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<nettime> Review of Susanne Gaschke's 'Klick - Strategies Against Digita
Dennis Deicke on Fri, 26 Jun 2009 21:04:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Review of Susanne Gaschke's 'Klick - Strategies Against Digital Stultification'

Neoliberal Digitalism?

Review of Susanne Gaschke , Klick - Strategien gegen die digitale Verdummung.
Herder, Freiburg: 2009.

By Dennis Deicke

Susanne Gaschke's book Klick - Strategies Against Digital Stultification
describes how the increasing prevalence of the internet and new media
influences the culture of knowledge and education. She criticizes an
infinite optimism of media, politics and science towards this phenomenon
and decries an uncritical handling of the internet. Gaschke characterizes
people following the paradigm of new media blindly as ideologists; she
calls them 'digitalists.' Furthermore, a criticism of modern neoliberal
capitalism accompanies her fundamental demand for more pessimism towards
the new media.

Susanne Gaschke, a journalist writing for the German weekly DIE ZEIT,
admits that she might be biased due to her profession in an old medium
like a newspaper. To Gaschke, the ability to read is the most necessary
competence in a modern society: ?who reads, learns thinking?. But the
digitalists have chosen a new ability to be crucial for a working society:
media competence. Gaschke does not assert that media literacy is
unimportant but she insists that being able to read still is the core
competence, which enables other abilities. Thus she criticizes the
unconsidered support of new media in all parts of life, especially in the
educational system. Schools and kindergartens are supplied with computers,
networks and software by the IT-industry. Politics accept it, knowing that
corporations like Microsoft do not equip schools because of limitless
altruism, but to tie customers to their brand, at a very young age.

Referring to Nicholas Carr's article Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Susanne
Gaschke claims that internet use has changed the way we perceive and
consume texts and media. Similar to Carr she points out that pace and
restlessness have altered our patterns of cognition. The internet
conditions the user to search for short texts he can browse briefly and
superficially. For both Carr and Gaschke this results in a severe threat
to the ability of concentrating. Susanne Gaschke holds the view that the
digitalists are not open for any forms of critique of the new technology.
She insists that fighting against new technological trends is always
difficult, and quotes Adorno who already pointed out that criticizing new
technologies is like fighting against the world spirit.

For Susanne Gaschke the group of digitalists is composed of the
IT-industry, online service providers, media scientists, journalists and
users. They all celebrate the beginning of a new era for mankind beginning
with new media. Gaschke does not believe in all the hopes and promises
linked with the digital world. She rejects aspirations concerning
democratization and emancipation resulting in a politically functioning
publicity, which emerged in beginning of the 90's. Gaschke points out that
new media are not used to gain politically important information. Mainly
it used for entertainment, to pass time and to consume products. That is
where media pedagogy enters the discussion and claims to be the discipline
teaching people how to use the internet. But for Gaschke this is not the
main problem; she worries about the continuing distraction generated by
the ubiquitous new media, which are available everywhere and anytime.

Gaschke warns the reader not to believe in the promises made by the
digitalists. For Gaschke it is clear that the internet will not solve
social problems, it will not close social gaps and it will not cause the
emergence of a perfect society. She uses studies exemplifying that
internet users do not read, but browse over websites briefly. Thus, she
concludes, the perfect image of an overall informed, critical internet
user does not exist often in reality. The problem of the youth is not the
lack of access to information. The issue is that the ever-increasing
digitalization has taken away their ability to understand and read things
as a whole. Through the internet, people just do not have to read
attentively anymore, because they have the belief they can find everything
on the net. This notion of having information and knowledge anytime within
a reachable distance is a threat to knowledge and education. Following
this principle, adolescents are taught to get information easily and with
few effort in the internet. Gaschke depicts this practice as a neglect of
duty in education.  She raises the question what will happen if everyone
relies on the principle of finding rather than knowing. For me this is a
core question in the whole debate Gaschke starts: if everyone relies on
search engines results, who is the person making sense of all the
information that is found?

