The World through Windows: aspects of communication and domination in contemporary culture

Gerrit du Preez


The rise of the computer industry and the role played by information technology in everyday life will significantly change the way we see, understand and relate to the physical world. It is also giving rise to new and specific kinds of power and communication relations in society. In this paper I will identify and explore some of the new trends that result from these developments. I will first deal with a number of theoretical perspectives and then underscore these perspectives by means of practical examples from the South African context. In the last section I will address some of the challenges posed to us by these exiting developments and suggest some ways of dealing with our social responsibility in an educational context.

The paper follows a multi-discliplinary approach with specific focus on information systems, social sciences and philosophy. The example areas of interest that will be addressed are:

  • Privacy and monitoring
  • Effects of computing on the global distribution of wealth and power
  • Value and accuracy of data and information
  • Access to computing

The paper will reflect the following structure:

  1. The World through Windows: a new understanding and way of seeing the world
  2. Due to the influence of information technology, new ways of understanding and relating to the physical world are emerging. These developments will be addressed in an introductory level that will lead up to the following sections focussing on communication and domination relations. Aspects that will be addressed in this section are:

    • Cultural change: the influence of the emerging visual and aural culture on the new generation
    • Changes in attitudes towards language and text due to computing and hypertext
    • The way the computer is reflecting the physical world by means of icons and images as well as possible influences of the virtual on the physical world.
  3. Aspects of communication relations
  4. Information technology opens up powerful communication opportunities and relatively new ways of interaction are fast becoming standard practice. World wide use of e.g. the Internet is having a significant effect on business and government (to name only two areas). Virtual communities are emerging that will have a radical influence on society, culture and the notion of the public sphere. These developments however are also resulting in new kinds of domination relations. A closer look at these relations will form the main part of this paper.

  5. Aspects of domination relations
  6. In his study of ideology and modern culture, sociologist John Thompson looks at the mediazation of modern culture. In his reformulation of the concept of ideology he is focussing on problems concerning the interrelations of meaning and power. He uses the term ideology to refer to the ways in which meaning serves to establish and sustain relations of power which are systematically asymmetrical and are called relations of domination. Ideology according to him, is meaning in service of power. Thompson is of the opinion that “the study of ideology requires us to investigate the ways in which meaning is constructed and conveyed by symbolic forms of various kinds, from everyday linguistic utterances to complex images and texts; it requires us to investigate the social contexts within which symbolic forms are employed and deployed; and it calls upon us to ask whether, and if so how, the meaning mobilized by symbolic forms serves, in specific contexts, to establish and sustain relations of domination.” *

    Thompson’s approach will be applied to information technology. Aspects of domination relations in some of the following fields will be noted:

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Education
    • Language
    • Economic ability
    • Market forces
    • Information overload and pollution
    • Access to computers and information technology
  7. Challenges
  8. The paper will close with an evaluation and practical guidelines for dealing with information technology within an educational context.

    • Some of the philosophers that will be cited are: Juergen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Mark Poster, George Lakoff, J Hillis Miller, George Landow and John Thompson.
    • Thompson, J B 1990 Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication. Stanford University Press, Stanford. Page 7.