The Discontinuity of Cultural Process in the Digital Civilization Main Dangers


Andrzej Kocikowski
Associate Professor
Institute of Cultural Studies
A. Mickiewicz University,


The first goal of my participation in ETHICOMP2001 is to prepare and next to carry out the discussion about “The Discontinuity of Cultural Process in the Digital Civilization”. This “discontinuity” has at least two aspects, the first of which is the main focus of a very interesting paper prepared by Lukasz Knasiecki. The second aspect – at least as important as the first one – will be the topic of my presentation. In short, the aspect of discontinuity analyzed by Knasiecki shows the painful truth about the computing revolution devouring its own children. The three fundamental theses of this paper I allow myself the liberty of quoting below:

  • Fast development of digital technologies creates products, which are incompatible with their predecessors
  • The lifetime of a digital product is very short
  • The cultural discontinuity phenomenon is created – a lot of civilization’s products become nonexistent

The second aspect analyzed in detail by me, to described by Knasiecki only in necessary detail, can be expressed by the following statements:

  • Production of electronic devices (including broadly defined information carriers) which serve the analog culture will be discontinued in mass quantities
  • Only the products of the former civilization which are deemed worthy of conversion to the digital format can be accessed in mass-media
  • The cultural discontinuity phenomenon in a different aspect is created
  • The North-American civilization gains an unfounded, disturbing advantage over the rest of the world

In the first part of the paper I will remind the chosen statement of one of the theories of the historical process (historical materialism) The reminder will include subjects which characterize the capitalistic system as the process of increasing global capital worth; this process can not do without a profit category. I will also present a few theoretical remarks which will apply to a phenomenon particular to the aforementioned issue, that is: the characterization of the process of creation of knowledge (information) as a particular form in which the process of capital increase can occur.

In the second part of the paper I will focus on extending and justification of views expressed by the theses (d) – (g). The first issue is that an unplanned consequence of the computational revolution is removing many devices and data carriers serving the analog culture, beyond the margins of society; their production will have to be discontinued, because it follows the logic of electronic industry development. That leaves the question of what to do with all those products of culture, which were created thanks to the aforementioned devices and were stored on their respective data carriers? The record player and the analog record, the amateur film camera and the 8mm reel, the photo camera and the 6cm film, reel-to-reel tape recorder with its reels, video recorder and VHS tape. What will happed to the private archives of people who recorded the legacy of at least one generation on analog tape?

Public media, including mass media, can of course convert all analog data to digital. Yet there remains the question of which analog data, and by whom, will be considered “fit to” be converted? Assuming that economics will dictate what and how much of the analog age will be shown in the soon-to-come digital age, the answer is surprisingly simple: only that which will pay off.

The rate of expansion of digital technologies and the aforementioned circumstances cause to question the issue of the so called “cultural continuity” which characterizes the life of the species; the issue of continuity is concerned mainly by the so-called cultural heritage and its importance in the upbringing of new generations. To what and in what way will everybody concerned refer?

Taking certain facts into consideration may lead to a conjecture that the North-American civilization gains in the forming system (the global-village information society) an unfounded advantage. Total control over distribution of the information in the world allows manipulating the now discontinuous cultural process. Great Informers from the country of the most advanced information technology can usurp the right to be apostles of the new and only Truth.