Further more, Gaschke points out the digitalists' belief that all
information on the internet can be treated equally. For Gaschke this ends
up in egalitarianism. Her view is that society depends on hierarchical
structures of knowledge, which are rejected consistently by the
digitalists. She admits that the internet offers opportunities to inform
oneself beyond the things learned in school or from journalism. But at
least, and I think Gaschke is right, the society needs a certain consensus
about the things that are important to know. Another important aspect
Gaschke states is that society always has to rely on experts. The
digitalists believe that knowledge structures and hierarchies disappear
because of the access to information through the internet. But as Gaschke
exemplifies it: If I want orthopaedic advice, I want to get it from an
orthopaedist and not from somebody who knows what an orthopaedist does,
and posted it on Wikipedia.

Another interesting topic mentioned by Susanne Gaschke concerns the
distinction between adulthood and childhood, which is fading away due to
the use of new media. Referring to Neil Postman, Gaschke holds the view
that adults are keepers of secrets which are slowly revealed to children
during the process of growing up. But the extensive use of the internet by
children changes this situation, because they are confronted with the
secrets not mediated by their parents: ?The digital culture cannot deal
with symbolic secrets which are meaningful for the process of growing up?.
Here she traceably argues that this confrontation can obviously happen too
early, and confuse children more than it enlightens them.  A further
aspect mentioned by Susanne Gaschke is that new media simultaneously
change adults and convert them to children again. The internet looses the
adult's self restrictions, characterizing adulthood, and enhances
accommodating the inner drives, which eventually results in clicking. She
wants to prove this process of adults mutating to children by using
figures that demonstrate that the age of people playing computer has
risen. Thus they become more like children, because playing video games is
for children. But I think the higher level of age is mainly a consequence
of the former video-gaming kids becoming older and keeping on playing, not
a result of older people suddenly starting to play computer games.

Additionally, Susanne Gaschke questions the usefulness and the concept of
Web 2.0. She admits that the web offers the opportunity of connecting
scientists and enabling exchange of knowledge, but she is critical of
terms like 'wisdom of the crowds' or 'peer production,' because the basis
of these principles should be expertise, which is not always prevalent in
the Web 2.0. She consults the Condorcet Theorem (referring to the French
philosopher Marquis de Condorcet), which says that groups are able to take
better and exacter decisions, but only under the conditions that at least
one half of the group has the necessary knowledge. Otherwise the group's
decision will be terribly wrong. In addition, she criticizes the quality
and the necessity of contributions in the Web 2.0. She questions if it is
a benefit that everyone can publish his views on something, even if they
are untrue or inciting. But I am of the opinion that this is not an online
problem in most instances. Web 2.0 just mediates information and is not
the origin of certain problematic views or contributions. It is just a new
way of distribution; shielding Web 2.0 from becoming a successful channel
for extremists is mainly a task of society, which should generally prevent
people from following dangerous ideas. She also decries the enhancing
influence of the internet on phenomenona like happy slapping (slap other
people and film it with the cell phone) or rampages, because the internet
provides the protagonists with an audience. But I believe that blaming new
media for events like that is not adequate, they just make these things
more visible but do not cause them. Another terrible example she mentions
concerns the case of Abraham Biggs who began suicide and broadcasted his
death over the internet in 2008 and none of the viewers called emergency,
they watched him die. Gaschke admits that the internet was not the reason
of the suicide, but it gave him the chance to broadcast it live. But
again, an absence of the internet would not have avoided his death; it
just would not have been that visible.

Moreover she argues that the blog culture does not result in a open
discourse which eventually produces the completely enlightened unified
community. Miriam Meckel (communication scientist, St. Gallen) believes
that in Weblogs the users develop the synthesis as a result of discussing
thesis and anti-thesis. But Gaschke rejects that by citing an American
study showing that 90 percent of references made by blogs, are links to
other blogs that have nearly the same opinion, so they are more likely to
be echo rooms than areas of balanced discussions.

