for delivery

over the Internet. As many scholars have suggested, universities have

suffered major structural changes in the name of business-like efficiency

that has had profound implications for critical inquiry (Huff 2006, 30).

Furthermore, the priorities and principles of universities "are being

subtly and not so subtly shifted by the exigencies of corporate

capitalism" (ibid.). In addition to "diminished funding for higher

education, proliferation of programs and new demands for studentoriented

consumer services, there is a crisis of legitimacy that goes to

the heart of the academic enterprise" (ibid.).

Part of the talk about crisis is nothing but right-wing gimmickry,

another attempt to overrule more liberal and critical voices. But an

important part of the discussion has to do with a question that we as

critical scholars ought to be able to answer: In what sort of a world are

we living, and in what kind of a world would we like to be? Or to put it

in pedagogical language: What are our goals in teaching and learning?

Part of the crisis critical scholars refers to is the fact that a blind drive

for measurement, evaluation and accountability in academic work has

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 129

put these essential questions aside. And, who knows, maybe this has

been the very purpose, or at least a hidden agenda, of various U.S.-based

conservative think tanks. These along with conservative forces in

academia push the standardization of learning and teaching forward, and

want to run the university in "having mode" (Fromm 1963).

The Promise of Digital Social Creativity as Collaborative Learning

New digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) are, at

least in the affluent West, creating a phenomenon called network

sociality. It can be understood in contrast to the idea of community,

which involves strong interaction and long-lasting ties as well as rich

narratives of the collective. Conversely, network sociality is not based

on a common narrative but on various informational acts. In network

sociality, the social bond is created on a project-by-project basis. In

pessimistic interpretations, this mode of sociality is seen as narrowing

down people's possibilities for social and political interaction: sociality

maintained via ICTs threatens to erode enduring relationships and

alienate people from one another.

In more positive interpretations, it is suggested that with the new

form of sociality, the learning process has been turned upside down.

Children and young people are afforded the opportunity and the

responsibility to teach their parents and teachers, to guide their elders.

For example, when looking at explanations for Internet use, a person's

generation surpasses factors such as income, education, and profession.

In other words, cultural and social capital and material resources of the

older generation do not mean everything.

Thus, the young are not just experiencing the new era but are also

actively shaping the future with their digital practices. In the

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"prefigurative age" of the information society, it is highly probable that

the necessary social and technical skills are best achieved through

diverse dialogues and interaction as ways of the multiple socialization:

adolescents learn from their peers and teach their teachers and parents.

In the following, we are suggesting that the world is turning doubly

upside-down: first, the younger generations have an unusually strong

role in creating the future and guiding their elders, and, second, informal

education in peer-groups, be they virtual or not, is needed to give vital

feedback to institutions of formal education.

Media and educational researchers Colin Lankshear and Michele

Knobel (2006) have characterized the new digital age in various

dimensions in two different mindsets, or attitudes. In mindset 1,

emphasis is on business-as-usual way of looking at the world, whereas

mindset 2 tries to find new concepts, vocabularies, and practices in

capturing the reality of social digital creativity (see Table 3).

The qualitatively new features of this upside-down world of learning

are digital tools used for open collaboration. It is important to note that

these tools are an amalgam of social and technological innovation. For

instance, something like the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia, needs both

technological innovation (wiki-software, the Internet, a server park, etc.)

and new socio-cultural practices (a certain "hacker" relation to

information, an attitude of anti-vandalism, informal hierarchies and

division of labour, etc.) in order to function. This emerging and rapidly

expanding amalgam is the petri-dish for open collaboration and socalled

social media, be it in the form of the various types of wikis

(Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikimedia, etc.), open content production and

distribution, social bookmarking, folksonomy, free/open source

software, the blogosphere and so on.

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 131

Table 3: Two Mindsets (Adapted from Lankshear & Knobel 2006)

Mindset 1 Mindset 2

The world is much the same as before, only

now it is more technologised, or

technologised in more sophisticated ways.

The world is very different from before and

largely as a result of the emergence and

uptake of digital electronic inter-networked


• The world is appropriately interpreted,

understood and responded to in broadly

physical-industrial terms

• The world cannot adequately be

interpreted, understood and responded to in

physical-industrial terms only

• Value is a function of scarcity • Value is a function of dispersion

• An ‘industrial’ view of production

o Products as material artifacts

o A focus on infrastructure and

production units

• A ‘post-industrial’ view of production

o Products as enabling services.

o A focus on leverage and non finite


• Focus on individual intelligence • Focus on collective intelligence

• Expertise and authority ‘located’ in

individuals and institutions

• Expertise and authority are distributed

and collective; hybrid experts

• Social relations of ‘bookspace’; a stable

‘textual order‘

• Social relations of emerging ‘digital media

space’; texts in change

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Open collaboration with digital tools is potentially global,

transgressing national, racial and economical boundaries. This in itself is

already a big challenge for systems of formal education. While the

rhetoric of equality, interaction and active citizenship typically

dominates the official educational agenda, open collaboration with

digital tools is most often part of children's and adolescents' informal

education, and, more often than not, also something that seems alien if

not threatening from the institutional point of view. Consequently, a

growing gap of credibility is created between the world-view and

sociality experienced through peer-induced informal learning and the

world-view offered through institutional formal education.

From the point of view of open digital social creativity it would be

desirable to see these two realms – formal and informal learning – in

tight interaction with each other in terms of teaching and assessment.

One way to make this to happen would be to open up more possibilities

to collaborative methods of teaching and learning. This is essential for

students of today so that they no longer act as passive recipients, "empty

vessels into which we pour our pearls of sociological wisdom, but as

active citizens, capable of absorbing a rich lived experience, participants

of in public debates they carry beyond the classroom" (Burawoy 2006).

In changing our pedagogical habits we need to learn collaborative

teaching methods, and in the process learn to "share our toys" (Bruffee

1995). Using John Dewey’s terminology, we should substitute individualistic

life for "associated life." This might gradually change the way we

think, and eventually change the world. The question is, of course, are

we ready to change, and further, why bother? Kenneth Bruffee (1981)

has summed up more reasons from the academic point of view:

Interest in collaborative learning is motivated also by

recent challenges to our understanding of what knowledge

is. This challenge is being felt throughout the academic

disciplines. That is, collaborative learning is related to the

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 133

social constructionist views promulgated by, among

others, the philosopher Richard Rorty (Philosophy and the

Mirror of Nature) and the anthropologist Clifford Geertz.

These writers say (as Geertz puts it in his recent book,

Local Knowledge) that ‘the way we think now’ differs in

essential ways from the way we thought in the past. Social

constructionists tend to assume that knowledge is a social

construct and that, as the historian of science Thomas

Kuhn has put it, all knowledge, including scientific

knowledge, ‘is intrinsically the common property of a

group or else nothing at all.’

Consider, for instance, the epistemology of the Wikipedia. Though some

recent comparisons suggest that Wikipedia articles in English in general

are comparable to those of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Giles 2005),

the really revolutionary part of Wikipedia is not connected to peer-group

generated reliability. Rather, first and foremost the fact that articles can

be written on almost any topic provides a wide folk-o-pedia with a scope

far outstripping that of traditional encyclopedias. And, in addition, a

Wikipedia article always comes with its history and the connected

discussions. This "genealogical" stratum gives it an epistemologically

different status from a Britannica article. And, as Bruffee (1981)

maintains, collaborative learning "is related to these conceptual changes

by virtue of the fact that it assumes learning occurs among persons

rather than between a person and things".

In reflecting on these questions, we should focus on the structures

and processes of teaching and learning in the university classroom and

ask, are students’ superficial attitudes deriving from the teaching

methods, and how they are treated in the classroom? Are they kept as

objects of teaching, or as co-thinkers and agents who are able to create

their own world with their teachers and peers? In answering these

questions honestly we have had to admit that our teaching has often

134 Wikiworld

been based on what Paulo Freire has referred to as the "banking method"

(Freire 2005). In the banking method, students become alienated and

lose interest in learning, for as Freire put it in his Pedagogy of the

Oppressed (2005, Ch. 2), it is the omnipotent teacher who knows and

students who digest by listening.

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift

bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable

upon those whom they consider to know nothing.

Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a

characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates

education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The

teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary

opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he

justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the

slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as

justifying the teacher’s existence – but, unlike the slave,

they never discover that they educate the teacher.

And, as Freire continues: "The raison d'etre of libertarian education, on

the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must

begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by

reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously

teachers and students." (Ibid.) Alternatives for the banking method are

diverse student-student and student–teacher collaborations and


In collaborative learning, students learn by working with each other

on focused, open-ended tasks, discussing issues face to face in small

groups. Collaborative learning taps higher education's most powerful,

yet repeatedly underdeveloped resource: peer group influence.

According to Bruffee (1981, 745) the "primary aim of collaborative

learning is to help students test the quality and value of what they know

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 135

by trying to make sense of it to other people like themselves – their


In addition, collaborative learning is a viable way to get to know

each other in a face-to-face setting, study some of the basic theories,

methods, concepts and contents of a given field, learn how to do things

together ("share our toys"), develop trust in an open atmosphere, build

"transgressive," multidisciplinary competencies (Nowotny 2000) needed

in various professional practices, learn how to learn professional

interdependence when the stakes are low, and create a democratic idea

of knowledge and research work. By using collaboration, students are

introduced to methods of learning, problem-solving, and task efficiency

that they can later employ in the workplace. Here we are inclined to

think like Lyotard (1984, 52):

If education must not only provide for the reproduction of

skills, but also for their progress, then it follows that the

transformission of knowledge should not be limited to the

transmission of information, but should include training in

all of the procedures that can increase one's ability to

connect the fields jealously guarded from one another by

the traditional organization of knowledge.

Let us again think of Wikipedia as an example of this sort of mixing

professions and often tightly gated areas of professional knowledge. In

writing Wikipedia text one can contribute and collaborate anonymously

without anticipation of academic or other glory.

In this sense digital social creativity as collaborative learning is an

argument against capitalist higher education that trains students to

individual obedience and reproduction of an organized stock of

established knowledge in order to succeed. It is also a statement against

the system’s continuous emphasis on individualism, relentless

competition, and accountability creating an ethos of hatred, envy and

136 Wikiworld

suspiciousness. The collective history of a Wikipedia article and the

social interaction on which it is based show quite clearly how

individualism and malevolent suspicion can be overcome with openness

and collective responsibility. This does not mean, however, that criticism

is to be precluded: the easy modification of a Wikipedia article promotes

a critical and necessary distance for the 'extended' creation of new

information and reproduction of old.

