The book review leads to creation 10 On the Internet: Thinking in Action / A book review by Takeshi Sunaga, Professor, Department of Information Design, Tama Art University

11.01.05

on-the-internet

On the Internet (Thinking in Action)
Author: Hubert L. Dreyfus

A book review by Takeshi Sunaga, Professor, Department of Information Design, Tama Art University

The perspective that “human beings have bodies” serves up a warning about the Internet

Dreyfus discusses the limitations of the Internet from the perspective that “human beings have bodies.” But he is really sounding the alarm against propaganda that claims the Internet provides another world that puts no limits on the body. Dreyfus stresses that in order to use the Internet as a real tool it is important to understand that we conduct our lives through our bodies and its abilities.

Being in the design field I was very impressed with this book since I believe that the concept of “body” is grounded in “form” as found in design. On the Internet comprises the following four discussions that compare what the Internet takes away and what it gives.
(1) The Internet takes away quality of information and gives us quantity. There is a trade-off between “relevance” and “amount of information” on the Internet. The Internet gives us a large amount of data but takes away the quality (relevance) of that information.
(2) Long distance learning takes away the involvement and risk in education and the ability to acquire skills. With involvement come commitment and the ability to take risks. The Internet doesn’t have this. Risk can be taken only when the student is not a bystander, becoming involved and feeling responsible for his or her own choices.
(3) Telepresence takes away presence and a sense of reality. The idea we have of “living” has no meaning in the world the Internet makes possible, the world of telepresence. The reason for this is a loss of a sense of reality.
(4) The Internet takes away meaning and the possibility of leading a meaningful life. We can’t lead a meaningful life in a place that lets us experiment risk-free with other worlds and other selves. Only our bodies—the source of relevance, involvement, risk and reality—can serve as the ground to distinguish between the various circumstances in the world.

This is exactly the point where Dreyfus’s argument becomes relevant to the problem of design. The various distinctions of “meaning” he uses here is the same problem designers are grappling with today. Designers are trying desperately to give form (that symbolizes meaning) to the information world, which like the body is dynamically changing. Twentieth century design symbolized the body as form. But in order to use the computer and Internet as a truly human tool it is necessary to start a debate about form that symbolizes the idea that “thoughts have bodies.” Dreyfus has presented us with a task: the clarification of the changing process and form of information activity. (from AXIS vol.101 January/February 2003)

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