Furthermore, she critizes social networks for being platforms of
self-profiling. People use it to show who they are and to find acceptance
and recognition. But Gaschke is of the opinion that this produces a false
image, especially for adolescents who believe that friends can be found
easily on the web without real-life investments. For her, the demand for
online relations and friendships is just a consequence of a lack of social
contacts in reality, but those cannot be replaced that easily, because the
virtual relations will never be as intense as the real ones.

As a print journalist, Gaschke is consistently arguing against the
substitution of newspapers through online news. The main reason to keep
them is that newspapers are initially consumed as a whole; they confront
the reader with information and opinions he does not (want to) know. The
customization of news on the internet destroys this process. Another
fundamental problem Gaschke identifies is the lack of quality in online
news. Online news is cheaper to produce but generates the same amount of
advertising revenue and thus the quality suffers. For Gaschke another
reason for the inferiority of online news is that they often rely on
user-generated content and exploit bloggers, who work for free and often
do not have the expertise of a journalist. She might be right with this
point, but I would avoid the term of exploitation, because nobody forces
users to give away their produced material.

A fundamental aspect of Gaschke's book is that she consequently links her
criticism of new media with criticism of today's form of capitalism. To
her, the new culture caused by the internet is just the logical outcome of
neoliberal capitalism that has reigned over the past decades. Throughout
the years neo-liberalism has altered society. Flexibility became the
crucial credo for people who wanted to function properly in the modern
'knowledge society,' which is a neoliberal propaganda term in Gaschke's
eyes. Her interesting opinion is that new media force us to be even more
flexible, so flexible that we might lose the last carryover of necessary
stability. The mentioned mutation from adults to children again is just a
wish of capitalism, because they are the better consumers, they do not
contain themselves. The neoliberal paradigm has desocialized and
fragmented society by forcing people to become flexible and restless,
always ready to focus on something 'new.' These attributes are now
converted to internet culture and enhanced by new media simultaneously.
Gaschke even sees the desire for relationships in social networks as a
consequence of the neoliberal system. People search online because
neo-liberalism produced an unstable society, which lacks real, intense
relations. And she gives a very absorbing explanation for digitalists
being ideological: before the collapse of the Soviet Union capitalism did
not need to be ideological, because the alternative system was not
successful. But after the fall of the Soviet Union the alternative
disappeared and flexible capitalism created an ideology strongly conjoined
with technology: new media will provide everyone with knowledge,
information and prosperity. ?This ideology leaves a few winners, a
considerable group of losers and a big stack of pancake-persnoalities,
which do not flourish in the chaos but stretch out to all directions?,
Gaschke says. But one can just turn this argument upside down and assert
that because of the system, alternative capitalism was ideological and
does not have to be it anymore. To Gaschke, the digitization is just an
additional instrument of rationalization; she finds proof of this in the
computer-based economic increase, which resulted in an decrease of 130,000
jobs in the media sector in the United States.

Susanne Gaschke's work is an interesting and alarming book, urging the
reader to question the whole hype in regards of new media. She makes
plenty of interesting points that are often not taken into consideration
when the influence of new media is discussed. I share her opinion that we
should not glorify the internet as the new instrument to create a
reasonable and informed society, without necessary investments in real
education.  But since she is a journalist, her critique often is polemical
and her arguments could be discussed in a more balanced way.

German Wikipedia page about Susanne Gaschke:&#8232;

A link to Nichloas Carr's article ?Is Google Making Us Stupid??:

Wikipedia page about the philosopher Marquis de Condorcet:

Homepage about Gaschke's book from the publisher Herder:

Institute of Network Cultures
HvA Interactive Media, room 05A20
Rhijnspoorplein 1
NL-1091 GC Amsterdam

Institute of Network Cultures
HvA Interactive Media, room 05A20
PO BOX 1025
NL-1000 BA Amsterdam

dennis {AT} networkcultures.org
t: +31 20 5951865 / 1866
f: +31 20 5951840

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