The problem is, of course, that usually teaching is not seen as an

important or rewarding part of academic life, but is rather considered a

fairly unfulfilling and laborious task to be executed – a task far less

important than research and writing. This is unfortunate, for "faculty

members may play the single-most important role in student learning"

(Umbach & Wawrzynski 2005, 176). Along with personal supervision

and mentoring, teaching is the only official way to interact with the

younger generation within the university. Maybe for that reason alone

we should take the words of Henry Giroux to heart:

I believe that intellectuals who inhabit our nation’s

universities should represent the conscience of a society

not only because they shape the conditions under which

future generations learn about themselves and their

relations to others and the outside world, but also because

they engage pedagogical practices that are by their very

nature moral and political, rather than simply technical.

And at its best, such pedagogy bears witness to the ethical

and political dilemmas that animate the broader social

landscape. Such pedagogical approaches are important

because they provide spaces that are both comforting and

unsettling, spaces that both disturb and enlighten.

Pedagogy in this instance not only works to shift how

students think about the issues affecting their lives and the

world at large, but also potentially energizes them to seize

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 137

such moments as possibilities for acting on the world,

engaging it as a matter of politics, power, and social

justice. (Giroux 2003, 194-195.)

Uneasy Relationship between Formal Education

and Collaborative Learning

In our view, there are two major roots for the uneasy relationship

between institutions of formal education and the digital environments of

open collaboration. First, open collaboration creates a seismic

epistemological and ontological shift in the production and legitimation

of knowledge. The claim to truth, knowledge and enlightenment that

content produced in open collaboration makes is not created through

authority, certainty and legitimacy, but through dialogue, perspectivity

and pragmatic value in 'imaginative' groups and minds whether in the

universities or elsewhere. For example, the trustworthiness of an entry in

the Wikipedia is best evaluated by analyzing its history, the amount of

criticism and alternative viewpoints that it has endured and incorporated,

and the benefits for the reader.

Wikipedia is a paradigmatic example of the epistemological

challenge, because it explicitly deals with knowledge and information,

but the same effect is felt in various degrees throughout the field of

content distributed and produced through open collaboration. The

world-view and "hidden" messages contained in collaboratively created

audio or video content raises the same epistemological questions. A

bricolage created by "rippin’ and mixin’" existing content often selfconsciously

challenges the presuppositions of classical epistemologies,

such as finality, authorship, and assent. Teamwork and craftsmanship

138 Wikiworld

gain new importance as works of open collaboration resemble the works

of Renaissance painters: the whole shop of disciples of various levels of

talent and areas of expertise is involved in the production, more or less

closely overseen by a "master". Despite their rhetorical commitment to

collaborative and interactive learning, institutions of formal education

are having a hard time dealing with this epistemological shift.

Second, and not unrelated to the first point, open collaboration and

social media emphasize non-informational uses of the ICTs. Think about

a teenager creating fan fiction: most likely, she will be multitasking with

instant messaging, Internet relay chat, blogs related to the theme and

other possible tasks (such as SMS-messaging with friends, listening to

music, doing homework) all the time. Most of these activities are more

readily categorized as social and communicative – having to do with

identity, pleasure, entertainment – than as informative or educational.

However, the experienced and convivially constructed world in which

our fictive author of fan fiction operates, is most intimately also the

world in which she needs the skills and possibilities of literacy, criticism

and autonomous creation.

Together these two features, the dialogical nature of knowledge and

the emphasis on social interaction, create a tremendous opportunity for

education. The platforms of open collaboration are fulfilling several

goals of the convivial information society, like those of community and

cooperation as key elements of democracy, freedom, openness and

transparency, and active participation. However, we need a framework

for bridging the gap between informal collaborative learning and formal

education, so that they do not, in the worst case, work against each


By envisioning a world in which the Wikipedia and various forks of

it – for instance, Wikipedias with different partisan points of view –

have existed for decades, we can gain an insight into the shape and

function into which formal education should be molding itself. All

experts can be challenged in the blink of an eye by access to the

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 139

wikipedias. Expertise will transform into the skills of grasping wholes

and seeing connections, and, most importantly, being able to participate

in meaningful and rewarding collaborative work. This transformation,

the beginnings of which we are already feeling when constructing

curricula and choosing lecture material, is not well served by the

tendency of restricting access to information and collaboration, be it in

the name of safety, control or protecting intellectual property.

The problem of the credibility gap translates into a concrete question:

how to secure the freedom of knowledge creation and learning in the

institutions of formal education? But the answer is simple: practice what

you preach. Many teachers and educators use open content, such as

Wikipedia, regularly, and participate in open collaboration through the

Internet. The next step is to get involved in the collaborative projects

and forms of social media that the students are already immersed in.

This could mean getting involved in the world of digital games, manga,

fan fiction or something similar, or it could mean producing a

neighborhood wikipedia or a local podcast.

The attitude that is necessary for not ending up with closed teaching

machines is well summarized by the Net pioneer John Perry Barlow (in

Beckedahl 2006):

If you wanna share something – share it. If you wanna use

something – use it. Try to do so ethically in the sense of

don't take things without attribution, attribute. Make sure

that the people who did create actually have the

opportunity to get some enhanced reputation and, thereby,

you know, greater economic return. But … pay no

attention to these people when it comes to being creative.

Go ahead and do the stuff that Larry showed in the

beginning of his talks and do a lot of it. And every time

they put a lock on – break it. And every time they pass a

new law – break that…

140 Wikiworld

The key is to focus on the content that is actual and relevant, so that the

institutional involvement does not happen for its own sake in an

academic vacuum thus promoting alienation. Institutional involvement

can overcome the credibility gap and become a partner in the dialogical

epistemology, if and when it has a grounded point of view and a real

stake in building convivial information society for all. Institutions of

formal education should be the hubs of open collaboration, instead of

turning into gated communities of further segmentation and deepening

digital divides. The system logic of formal education needs to be

nourished by the logic of collaboration and sharing evident in informal

peer-to-peer interaction of the digital world. Hence we cannot but agree

with Noam Chomsky's view on the role of the students in learning, a

view which echoes Dewey, another master thinker of the 20th century.

Chomsky (2000, 21) is worth quoting at length:

One should seek out an audience that matters. In teaching,

it is the students. They should not be seen merely as an

audience but as a part of a community of common concern

in which one hopes to participate constructively. We

should be speaking not to but with. That is second nature

to any good teacher, and it should be to any writer and

intellectual as well. A good teacher knows that the best

way to help students learn is to allow them to find the

truth by themselves. Students don't learn by a mere

transfer of knowledge, consumed through rote memorization

and later regurgitated. True learning comes about

through the discovery of truth, not through the imposition

of an an official truth. That never leads to the development

of independent and critical thought. It is the obligation of

any teacher to help students discover the truth and not to

suppress information and insights that may be

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 141

embarrassing to the wealthy and powerful people who

create, design, and make policies about schools.

But, what, then, is the proper pedagogy of helping students to search for

truth, and learn freely in the Wikiworlds? At least two tenets must be

met when dealing with truly liberatory and transformative pedagogy in

higher education. First, it is necessary to build educational activities

from below, or "from the ground upward in a democratic way, with

students and teachers as codesigners of the process" (Brookfield 1995,

136). This provides them with a needed "sense of connectedness" and as

democratic experience in learning creates democratic sentiment. Second,

this democratization of the educational situation is indivisible, for partial

democracy is as possible as partial pregnancy – it does not exist. Third,

a certain leap of faith is needed in teaching democratically. As

Brookfield puts it,

Once you commit to working democratically, you have to

take the leap of faith that says that people will make

informed choices. And you must trust that if they don’t

make the choices that you think in the short term are the

best ones for them (like attending every class), in the long

run, the experience of being in control will make them

more responsible the next time they are able to exercise

power. (Brookfield 1995, 137.)

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Viagra and Active Citizenship

If meaningfulness in life has more or less disappeared, a replacement is

found in material, consumerist dreams. And there is no lack of those

who offer them. A multitude of industries rake in profits from this, with

art also trying to get its share more and more often. The dream society

tells of minds yearning to be elsewhere. Meaninglessness must be

compensated with maximal experience of dreams of a better, meaningful

life. The Hollywood dream factory has always known how to capitalize

on this human desire for what is missing in everyday life: a rich,

exciting and meaningful existence. But as Richard Dyer, a scholar of

popular culture, has observed, Hollywood provides a feeling of what

utopia might be like, but it does not realize that utopia. The dream will

remain unfulfilled, but you can always buy a new one.

Contemporary culture is often described as visual culture, implying

the visibility of cultural signs and messages and the emergence of visual

forms of narrative in all areas of communication. Marketing and other

messages attracting our attention and guiding us toward consumption

have inundated our everyday lives with garish colors and temptations

steering our behavior. Our visual environment is filled with messages in

which a strange voice is speaking. Is this the kind of environment we

fancy? What if we would like to say something ourselves, tell about our

own experiences in our own voice, and with our own visual messages?

The visual environment in which we live should be everyone’s

shared area of residence and life, a comfortable home. It is, however,

often the case that the townscape, for example, is influenced most by

other actors, ones for whom the city is primarily a domain for business,

and not the living environment of human beings. The city, however,

marks the individual and is located in him or her, as part of personal

identity, the live world and meaningfulness. The notorious makers of

graffiti have often tried to make the townscape present alternative

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 143

messages, albeit with poor results. They are regarded as visual

troublemakers and terrorists, while a beer ad on fence is part of the

normal townscape. Something is also reflected by the fact that we are

prepared to pay for things such as advertising text printed on t-shirts and

to serve as walking advertisements. But what if the T-shirt is a means of

personal expression, for stating one’s own ideas?

Identity has become a central quest in the dream society. We no

longer necessarily know who we are, for we seek meaning in our lives

by looking for a new script, and perhaps changing roles and sequels. The

pedagogue Thomas Ziehe has noted that in contemporary society it is

easy to hope that one is someone else and to expect and imagine more of

oneself. One can always want more, and consider how things could be.

Unlike in traditional rural societies, where the path of one’s ancestor had

to be followed, life is not preordained. But the above-mentioned ‘more’

also generates conflict: "How one could be while not being: what one

expected but did not receive, what one wants yet does not want; what

one does and therefore cannot do otherwise." We can always make

comparisons, dream, want more or desire something else. Identities are

at stake, changing and moving.

Already in the late 1920s, Martin Heidegger wrote perceptively in

his Being and Time (translation from 1962) about the fundamental form

of human existence that he described as the life of das Man or ‘the one’.

It is a life not quite one’s own, but instead one of drifting with a crowd –

a crowd that is now being increasingly steered by the media and

entertainment industry: life depends on the thickness of the wallet.

Heidegger writes of actors living just like anyone else, seeing the same

art exhibitions as anyone else and even standing out from the crowd just

like anyone else. Das Man is not quite himself, not finding his own

direction in life nor choosing it. Instead, he constructs his identity

through forms of existence externally defined, from other people and the

models of the media industry. Heidegger’s message, however, can only

be grasped through personal experience – when one has sunk so deep

144 Wikiworld

into the mundane law-like regularities of everyday life that one wakes to

the uncomfortable feeling of not being quite present in one’s own life,

not living one’s own unique and ultimately brief life, but seeing instead

how one is pulled by the current and wondering for whose benefit one is

actually acting and what sense there is to any of this. For Heidegger, this

experience and this awakening are the voice of conscience, a voice not

accusing or blaming, but instead seeking a meaning for life, wishing to

find something of permanence and value.

Who is the "active citizen" or "entrepreneur" that is the ideal in

liberal democracies? The person who takes part in politics, civil society

and the economy both locally and globally, using all the mechanisms

and channels provided by representative democracy, new media and

empowerment initiatives? Is it not das Man, the tasteless unit of

production and policing, who shuns both passion and ideology and all

other politically incorrect behaviors in order not to be labeled a Nazi of

this or that kind? Is it not das Man who actively takes part in working

life and leisure activities modeled on necrophilia? Making love to a dead

body does not initiate two-way passions or responsibilities. You can

leave the body and it does not call back, does not betray you or make

fun of the desire you have confessed (!i"ek 2004c). The supporting

male-intellectual-hedonistic fantasy of the information society is a

cocktail of forced-voluntary solitude, silence, drinking, contentproduction,

interaction and love-making with a partner that you do not

need to face after the act however kinky (see Beigbeder 2004, 76).

When the other does not say no and you do not yourself get committed,

the fantasy is never traversed. While the modern subject saw itself as

responsible for its life, the postmodern subject is always a victim of

circumstance. Hence the rule: minimize ulteriority, ironize interiority.

The tolerance of liberal democracies and consumerist capitalism

cushions the subject from the brute force of the outside world. A

description of the everyday of an active citizen can run like this: "I

worked, downloaded porn, masturbated to the usual heteroflicks, even

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 145

though I didn't find S/M strange in an age where the humiliation and

control of people has been made into a cardinal virtual and a official

almost constitutional doctrine, I studied, did not throw bombs yet, not

even creamcakes." (Seppälä 2004, 23). And the work in content

production turns into endless "seminars, centres of excellence,

incubators, research, fact-finding, desing and development projects,

planning and coordination meetings, working groups, steering

committees, best practice hunting trips, third sector collaborations, elearning

environment enhancements, project pilots, investment plans,

quality control assessments" (ibid., 11). Liberal democracy is its own

enemy. It sadistically suffocates resistance while at the same time

masochistically proliferating it by ironizing, demonizing, fencing,

thanking, prizing. The Truman Show is a telling allegory of the

sadomasochistic pursuit of happiness and of the leaks at the edges. The

Truman Show can be felt in various situations: the nausea felt at

supermarkets and malls, being bounced from one help-desk to the next,

the locks on the door of the retrirement homes, two planes in a

scyscraper, …

The market is ripe for enjoyment without friction, cream without fat,

coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol and sex without a partner

(other than the dataglove). Wars are also without dead (on our side), and

politics is without ideologies. As !i"ek (2004c) points out, the

injunction is to enjoy even more and without guilt: if by eating too much

chocolate you get constipated, there is a laxative chocolate for you!

Nothing is too little or too much, we have everything to choose from and

on top of everything sits "morality, the police, and a condom" (Varto

1995, 60). While education used to aim for a golden middle and

moderation, now we should consume (eat, drink, fuck, surf) as much as

we can!

Does not the term "information society" itself rely on the virtual

nature of "information"? The information society tolerates everything

that proliferates discussion and inclusion. There is no outside, only the

146 Wikiworld

growing logistics of information-material-desire. The reflexive modern,

the risk society, the information society are all mystifications of the

"freedom of choice". What you choose governs who you are, what your

world will be like, what is offered to consumers, how much CO2 is

produced, etc. The other side of consumption is hidden: what you want

and the diversity offered are both produced by advertisement. The news

in your daily or on your rss feed-reader is not there because it is

important; it is important because it is in the news. The freedom of

choice and our independence from others ("There is no such thing as

society") is created in the world of ad-fantasies, where you buy in order

to be free and are free in order to buy. The car, the lipstick, the

toothbrush, the hedge fund all promise liberty, real freedom. As Finnish

novelist Juha Seppälä defines it: "a social democrat is someone who

wants freedom in order to get money." (Seppälä 2004, 23). The flow of

information is closed: we need money in order to buy freedom to make

money in order to… When Marx claims that the workers in capitalism

are not the subjects of their productive activity, Karantani continues: "If

workers can be subjects at all, then as consumers" (cited in !i"ek 2004b,

124). But you cannot eat your way to the end of this sausage: We

produce what we consume, and the material cycle is mirrored in the

circular fantasy of money-freedom-money. This is why we have to ask:

freedom for whom? Freedom to what? And, more particularly:

information society for whom, and for what?

The image of information society is directly linked with new digital

media. There the node of "interactivity" ties together the fantasies of

democratic potential, freedom, active citizenship, lifelong learning, new

economy, and so on. But interactivity has its shadow, too. First,

interactivity, like active citizenship, easily turns into a forced choice ("if

you can, you must") of interaction. Interactivity is the Viagra of the

information society – because participation is technologically possible,

it must work! And like Viagra recreates sexual guilt ("You can, so you

must") (!i"ek 1999b), interaction recreates socio-political guilt. This

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 147

guilt masks a genuine need for interpassivity. In Robert Pfaller’s (2000)

definition, interpassivity denotes phenomena where an emotionally or

cognitively charged task is outsourced to somebody or something else.

For example, a prayer mill can keep on praying for me, liberating my

subjectivity from the tasking interaction. Likewise, the true motivation

for readymade laughter in tv comedies is interpassivity: I don't have to

engage in recognizing, symphathizing with and interpreting the drama.

However, the need for interpassivity may change into its negative

when illusory interactivity produces passivity. Interactive media has its

own logic that curtails the functioning of the user even while at the same

time creating an illusion of participation. !i"ek's (1999a) favorite

example is an elevator, where you can push a button to speed up the

closing of the doors – without any results. No matter what you do, the

doors close in the same pace. Is this not the experience of representative

democracy expressed by a majority of voters, including the non-voters?

The interactivity of the information society is of the same kind: you can

keep pushing all the buttons and, for instance, keep writing about

anything; you can say, confess, do anything, as long as what happens is

what was going to happen anyway. Everything can be criticized, even

"resisted," as long as the political consensus is not disturbed. All of this

happens under a Denkverbot, where everything is allowed – except

taking ideological stands seriously. The hegemonic coordinates embrace

and include also the myriad social movements, NGOs and aid

organizations – from M's sans frontiers to Greenpeace and Red

Crescent. These organizations are not only tolerated, but also even

encouraged by the media. Here interpassivity is political: you keep on

doing something in order not to rock the boat. The fervent activity of the

multitasking agent of an information society in aggressive growth is, to

use a metaphor from Arthur Miller, standing still like a hummingbird.

The real effects of our fervent activity are outsourced and subjectivity

immobilized by the split.

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While !i"ek (2004e) is worried over the new form of racism born in

the West with the dividing line not drawn along racial or cultural

distinctions but on the basis of a brazen economical division into two,

Jean Baudrillard emphasises the spectral-virtual dimension. In his view

the question concerns the balance of psychology of terror. He sees that

global capitalist exploitation is only a medium and an alibi for another,

much more harsh moral deprivation. Baudrillard writes that almost

contrary to Marxist analysis material exploitation only exists as a pretext

for spiritual exploitation so that the weight of the nations could be dig

up. The weight of the nations is used to psychologically feed the richest

parts of the world. "Fourth world" is valued as a catastrophe deposit, and

the West is purified in dealing with another world as garbage.

(Baudrillard 1995, 83-84.)

On one hand the split corresponds to technological utopias of

information society and, on the other hand, to televised humanitarian

spectacles. The interactivity promised by the twins means the endless

shuffling of menus on the Net or on your mobile. The matrix is given,

now wade through it. When the matrix is detected and expected,

interactivity turns into interpassivity. The production of interpassivity

has its micro-level implementation in various media devices and its

macro-level structure in the information society. The assumption of the

logic of networks and a nomadic identity does not entail "activity" or

"creativity", but the genuinely passive and reactive choice from a menu.

The closed circle includes also the research on information society.

For instance, research on "children and ICT" is a morally and socially

loaded landmark pointing to a "life in the information society". It may

happen, for instance, that at the same time as we notice that children

move in the new media as "fish in the water", the politics and economy

of information society have already been forgotten. Is there not a

similarity to the research topic "children and war"? When we notice in

the study that despite the war the kids keep on playing and singing on

the ruins of their homes, relativization and internalization may begin.

5. Edutopias and Active Citizenship 149

Cannot research on the information society likewise produce an

interpretation where life in the information society gets more tolerable

after every chart and survey?

The still beating heart of an interactive renaissance through

information society development is dependent on actual freedom in the

sense of "reconfiguring the coordinates of the possible". This utopia

must be contrasted to interactivity in a hegemonic matrix where

interactivity equals interpassivity. Should we not pay attention to the

non-voters message? What if their claim that in the act of voting the

how (participating in the formal act of interactivity) overshadows the

what (who you vote for)? What if even leaving a blank vote means

agreeing with the formal conditions of the "interactivity"? Finnish

critical sociologist Antti Eskola gave the following answer in the late

1960's: "In the totalitarian society there is hope for it is quite likely that

the repressive system eventually collapses for there is no mechanisms

for adjusting the political pressures which try to change the system.

Thus the pressures accumulate. So-called democratic society is much

more dangerous also in this respect. Contradictions, discontent, the

experience of inequality and other pressures trying to change the system

are cleverly adjusted, dissolved, made ineffective and finally directed to

harmless targets. Apparent competition on political power assures the

status quo." (Eskola 1968, 130.)

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6. Stages of Freedom

From Social to Socialist Media

Behind the veil of a multitude of resistances and critiques, we should see

the shape of certain "unmoved movers" (proton kinun). Capitalism is

one of them; the particularities of the fight of developing countries

against prohibitive tolls and tariffs, of the fight of Indian rice farmers

against RiceTec and its patents, of the fight against privatization of

water, of the fight against liberating markets by armed force, constitute,

in fact, a generality: the generality of a capitalist mode of production.

And do not even the current ethnic conflicts point to the same: the

decline and destruction of local cultures is a continuation of the

colonisation that swallowed Finland in the 13th century and many other

"peripheries" a lot later. These are not a series of isolated aggressions,

but a direct consequence of a sustained Western impulse for trade and


The other unmoved mover is the West itself. As noted by Chomsky

(2001, 20): India never attacked England, Congo Belgium, Ethiopia

Italy or Algeria France. This is also why he insists in his book 9/11 that

the remarkable thing about 9/11 was that it was a hit by the colonized on

the colonist’s ground. For the same reason he thinks we should identify

the attacks in spatial terms (New York, Washington, London, etc.), not

in temporal ones (9/11, 7/7, etc.). The crucial thing is where the attacks

happened, not when. Research on information society should remember

this: there are structural similarities in the various information society

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developments, generalities among particularities. Is not the

technological control of the globe one with a specific model of society,

namely Western capitalism? Or do we really have modes of

technological modernity that are different from the hegemonic Anglo-

Saxon one? And does not the information society promise

unprecedented technological control? We have to ask, how open or

malleable is the capitalist Western information society?

Let us take an example. If digital technology and information are

ever more important resources and end-results of production, the

distribution of technology and information becomes an essential

indicator of global equality (either you take part in the networks, or

not!). Again, no one is openly promoting a view that digital technologies

should profit only the first world, but still the digital divide between the

north and the south keeps on growing, despite all the initiatives, leapfroggings,

projects and programmes (Suoranta 2003). What structures in

the world have, in fact, become more malleable, programmable? And

what are the structures that are even more rigid and pre-determined?

Jean Baudrillard sees a logical conclusion in the trend of

westernization. The premise: the West sees the rest of the world as a

resource, as the natural producer of commodities. The last in the long

chain of commodities is catastrophe, and the accompanying catastrophe

aid industry. At least here, says Baudrillard, Marxist analysis holds

perfectly true for moral victory's part. Misery is reproduced as symbolic

source, a necessary fuel for the Western moral and sentimental balance.

We are the consumers of this spectacle, and the whole West feeds like

cannibals on catastrophe mediated by news broadcasting in their cynical

tone and our humanitarian help in a moralistic mode. Baudrillard insists

that we are just as dependent on this drug, produced by the developing

countries, as other drugs. (Baudrillard 1995, 84-85.) The irony is that

global capitalism is strong, dynamic and perverse enough to both

produce the drugs it needs and to outsource the misery to the others.

6. Stages of Freedom 153

A snippet from the op-ed section of the youth section of our local

newspaper, written by pseudonym "Pessi" (2004): "I'm bored. Totally

helplessly fed up. Bored of the starvation, of Iraq, suicides, racism and

Matti Nykänen [the once famous Finnish ski-jumper turned into an

alcoholic frequently in tabloids]. … I'm fed up with perfection, eating

disorders, pop-stardom, single mothers, family violence and chewing

gum on the chairs in the cinema. I'm bored with being bored and bored

with the feeling that everything that happens, happens at the wrong time

and to the wrong person." Is this not a succinct description of the

Baudrillardian produced catastrophe, the continual media massage? Is

this not the zeitgeist of liberal democracies? Is it not also an extreme

experience, where the measure and ratio of all things is dissolved? Is not

this existence the allegory of a run-of-the-mill news program and the

information society as a whole?

But Baudrillard goes on and claims that global capitalism has a

rotten core containing the semen of its own destruction. The market for

catastrophe will face a crisis with the inevitability that all markets crash.

The outsourced catastrophes will finish, which means that the catastrophe

has to be produced domestically, since the desire for spectacle and

greed for the symbolic is even more natural than gluttony. Baudrillard

predicts that the big symbolic crash will be the product of our Western

generosity but it will arrive only after we cannot feed ourselves anymore

with hallucinative suffering coming from abroad. (Ibid., 85.)

The crash seems to be far off, however. The disaster-show produced

by the hybrid White House-Hollywood and shot in the third and fourth

worlds goes on. The underdeveloped countries lead the developed

countries in the drama of misery by 6-0. The victims of New York,

Madrid and the coalition of the willing are in the thousands, while the

civilian victims in Iraq, both post- and during Saddam, are in the

hundreds of thousands. But Baudrillard insists that the controlled and

produced disaster of the West is more spectacular. As Baudrillard insists,

we are haunted by overload, boredom, abundance of possibilities,

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neurosis and psychodrama of crack of enlargement – a drama born out

of too many means compared to reasonable aims – and this always beats

the drama of poverty, deprivation and misery. This is according to

Baudrillard the primary reason for the possibility of immediate

catastrophe in the societies without empty spaces. (Ibid., 87).

The current status in the race towards misery is the leakage or

explosion of outsourced disaster back to the West. The spectacle is

smuggled back to the trains and planes taking the middle class from

work to home. The message-boys and -girls of produced disaster – Euro-

MPs and local politicians – work in the mode of l'homme machine by

speaking of terrorism as some sort of metaphysical random evil that is

able to strike anywhere anytime in the name of "curtailing the possibility

of the Western democracies to take initiative in solving the problems of

the world" (Kauppi & Stubb 2004). What this view fails to see is that

terrorism is a feedback loop in capitalism itself; the calculated re-import

of a Western logic and export. Al Qaida, if anything, is the prime

example of a network of networks, embedded in the cash flows

produced by oil and drug addiction. Like Jacques Derrida points out,

Osama bin Laden stands on the same power-capitalistic grounds as the

WTC towers (Borradori 2003, 95-115).

Terrorism and the security society inspired by it are the hermeneutic

reverse side of the five hundred biggest global companies and the global

solidarity and concern over digital divides sponsored by them. Not only

do the "chickens come home to roost"; the state terror of "security" and

of globally outsourced misery are always already linked. As !i"ek

(2004a, 185) has put it: "More than ever, capital is the 'concrete

universal' of our historical epoch. What this means is that, while it

remains a particular formation, it overdetermines all alternative

formations, as well as all noneconomic strata of social life." One is

quickly reminded of the Western countries that Ted Honderich (2003,

110-115) calls "hierarchical democracies": in these societies the richest

10% of the population earns (and owns) thousands of times more than

6. Stages of Freedom 155

the lowest decile, or the poorest 1/10th of the population, and there is

every reason to suppose that the best-off people have more political

power, respectively.

Let us think about the famous slogan (in Finland) "Connecting

People". Here the promise of information technology is the conquest of

isolation, the reunification of persons. The first thing to note is how the

distance-communication of information societies puts people farther

from each other. A call from a mobile may be better than no call at all,

but how often does a call replace a direct contact? And is it not the

distance produced by capitalism in the first place? Distance education is

better than no education at all, but what if distance education replaces

contact education in a situation where we are made to believe that it is

too expensive? The worst is the belief in the pedagogical supremacy of

virtual education, when, in fact, the whole trend is produced by the logic

of capitalism. Notions like "cell-phone father" point out that a

connective device always also disconnects. Technology "just works",

but not in the name of a Marxian "paradise on earth"; it works by

making people work like technology in order to pace up the market and

the profits. Every toaster and phone is a computer; are we ourselves not,

too? But the calculative logic of presence over a distance always fails:

"We are told that, given its new way of linking and accessing

information, the Internet will bring a new era of economic prosperity,

lead to the development of intelligent search engines that will deliver to

us just the information we desire, solve the problems of mass education,

put us in touch with all of reality, allow us to have even more flexible

identities … But, compared with the relative success of e-commerce, the

other areas where a new and more fulfilling form of life has been

promised have produced a great deal of talk but few happy results"

(Dreyfus 2001, 2).

The dangers of connecting people over great distances (where,

why?), though great, are only part of the issue. Another question arising

from the logic of symbolic capitalism is this: Who are those people who

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are connected by ICTs produced by telecommunication corporations?

And what are their relationships? Are not they the biggest economic

winners of the Westernized information society? As a company, Nokia

connects, for instance, Asian and Finnish workers to US and Finnish

owners. What kind of connections are these and what kind of

information society do they represent? One side of this question is the

outsourcing of jobs to China, India and other Asian countries with lower

salaries and with lax environmental and social laws and rigid worker

control. When the IT subcontractor Elcoteq relocated from Finland to

China, it was reported that its workers in China had job contracts for a

maximum two weeks at a time. If and when the new racism of the West

is characterised by economic divisions, securing the stability of the

existing division, it is good to pay attention to how information societies

are protected from those seeking a better living. When confronted with

the unfairness of its relocation from Finland to China, the CEO of

Elcoteq, Antti Piippo, responded by pointing out that the company sees

its global responsibility in "Mexico, Hungary and Estonia", rather than

only or mainly in Finland (The Finnish News Agency, March 19, 2004).

Does not the responsibility of Finnish companies lie primarily with their

workers in the developing countries? And is it not, like !i"ek (1998,

1999a) and others have pointed out, especially the workers of the first

world who are sensitive over the question of foreign labour and quick to

defend the borders? Should not the Christian word of love or the leftist

solidarity be directed to people who for one reason or another have left

their homes? The global citizenship advocated by Hardt and Negri

(2000, 396-400) is a necessary consequence.

Information society "for all" promises a lot – freedom and servitude

at the same time. "We" will be freed from fixed, formal identities locked

in the structures of old bureaucracies of the nation states, from the old

models of one-way broadcasting, from the supremacy of the power

centres. But simultaneously this same freedom becomes a constraint:

"there is no alternative" to economic globalization, perpetual

6. Stages of Freedom 157

networking, or interactivity. This form of freedom has very little to do

with actual freedom; many times it is a mere façade for formal freedom,

that is, freedom to choose from the ready made alternatives.

Furthermore, it seems as if we were already living in a time "beyond

formal freedom." In many countries, workplace democracy is long gone

if it ever was a functional practice. Participation in a never-ending chain

of short-term projects is the name of the game. At the same time,

economic decision making has become ever more non-transparent, and

that's why Hardt and Negri's demand for global citizenship appears to be

another utopia among others. As !i"ek (2004a, 195) reminds us, global

capitalism is structurally – not only empirically – immune to representational

democracy, because the decisive institutions like IMF and WTO

do not even pretend to stand in need of representative legitimacy.

Global governance happens in different boards and councils in an ad

hoc manner, and usually there is no democratic election to these

institutions. The US uses its voice and power in many of these

organizations, among them G8, World Bank, IMF, NATO, OECD,

NAFTA, APEC, and ASEM, which hold their meetings in the gated

areas or secured "green zones" so that the effect of interactivity/passivity

is perfect. It is hard to imagine a system in which we could vote for

representatives for IMF in a global ballot. The same holds true for

information society theories and analysis: researchers need to move in a

rapidly changing field almost without any firm conceptual positions,

without a rigidness of authenticity and fundamental objectivity, always

ready to change their viewpoint. Information society lets all the flowers

bloom as long as they are information society flowers. Thus the

dilemma of these theories is in their concurrent unity and diversity: The

net of information theories as well as information society itself allows

plurality, but in reality it acts as totality.

Isn't it however possible that this dilemma is not defined correctly?

For the logic and ideas of liberalism and many single-issue social

movements were founded in the same historical junction as many of the

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nation states and their centralized democracy. Globalized liberal

capitalism needs both the pluralistic markets in which anything can be

sold and a universal medium; the apparently smooth regime governed

by state legislation and its structural power. Maybe what is needed is a

fresh universalism and more pluralism in building new life forms and

new practices – a new Leviathan? Isn't it precisely this dilemmatic

dualism that catapults global capitalism to new heights and new

victories as it displays itself at the same time as a catalyst and a

protector of cultural pluralism (cf. !i"ek 2004a, Hardt & Negri 2000) as

it destroys that pluralism (cf. Klein 2002)?

Pluralism is something that information societies and the global

capital needs, at the same time as it is, according to writers like Klein,

Deleuze and Hardt & Negri, the most important form of resistance. Is

!i"ek (2004a, 185) not right in criticizing Klein by pointing out that

when Klein attacks capitalism as a homogenizing and unifying power,

she criticizes an old form, not the new informational capitalism? The

rhizome described by Deleuze is the logic of digital capitalism:

"diversify, devolve power, try to mobilize local creativity and selforganisation"

(ibid.) We need a sharper analysis: !i"ek is right when he

criticizes the naive belief in revolutionary diversity, but wrong in

believing that any and all diversity can be digested by capitalism. Is not

the plurality of the information society the familiar plurality of brands of

cereal: There is a brand for all tastes and identities but all boxes contain

the same merchandise – post-gene modification literally the same. For

instance, the network logic of information societies makes handicraft or

subsistence-based local communities impossible, as Finnish independent

researcher Olli Tammilehto (2003, 44–45) points out: "Local

communities and poor sub-communities are integrated into the national

and global economy. The prices of the products of craftsmen and small

farmers drop to the world market level, which is often low simply

because of the subsidies in rich countries. At the same time, the prices of

raw material and farm inputs may rise because in other countries there

6. Stages of Freedom 159

are richer and better paying customers. This makes it impossible for the

small producers to continue." Terrorism can be commodified as

McTerrorism, but still the chances of non-Western local communities are

gone. The choice between a Western technological life style and a

traditional local lifestyle is another interpassive choice: you may choose

freely, as long as you pick the Western choice.

The Deleuzian-Castellsian-(!i"ekian?)-cyber-communist idea that

the information society as a society is somehow more "spectral",

"malleable", "virtual" than the previous crudely economical societies

conceals the question of what types of pluralities and local communities

it favors. There is little or no evidence, for instance, that the information

society would not speed up the death of languages or cultures. The

leveling out and unification of local cultures may also take the form of

pluralisation; indeed, often the disappearance of local merchandise from

the shop happens at the same time as an explosion of different brands.

At the same time the virtual-spectral level of the networks forgets the

question of people: the wall separating those under the umbrella of

human rights from those not so protected (!i"ek 2004a) is at the same

time the wall separating relative economic welfare from poverty. Like

Ted Honderich (2003, 6) points out, when we look at the average life

expectancy figures around the globe, "the average lifetimes of seventyeight

and forty could suggest to someone overhearing this talk of lifetimes,

but not knowing exactly our subject, that we are concerned with

two different species." The group of people whose human rights are

"virtual" can expect roughly a half-life, to use the term coined by

Honderich, compared to rich Western people.

Is there a connection between human rights and the gap in average

life spans? And does the logic of the virtual networks of information

society have something to offer when trying to understand this

connection? Does not the rhetoric of nodes, positions, mobility, risks,

possibilities rather work as an obstacle for understanding by

emphasizing the determinative plurality of divide et impera? The free

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movement of information is accompanied by the ever stricter control of

the movement of people – that is, of the economically excluded people.

At the same time, economic inequality is getting more and more

protected. The situation is simple: the affluent West has to be protected

simply because the late-capitalist happiness-through-commodities can

not be universalized. Every place on the planet cannot become

California. This is why "information society" is simply not a concept in

the same category as "feudalism" or "capitalism" (!i"ek 2004a, 193): as

long as the cyber-communists and workers of immaterial production are

not wholly spectral, they have to eat food and die a death. Digital

technology gives the possibility of removing scarcity of informational

commodities; but this logic does not extend to the world of material

goods. The interactive/passive age of the information society demands

that we are ideologically and politically awake so that we do not mix the

loss of freedom with the proliferation of freedoms and do "not confuse

the ruling ideology with ideology that seems to dominate." (!i"ek

2002a, 545, italics in original)

Social, Socialized, Socialist Media

The term "social media" can be taken to mean the online platforms and

software people use in order to collaborate, share experiences, views,

and so on, and to create their social identity. Correspondingly,

"socialized media" would mean, in this context, such tools when they

are owned, maintained and managed by the community of users itself.

Examples of this kind of self-management are many inside the hacker

community. There are even cases of actively socializing previously

private media. For instance, hackers have collected money in order to

purchase the source code of computer programs in order to develop

6. Stages of Freedom 161

them freely and to release them from the commodified world. The most

famous example of this kind of commercial "socialization" is the 3Danimation

software Blender (see / Blender_

%28software%29) that was bought free in 2002 from the company that

originally developed the software, and has continued as an open source

project maintained by the Blender Foundation (The sum of 100 000

euros was collected in 7 weeks; now Blender code is released under the

GNU General Public License). Wikipedia itself has largely collected the

money needed for its server park through fund raising from its users.

But are these means enough in facilitating peoples' skills and

opportunities to participate in the digitalized world, to be in dialogue

with each other by using social media? And, more importantly, are these

means themselves digital? It would not be hard to believe the

contention, forwarded, i.e., by !i"ek (2002a, 544), that dialogue both in

its traditional forms and in the form of social media, takes us only to the

gates of authentic and substantial democracy, or what !i"ek after Lenin

refers to as 'actual freedom' which undermines the very coordinates of

the existing power relations. Maybe we thus must start to organize

strategies to take the hacker ideology of Free/Libre Open Source

Software (FLOSS) to its next logical step, that of "socialist media,"

where 'socialist' refers to shared ownership, use and administration of a

given media. As !i"ek (2002b) puts it in his view of 'cybercommunism':

Is there not also an explosive potential for capitalism itself

in the world wide web? Is not the lesson of the Microsoft

monopoly precisely the Leninist one: instead of fighting

its monopoly through the state apparatus (recall the courtordered

split of the Microsoft corporation), would it not be

more 'logical' just to socialize it, rendering it freely

accessible? Today one is thus tempted to paraphrase

Lenin's well-known motto, 'Socialism = electrification +

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the power of the soviets': 'Socialism = free access to

internet + the power of the soviets.'

As the true believers of new technologies claim, echoing the old axiom

of technological determinism, anything that can be presented as digital

code, as a series of ones and zeroes, can and will be copied with very

little cost and no loss to the original. After the needed infrastructure is in

place, digital information is not a scarce resource anymore.

Consequently, a cornucopian digital economy supposedly transcends the

physical limitations of traditional economies.

Correspondingly, on the social level the digital world has been seen

as the first seed of new forms of organization that will have radical

political effects. Volunteer hacker organizations and the various civil

society activities organized with the help of the Internet have been seen,

on one hand, as providing fresh blood for the Habermasian ideal of

democratic communication and, on the other hand, as completely new

forms of civic self-organization and self-management (for theories on

hacker communities, see Castells 1996, Himanen 2000). For instance,

while looking for examples of the new multitudes that they advocate as

the basic self-organizing models of future politics, Michael Hardt and

Antonio Negri (2004, pp. 301ff) turn to free and open source software

communities and related activities. When the self-organizational nature

of hacker communities is combined with the observation that digital

code is not a scarce resource, we approach a cybercommunist utopia

where volunteer organizations and communities of non-alienated labor

manage themselves in a post-scarcity economy (see, e.g., !i"ek 2002b,

2006b, Merten 2000).

One of the crucial consequences of digitalization has to do with the

very conditions of material capitalist economy if compared to the

"second economy" brought forth by the digital sphere. A whole school

of writers (for an overview, see Lessig 2004) has argued that in addition

to the capitalist economy, there exists another economy, variously

6. Stages of Freedom 163

called, e.g., amateur economy, sharing economy, social production

economy, non-commercial economy, participatory economy, p2p

economy, or even gift economy. The problem these thinkers want to

point out is that the "second economy" works with its own principles

and that an attempt to force it into the mode of the capitalist economy

cannot hold and would be disastrous to the ideology of FOSS.

Is the sometimes violent process of socializing the answer? Would

not it be better if we could take another logical step – a quantum leap, or

perhaps, a leap of faith – from there, and start from the outset to talk

about and invent what we would like to call – just for the sake of it –

socialist media, instead of social, and socialized media? What would the

world be like if there were exemplars of socialist media? And what

would those examples be like? Can we thus consider Wikipedia an

example of socialist media? Do we have other examples? To answer this

question, we need to answer the following one: What are the definitive

presumptions and characteristics of a socialist media?

Technical and Political Conditions

Besides the obvious technological infrastructure (servers, computers,

and other devices) which is needed in organizing and using social

media, basic energy – electricity, food – is rudimentary in the use of

social media as it is to the idea of progress and the modern world. But

the crucial question is, who owns and provides energy? An answer to

this basic question takes us from the digital realm to the realm of

material production, and to the core of critical political economy.

The sad fact is that majority of the energy resources are owned by

private international corporations. They are in many ways key players in

the arena of international politics directing foreign policies, and making

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decisions about war and peace. But there is also a different idea of the

ownership of such resources as energy. It is called "common wealth".

The term comes from Latin "res publica" meaning "common things" and

by extension "a democratic republic". In the theory of critical political

economy, energy is considered to be a central part of common wealth,

and it should not be owned by profit-making private companies, but by

the state and the people. Unfortunately or not, this is the definitive

precondition for social media ever to be a truly revolutionary force.

Thus in this sense 'social' and 'political' still rules the 'digital', for,

imitating !i"ek's 'Leninist' formula, free access to the Internet still

demands an electrical supply.

This demand assumes quite straightforwardly that the state and the

people take back their common wealth from the global players. Without

this logical step, all efforts and activity towards open access is freedom

without freedom. For without this ultimate and logical step – to

overcome private ownership of material resources – the ideology of

FOSS remains as another one-issue social movement without an

authentic political aspect. But quite the reverse has been happening: "A

substantial part of the Russian electricity sector created by Lenin to

modernise the new Soviet economy is to be privatised with a series of

floats expected on the London stock exchange," reported Guardian in

July 2006 (Macalister 2006). Lenin kept electricity and oil as key

aspects of global imperial capitalism, and tried to make a case against

these imperial powers, and their bourgeois defenders, which acted as

cartels and monopolies. In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of

Capitalism (1916) Lenin stated that certain reactionary writers

have expressed the opinion that international cartels, being

one of the most striking expressions of the internationalisation

of capital, give the hope of peace among nations

under capitalism. Theoretically, this opinion is absolutely

absurd, while in practice it is sophistry and a dishonest

6. Stages of Freedom 165

defense of the worst opportunism. International cartels

show to what point capitalist monopolies have developed,

and the object of the struggle between the various

capitalist associations. This last circumstance is the most

important; it alone shows us the historico-economic

meaning of what is taking place; for the forms of the

struggle may and do constantly change in accordance with

varying, relatively specific and temporary causes, but the

the substance of the struggle, its class content, positively

cannot change while classes exist.

That said, we must of course emphasize the contradiction between a

Leninist point of view – an idea of the role of a vanguard party leading

the masses –, and the obvious fact that in the Wikiworld there is no

center, not to mention the vanguards in controlling digital development.

This contradiction includes another one, that of ownership of natural

resources by states or corporations, and intellectual resources of the

people. Quite the contrary to the Leninist idea, the key to emancipation

in the sphere of social media and its sociopolitical consequences could

be "oscillation and plurality … in the plurality and complexity of

'voices': an emancipation consisting in disorientation which is, at the

same time, a liberation of dialect, local differences, and rationalities,

each with its own distinctive grammar and syntax" (Peters & Lankshear

1996, 60).

But we must add that simultaneously there may be some glimpse of

hope in developments pointing away from internationalization of

capital. As an example let us consider the case of Venezuela and its

"Bolivarian revolution," and a new trend for nationalization of natural

resources. Venezuela not only has large natural resources of oil but also

the political leadership and will to use those resources for the peoples'

well-being, and not for the benefit of foreign investors. The same holds

true in some other Latin American countries like Chile and Bolivia. In

166 Wikiworld

this instance it is worth mentioning that the government of Venezuela

has launched their own 'Bolivarian computers' with the open-source

Linux operating system, for President Chávez's aim is to "promote

technological development" and help "reach technological

independence" (Carlson 2007).

And speaking of the República Bolivariana de Venezuela, the

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, President Chávez has chosen a totally

different route than in i.e. former Social Democracies such as Finland

and Sweden, where previously state owned companies in such basic

branches of the state's infrastructure as energy, transportation and postal

services has been privatized and taken to the world market via stock

exchange. As !i"ek (2007) has put it in comparing Venezuela with

reformist, third way Left, and Subcomandante Marcos in Chiapas,

Mexico (and at the same time covertly criticizing John Holloway's 2005

book Change the World Without Taking Power):

It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has

embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one

chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state

power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then

democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state

apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising

the barrios, and organising the training of armed

units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling

the economic effects of capital’s ‘resistance’ to his rule

(temporary shortages of some goods in the statesubsidised

supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate

the 24 parties that support him into a single party.

Even some of his allies are sceptical about this move: will

it come at the expense of the popular movements that have

given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this

choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is

6. Stages of Freedom 167

to make the new party function not as a typical state

socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the

mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots

slum committees). What should we say to someone like

Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw,

leave the state and the current situation in place’? Chávez

is often dismissed as a clown – but wouldn’t such a withdrawal

just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante

Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as

‘Subcomediante Marcos’? Today, it is the great capitalists

– Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’

the state. The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing

is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in

power cannot fulfill. Since they know that we know it,

such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no

problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your

critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we

would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real

world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’

The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in

power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite

demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

Social and Individual Conditions

The physical energy – electricity – needed for running social media sites

is one condition. Another is the less tangible energy and free time

needed in order for individuals to contribute. For instance, the crown

168 Wikiworld

jewel of FOSS, the GNU/Linux operating system, still receives more

contributions from the U.S. and Europe than anywhere else. This bias

that can be seen in many major open collaboration projects, including

Wikipedia, should direct our attention to the different possibilities that

present themselves to individuals in different geopolitical and socioeconomic

settings. Also, the fact that cases like Blender and Wikipedia

need substantial donations points to the importance of relative affluence.

Linus Torvalds, an inventor of a Linux operating system, was at the

time of starting the Linux-project a student at the University of Helsinki

(Finland), and consequently enjoyed the common benefits of the Finnish

welfare state, including tuition-free access to the university and its

resources. In addition, the Linux code was initially hosted by the Finnish

University Network (FUNET). All of this points to the fact that nonalienated

knowledge work in the Internet does seem to need a certain

basis of affluence and public educational and social infrastructure

(sometimes referred to as safety-nets) before it takes off. However, it

seems that often competences built in the free and public educational

system will primarily go to the use of corporations like mobile phone

company Nokia, and not to the service of the public sector. Even so,

these economic mega-players, exploiting the work force and sucking

from the state, dare to claim that the state does not support their business

enough in terms of radical tax-cuts. What thus is needed is a countermove

to free people's minds and intellectual resources from the slavery

of the corporation as well as from the slavery of the state and its

marketized educational system.

Actually in the Nordic countries we already have many cultural and

social characteristics which allow counter-moves and actual freedoms.

These include a progressive taxation-supported schooling system from

kindergarten to higher education, libraries, cultural institutions such as

museums and so forth. Indeed, the step from a media constrained by

liberal communism to socialist media needs not only basic welfare but

also actual control of life-goals and non-physical needs. Paradoxically or

6. Stages of Freedom 169

not, the road to the latter runs through the collective or common control

of the production of basic welfare (including things like electricity). In

addition such welfare strategies or innovations as a social wage,

citizenship income, or unconditional basic income would pave the way

to the socialist media, and structurally enhanced universal well-being.

Or, as Hardt and Negri put it in their Empire (2000, 403):

The demand for a social wage extends to the entire

population the demand that all activity necessary for the

production of capital be recognized with an equal

compensation such that a social wage is really a

guaranteed income. Once citizenship is extended to all, we

could call this guaranteed income a citizenship income,

due each as a member of society.

Educationally speaking there is a need for an altogether new social

mentality and an ideology of a shared ownership. In many schools,

children are taught to do their own work, not to collaborate or use preexisting

materials in their own learning practices. An urgent task of

critical educators is to strengthen a sense of community and solidarity as

well as curiosity for different point of views. In this sense social media

has a revolutionary potential for increasing global understanding of

difference and overcoming a capitalist drift of commodification and

unification of the world.

There are several expressions of different forms of socialism, as

Peters reminds us. They "revolve around the international labour

movement and invoke new imperialism struggles based on the

movements of indigenous and racialised peoples" (Peters 2004). A

starting point for the social condition of socialist media could be built

around the concept of "knowledge socialism." This refers to the politics

of knowledge, on one hand to the question of information domination

and its means, and on the other hand issues pertaining to intellectual

170 Wikiworld

property rights and intellectual resources in general including questions

of expert knowledge versus amateur knowledge as explicated by Peters


In these discussions, issues of freedom and control

reassert themselves at all levels: at those of content, code

and information. This issue of freedom/control concerns

the ideation and codification of knowledge and the new

‘soft’ technologies that take the notion of ‘practice’ as the

new desideratum: practitioner knowledge, communities of

practice, and different forms of organisational learning

adopted and adapted as part of corporate practice. Indeed,

now we face the politics of the learning economy and the

economics of forgetting that insists new ideas have only a

short shelf life. … These questions are also tied up with

larger questions concerning disciplinary versus informal

knowledge, the formalisation of the disciplines, the

development of the informal knowledge economy, and the

pervasiveness of informal education. Informal knowledge

and education based on free exchange is still a good

model for civil society in the age of knowledge capitalism.

In building socialist or participatory media, a presumption that the mode

of production shapes the context in which psychological and social

processes take place, and consciousness is formed, should be taken into

account (Youngman 1986, 101). Thus the revolutionary potential of

wikis. In the first place Wikipedia, or any other form of wiki, is not a

technology but praxis, a collective activity. It involves purpose and

intention, and in this sense "knowledge arises and deepens within a

continuous process of activity, conceptualisation, and renewed activity"

(ibid., 96). As knowledge can be defined in this instance as a social

product, it always involves hegemonic battles over power to rule and

6. Stages of Freedom 171

regulate. In a capitalist society, the ruling elite owns the media and thus

sets the ruling ideas. But inside this capitalist realm there is the

Wikiworld evolving as yet another hegemonic battleground marking the

turning of the tide, for in the Wikiworld people have unprecedented


The Wikiworld is not only a counter-hegemonic move but a serious,

hard-to-stop mass activity. Wikipedia, and other wikis, are lived,

educationally-laden social situations, and if "hegemony is the result of

lived social relationships and not simply the dominance of ideas, then

the experiences inherent in educational situations (i.e. the totality of

knowledge, attitudes, values and relationships) is as significant as the

purely intellectual content" (ibid., 105). In other words the mere process

of being in and part of the development of Wikipedia and the like is a

critical learning experience towards the birth of socialist media and the

enfleshment of Marx's (1858) concept of general intellect.

The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree

general social knowledge has become a direct force of

production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of

the process of social life itself have come under the

control of the general intellect and been transformed in

accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social

production have been produced, not only in the form of

knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social

practice, of the real life process.

Based on a close textual reading – 'short-circuiting' – of Lenin, !i"ek

refers to the idea of general intellect as a huge 'accounting apparatus'

without which, says Lenin, socialism is impossible. In the words of

Lenin, to make socialism happen is to make this massive apparatus

"'even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive. … This

will be country-wide book-keeping, country-wide accounting of the

172 Wikiworld

production and distribution of goods, this will be, so to speak, something

in the nature of the skeleton of socialist society.'" (!i"ek 2006a.) To

!i"ek this marks "the most radical expression of Marx’s notion of the

general intellect regulating all social life in a transparent way, of the

post-political world in which 'administration of people is supplanted by

the 'administration of things'" !i"ek further notes that it is easy to

criticize Lenin by referring to the horrors of the real socialist experiment

in Soviet Union, especially Stalin's era, and the apparatus of social

administrations which grow "even bigger." But as !i"ek asks: "Are,

however, things really so unambiguous? What if one replaces the

(obviously dated) example of the central bank with the World Wide

Web, today’s perfect candidate for the General Intellect?" (Ibid.) What,

indeed, if one replaces the example of World Wide Web with the

Wikiworld, including the servers and the power plants?

As Kellner (2004) writes, the key question is not a moralistic one –

whether social media are good or bad in the hands of critical educators.

Rather it is a question of what critical educators can do with Wikipedia

and other forms of social media in helping to create "a more democratic

and egalitarian society and what their limitations are for producing more

active and creative human beings and a more just society."

It goes without saying that Wikipedia and other wikis can be used in

formal education. But the problem in these uses is a certain tardiness

and conservatism of the educational system. This holds true throughout

the whole system, all the way from the public sphere to the corridors of

the Ministry of Education and to the privacy of a single classroom. In

some countries like Finland the state has for years launched various

campaigns and initiatives relating to the use of computers and new

information and computer literacies and skills, but the problem with

these is that as the goals have been set and campaigns started, the

technologies and skills needed have already changed quite a few times.

The system logic or the grip of the state educational apparatus does not

hold in the Wikiworld. Thus it is not wrong to claim that in many

6. Stages of Freedom 173

Western countries, not to mention some authoritarian regimes, the state

has executed technocratic rationality in trying to govern and regulate the

digital sphere educationally. It has acted as if it did not want people to

liberate themselves in the area of digital literacy. Therefore, as Kellner

and Kahn (2006) have stated in their critique of technoliteracy ruled

from above, there must be another way:

We cannot stress it enough: the project of reconstructing

technoliteracy must take different forms in different

contexts. In almost every cultural and social situation,

however, a literacy of critique should be enhanced so that

citizens can name the technological system, describe and

grasp the technological changes occurring as defining

features of the new global order, and learn to

experimentally engage in critical and oppositional

practices in the interests of democratization and

progressive transformation. As part of a truly multicultural

order, we need to encourage the growth and flourishing of

numerous standpoints (Harding 2004) on technoliteracy,

looking out for and legitimizing counter-hegemonic needs,

values, and understandings. Such would be to propound

multiple technoliteracies 'from below' as opposed to the

largely functional, economistic, and technocratic

technoliteracy 'from above' that is favored by many

industries and states.

This emphasis on the 'from below' perspective reminds us of the end of

Marx's Volume One of Capital, about one unhappy Mr. Peel. As Francis

Wheen (2006) has put it, Marx's most remarkable anecdote in Capital

One's last pages is about this Mr. Peel, who moved from England to

Australia along with 50,000 in currency and 3,000 workers, but didn't

take into account the fact that what he could carry with him in the

174 Wikiworld

Colonies was "property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and

other means of production" but not as their correlative the wage-worker

who is ready to sell him- or herself of his or her own free-will. In Marx

words Mr. Peel didn't understand that "capital is not a thing, but a social

relation between persons" (Marx 1867). Thus, writes Marx: "Unhappy

Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English

modes of production to Swan River!" (ibid.). Just as the wage-workers

discovered the freedom in the seemingly boundless land of West

Australia to build their own life and economies, we are now witnessing

more and more people discovering their freedom in the borderlands of

information technologies, given that they do not fall into a corporate

trap, that is, that they not only acknowledge business interests and new

modes in capitalist commodification around social media (i.e.

technology firms' aim to use consumers and users as co-creators of their

products) but that they are also able to detach capitalist tendencies from

authentic voluntary work, work for fun or work just for the sake of it.

Let us summarize here the needed principles of a socialist media in

the Wikiworld using Project Oekonux's ideals. These are the absence of

alienation which results from the direct needs of those involved; selforganization;

and voluntary participation, including voluntary taking

over of responsibility, or Selbstentfaltung in the project's terminology (as

responsibility and autonomy-in-interdependence). In addition it is

maintained that freedom has a triple meaning: freedom is result of the

process, pre-condition of the process and it enables the freedom of

others ( In our

thinking these principles sound like socialism or "cybercommunism."

It is of course always a threat that the promise of evolving socialist

principles of the Wikiworld mentioned above will be reduced into such

principles as "if it's not fun, why do it" (as a corny motto of Linuxpeople

goes). Yes, this can work as people's motivator in a certain

Western, relatively high level of income circumstances. But in a

!i"ekian tone we could reply that this principle is for nerds and

6. Stages of Freedom 175

consumerists only, and shout that there is nothing fun in the Wikiworld

if it is created for real reasons and real aims, that is, if its purpose is to

pay the way for overcoming the gritty realities of capitalist forms of

production. But is it reasonable to believe that people of the West could

see all the problems capitalism is creating? Is it reasonable to think that

there could be an overall wake up call for economical, social and

individual change in the current context of spin, when advertising,

manipulation, and manufacturing of consent are so large-scale?

Besides the growing use of FLOSS based ICT's there are at least two

tendencies that increase hope for a more just world. One is the now

evident fact of climate change, which forces us to re-evaluate and check

our consuming habits and overuse of natural resources. The other is

what Andre Gorz terms as the lost magic of work- or wage-based

society (Gorz 1999). In modern times, Taylorian work never offered

enough social coherence, but instead created abstract and weak social

bonds between people. The basic idea behind the construction of

socialist media is people's need for a personal and mutually shared

narrative, for a mental and emotional anchor that helps them gain

respect and a sense of solidarity in a situation where working life

deprives people of experiencing narrative continuum and planning longterm.

In short, what we need is a culture (Sennett 2006, 183), a common

culture, and in that respect socialist media is a means to fulfill that vital


New rules for the use of energy and habits of consuming along with

the use of social media in its socialist form can at its best make a great

change not only in people's mind and behavior but also in the very forms

of production. So, in sum, we get the equation "socialist media = basic

welfare + common servers + the power of the soviets." Of course, the

order of the ingredients or the components in the formula can be

different, in other words, there can be different orders of the free and

open world without scarcity (i.e. basic welfare = electricity + the power

of the soviets + socialist media).

176 Wikiworld

Freedom, More Freedom!

An alternative way of conceptualizing the transition from social to

socialist media is to think about the freedoms involved. The read-only

culture proposed by ultra-commoditized and mechanized life-styles can

be seen both from the perspective of media and education. In one

extreme, a totalitarian state like Plato's utopia in The Republic, will want

to control education, reserving true knowledge for the philosopher-kings

and telling a "royal lie" to the working classes in order to keep them at

bay. Plato would have known exactly why the party and movement

calling for the abolition of copyrights is called the Pirate Party (for

instance, in Sweden: The Platonist closedsource

approach is strictly correlative with media as a private profitmaking

business where information first and foremost has an exchange


As we move toward more free modes of media and education, we

first encounter social media and education as entrepreneurship, where

the subjects are "empowered" by active participation in economically

constrained activities. This is the first order of freedom where you have

free speech inside the confines of formal freedom (as explained by

!i"ek 2004c): you are free in so far as you do not rock the boat.

Strangely enough, the road to more freedom goes through realizing that

the economic constraints of liberal, multicultural capitalism are not

nearly strict enough. Only when the ghost of exchange value is stripped

off is the persistent and non-symbolic use-value, or value in itself,

revealed. In terms of media, this means Linux or Wikipedia, which do

not have any exchange value but have a tremendous utility. But even

that is not enough in terms of taking economics seriously: the oikos

humanity is facing is the planet and its resources. Native skills

(education) and indigenous information need a sustainable material

lifestyle, which is something the West has not been able to devise so far.

6. Stages of Freedom 177

Neither has it been able to eliminate the old traces of triple-freedom, or

the semi-paradoxical seeds of triple-freedom inside civilization itself.

Thus the last two modes of freedom are linked to an emergence of

changes in the modes of production, governance and property. These

changes will occur through the following three processes: They will

"produce use-value through the free cooperation of producers who have

access to distributed capital": this is what is called as "the P2P

production mode", or a "third mode of production" which differs from

capitalist "anything for-profit standard", or from public production by

state-owned enterprises common to welfare states. The product and

purpose of the P2P production mode is not to produce useless

commodities or "exchange value for a market, but use-value for a

community of users." The changes will also be "governed by the

community of producers themselves, and not by market allocation or

corporate hierarchy: this is the P2P governance mode, or third mode of

governance." In addition they "make use-value freely accessible on a

universal basis, through new common property regimes. This is its

distribution or 'peer property mode': a 'third mode of ownership,'

different from private property or public (state) property." (Bauwens


The last two modes of freedom in particular bring us to the ideas

which we see among the fundamental epistemological changes in how

future generations will cope with the world. The first has to do with

radical openness in the very media people use. It allows or demands that

they to participate and collaborate with each other. And it also allows

them to actually see how knowledge is constructed – as in Wikipedia

and other wikis – in which creation and negotiation processes can be

tracked very concretely by clicking the "history" and "discussion"


178 Wikiworld

Table 4. Levels of Freedom

Characteristics Media Education

Closed Exchange value

Vehicle and



Media as



Economic utility,

control of content

(business logic)

Education as an

ideological state


Economic utility,

control of content





Learning as having


exchange value of




stage of



utility, limited


Web 2.0 Educational

content business

Market sphere,



capitalism, liberal



autonomy of


YouTube, Google,


Adbusters, etc.

Teachers and

students as

commodified semiobjects




"Sharing" "Produsers"

6. Stages of Freedom 179

Characteristics Media Education



Use value/value in itself Media as


Education as


Full autonomy of content,

limited autonomy of vehicle

Wikis, Linux, P2P Freire,


"Commonist" "Access to the

Internet + power

of the soviets"

Learning as being





Value inseparable from the

world, Aristotelian finalities

Immediate media




Full autonomy of content

and vehicle

Wikipedia +


autonomy +

control of


Learning by doing,

native skills

Promoting other than

materially-driven life forms

Students and

teachers as human

beings, "life-long

learners" in an

existential sense

"Communist" "Electricity +

access to the

Internet + power

of the soviets"

Education as


180 Wikiworld

The second idea, that of reflective uncertainty, is linked to this: An

ability to track these changes leads to a world in which people begin to

take for granted that many areas of human conduct and knowledge are

based on processes of negotiations and meaning-making both in virtual

and other spaces. And perhaps more than that, they will eventually

decide to become ever more responsible for the world, as agents of

history, by abolishing the division between those who know and do, and

those who consume and obey. They will question pedagogical myth

claiming "that there is an inferior intelligence and a superior one"

(Ranciére 1991, 7).

In this respect, a special character of the Wikiworld is its radical

openness and anti-Cartesian uncertainty. The reliability of Wikipedia is

dependent on us; that is, it is not only dependent on you or me as

individuals, but on us as the community comprising the various skills

and literacies that we share as members of the community. The

difference is clear when compared with printed media, which in this

sense is closed and relies on gated and copyrighted communities of

expertise for authority. Respectively, the idea of reflective uncertainty

has a family resemblance with the "learning as participation" metaphor

that emphasizes participation in various cultural practices and shared

learning activities (in kindergarten, at school, in university and various

informal learning sites, workplaces and organizational activities). In this

metaphor, knowledge and learning are situated and created in people's

everyday life, or their life-worlds, and as part of their socio-cultural

context which existentially includes the material means of subsistence or



During the 1990s, the world experienced a substantial increase in

income inequality, polarization, poverty, and social exclusion. These

maladies are even more accentuated among young people, as four out of

five people under the age of 20 are living in developing countries.

Though through their use of ICTs, young people are among the most

active builders of the new world, a number of obstacles exist in the way

of their prefigurative role as ambassadors of the digital era. In addition

to the material and structural barriers preventing their voices from being

heard through the Internet and other ICTs, there are a number of other

obstacles deriving from their cultural and social position within the

family and the surrounding society.

A long-lasting debate about the sustainability of Western values has

taken place in both public and academic arenas. Over the years, many

commentators have perceived it imperative to fundamentally rethink the

Western values. One of the commentators has been Stephen Toulmin

(1998), a noted philosopher, who has foreseen a gradual termination of

the age of Enlightenment. He has thus suggested that the agenda of the

Enlightenment would be experiencing a shift in emphasis from the

written to the oral, from the universal to the particular, from the general

to the local and from the timeless to the timely. Moreover, Toulmin has

stressed that human beings need to learn to understand that they can

never rule or control the world entirely. Both sociologists and

philosophers have incorporated a shared vision about unregulated

economic globalization not being able to guarantee welfare for all.

A number of political speakers have noted that if we don’t embrace

the idea of co-operation, the world can fall into destructive

182 Wikiworld

unilateralism, a situation where the world would be ruled by one power

structure in terms of economic-technological development, military

power and knowledge production. The unfortunate situation would

result in deepening digital, economic and cultural divides along with

human suffering, cultural conflicts, and ecological catastrophes. This

type of unilateralism would mean reinforcing the advantage of the

North. There would be discussion on the elimination of obstacles of free

trade, while the position of the better-off countries would no doubt

remain secured, and new ICTs would be invented behind the digital

divide. Furthermore, the North would use the South as a dump of old

ICTs. This course of action has long and not-so-honorable traditions in

the areas of other kinds of trade and so-called co-operation.

The other option would be multilateralism or internationalism where

the guiding principle would be sustainable development and where high

and low technologies would exist in balance, appropriately adapted to

local circumstances. However, the fundamental question about how

ICTs and the digital divide relate to the process of global development is

not about technology, nor is it about politics. Instead, it concerns global

politics and local practices. In sociological literature, this dualistic

perception has been termed glocalization. In brief, glocalization means

that the world is experienced as one place: the global is an aspect of the

local, and vice versa (Beck 1999, 101). Young people in particular have

a tendency to develop a glocal consciousness. In the field of global

politics, when seeking to establish a global economy, we should also aim

at global democratic structures and global legislation. It seems likely

that international laws and regulations as well as a profound value

change are all needed for people to grasp the ethical responsibility of the

human being as homo proteus, a species that in a fundamental way

creates its own environments.

The UN committee overseeing the execution of the International

Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights proposes three

principles for politics to combat poverty (Robinson 2002). These

Conclusion 183

comprise equal rights, participation and inclusion. In our opinion, these

principles might also prove useful in the discussion on participatory

digital democracy and bridging the digital divide. However, these

notions function only as ideological starting points, and their

implementation in practice requires real local actions. Building digital

democracy through ICTs is a vain attempt unless the normal

administrative structures and channels of participation are operational in

the society. As Malina (1999, 38) puts it, "where normative aspects and

genuine democratic practice are absent, and where citizens are held in

low regard or excluded by their representatives and other experts in the

public sphere, outcomes for democratic autonomy, more participatory

democracy and social cohesion will be gloomy".

Some hope can be found in the numerous local experiments making

practical use of ICTs in various parts of the world as we speak. It is

characteristic of this activity that ICTs are made to function as a part of

the local circumstances. The adoption of ICTs on its own is not

important: instead, the technologies are harnessed to solve a practical

problem whether it be the transmission of information (distribution of

weather or health related information) or a problem in need of a more

technical solution (e.g. water pumps operating on solar energy). The

second important characteristic of this type of development activity is

the utilization of local knowledge that may not exist in a written form

but constitutes orally transmitted information manifesting itself in local

customs and activities. Third, it is typical of these experiments that new

innovations are created through incorporating new technologies in old

technical solutions that have perhaps been in use for a long time.

Furthermore, it is crucial to grasp the importance of focusing on the use

and development of technology that responds to the actual needs of the

people a principle that is a welcome guideline for sustainable

development in the field of information and communication

technologies in general, as the field’s fascination with newness often

seems beyond reasonable. As we all know, the owners never use half of

184 Wikiworld

the finesses featured in the existing devices. Fourth, as researchers, it is

crucial to emerge from our ivory towers and fancy laboratories and act

as anthropologists, collecting data in the field and creating solutions in

close co-operation with locals. All in all, experiments like these realize

such positive and reformative values as sharing, listening and sociodiversity.

Amartya Sen (2002, 51), a Nobelist in economics, has brought forth

the idea of sharing to help overcome the global maladies of the

contemporary economic world order. Perceiving sharing as one of the

central notions in the general culture of science, Sen argues that the

organizing principles of sharing might have something valuable and

substantial to offer in the seemingly endless battle against pervasive

poverty, deprivation, and the ongoing conflicts that result from global

confrontations between the economic elite and those who have nothing

to loose but their chains. Aside from being an influential social

institution, the market mechanism also functions as an organizational

ideology, which leads to unpredictable and often poor social

consequences. Sen contrasts the idea of sharing to the use of the market

mechanism as a dominant ideology of the current era. For Sen,

economic development is neither about the accumulation of capital nor

the growth of gross national product but about a process of expanding

human freedom through sharing the common good.

In the end, there are two opposing arguments concerning the overall

meaning of ICTs. The first argument, maintained by ICT enthusiasts,

proclaims that as vehicles for economy and knowledge production, new

technologies will improve everyone’s standard of living. For this reason,

everyone should have access to information, and it is not necessary to

wait for the more basic needs to be covered before moving on to the

Internet age. The second argument, sustained by ICT critics, stresses the

urgent need for making a difference in basic needs such as democratic

governance, food resources, health care, social security and education

before attending to problems such as the digital divide. Both arguments

Conclusion 185

are valid if we think that ICTs are not like lakes or rocks – natural

resources – but human-made objects that can be used in a variety of

ways. In the end, ICTs are technologies, but not only technologies. For

we as people always maintain some kind of relationship to these

technologies. We can use the ICT imperative as an excuse for our own

thoughtlessness and apparent inability to make reasonable decisions.

However, if we consider the matter logically, we will see that ICTs have

no power over us. In this basic sense, ICTs may be good servants, but

they are certainly bad masters. The emphasis should then be on how to

use them, and to what end. One answer lies in the development and use

of socialist media.

In furthering socialist media and its allied social inventions such as

welfare structures (including basic income as a recent invention) it is

vitally important to note that there is more wealth and prosperity in the

world today than at any point in history, and yet economic, social and

technological divisions run deeper than ever. In this situation, it would

be important to focus on the terms on which ICTs will be applied in

different parts of the world. ICTs cannot be thought of as simply a

technology: They are loaded with cultural values and preferences, as

well as desires for what tomorrow should look like. It is evident that the

cultural values carried by ICTs are largely Western, with a particular

emphasis on North America and its allies in consumer capitalism.

Among the cultural values, there are many that are easy to subscribe to,

such as everyone’s right to a worthwhile existence and freedom of

speech regardless of gender, age or ethnicity. Needless to say, the

execution of these values is rare, even though they are among the

implicit principles embedded in ICTs. However, the cultural values of

ICTs also contain a number of less commendable ideas. The most

central is the notion of commercial profit as the most important aim of

the proliferation of ICTs. Yet, it is this particular aim that is given

priority in an ICT industry dominated by a handful of media giants of

overlapping ownership. It is in the interest of these corporations to act as

186 Wikiworld

the ambassadors of goodwill until it is time to calculate profitability. The

supply of goodwill only lasts as long as the investment is expected to

generate profit. This is something that should also be remembered with

regard to the operations of various official bodies (such as UN,

UNICEF, and NGOs) advocating co-operation between private sector,

public sector and civil society.

Moreover, making a profit is in many instances completely out of the

question. If we consider sparsely populated regions outside of cities and

population centres, it is certain that bridging the ICT gap to those areas

will not be commercially profitable. At this point, we come down to a

question of values: What kind of world do we want our children and

youth to inhabit? Today, young people make up a fifth of the world’s

population, some 1.2 billion people. The importance of investing in their

lives cannot be overestimated, as knowledge, skills and attitudes learned

in youth often determine a person’s faith later in life. It is our view that a

world where young people, remaining in their own localities, can

generate their own culture and be connected with youth in other parts of

the globe to exchange ideas and learn from each other would be a global

village worth living in.

As Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist (2002, xi-xii) remind us: "The

WTC hijackers were very well educated and very much at home on the

Net. These guys even booked their plane tickets online. They possessed

the necessary financial means, but more importantly, the necessary

networking skills, to make their plans work." But this is not the end of

the story. We, too, as Westerners, have something to reflect on in our

uses and misuses of education. For it can be argued that in the last

decades of neoliberal rubbish we have failed in our educational policies

to pose the most fundamental questions concerning the overall good of

society and the world. We can even say that due to self-reinforcing

processes of economic growth, population growth, technological

expansion, arms races, and growing income inequality, humanity is in a

state of crisis that cannot be solved with any imaginable quick fixes like

Conclusion 187

leaning on the promises of ICTs. It is actually quite shocking to realize –

and this realization should shake us up as academics and teachers at the

tertiary level – that people with higher degrees do the greatest harm

when it comes to the above-mentioned problems. "This realisation arises

from the observation that the vast majority of people in crucial decisionmaking

positions have tertiary qualifications" (Lautensach &

Lautensach 2008). And it is they who make the most ill-advised, shortsighted

and self-serving decisions: "An empirical correlation appears

evident between higher education and inadequate decision-making"


What are we actually learning? Should we again recall the distinction

between data, information, knowledge, insight and wisdom in evaluating

various educational policies at the national and international level as

well as concrete classroom and lecture hall practices?

In conclusion we would like to suggest that in the future, instead of

giving the power to the seemingly ignorant elite alone, the people –

educators, students, activists, parents – should take the initiative and

power for their participatory cooperation. Real advances in the area of

digital literacy can be made only if the power to learn is given to

educative communities that can contribute locally and connect globally.

And actually, there is no institution which could grant such a permit.

People are already working together beyond manufactured constrains

like formal schooling system, official state bureaucracy, the authoritative

state and so forth. No one knows what the consequences of this turn

from public policy and from the state itself will be, and that, of course,

can be frightening. It may be that all previous truths and certainties are

more or less lost, but as John Holloway (2005, 215) reminds us, "the

openness of uncertainty is central to revolution." Perhaps also for the

state's institutional players this openness of uncertainty is their only

chance of acting productively and doing their democratic share.

Otherwise they do not have any role in the digital revolution. By giving

their centralized power of defining the problems and solutions to the

188 Wikiworld

communities of digital practices, they could make a strong case for

furthering not only peoples' digital literacies, and technological

competencies but also their self-regulated socio-political transformation.

For, as Giroux (2004, 84) aptly puts it, "one imperative of a critical

pedagogy is to offer students opportunities to become aware of their

potential and responsibility as individual and social agents to expand,

struggle over, and deepen democratic values, institutions, and identities.

They must help students unlearn the presupposition that knowledge is

unrelated to action, conception to implementation, and learning to social

change. Knowledge in this case is more than understanding; it is also

about the possibilities of self-determination, individual autonomy, and

social agency."

Without such language of critique, hope and possibility it can be

impossible to solve the most daunting challenge confronting us in the

21st century, that of a gap between our ability to act technologically

correct, and our ability to morally and ethically master the enormity of

our actions and technologies; the filling of this gap has been seen as the

most daunting challenge confronting us in the years to come (Bauman

2002). Or is it just the opposite? Should we be ready to turn the question

concerning information technology's moral and ethics into the question

of how to act technologically and politically incorrect and dismantle

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