background image
DigiCULT
.
Info
57
ing which is `carried out following the
codes of practice relevant to a particular
discipline'.
63
When the relative weight of
applied research as compared with basic
research is growing, the experience of
coherence in everyday life overrides the
image of fragmented scientific specialities.
The idea of a non-fragmented, unified
knowledge need not imply the possibility
of a single harmonious vision of reality. It
suffices if we can demonstrate the possibili-
ty of transitions from one field of knowl-
edge to another; the possibility of
conceptual bridges, passages, interactions ­
transitions which become easier when
word is enhanced by image.The digital
network environment promises the emer-
gence of a world of knowledge less frag-
mented than that of the past centuries.
B
earing in mind that human conscious-
ness is itself a network of mental repre-
sentations, the linear order of written
language necessarily has a constrictive,
indeed distorting, effect on thinking. Hence
from the point of view of cognitive psychol-
ogy the trend of supplanting, on the Web,
extended linear texts by clusters of inter-
linked short documents is an unquestionably
progressive one. Hypertext is a more natural
form of organising ideas than the linear text
is, and hypermediality, the interlinking of
multimedia documents, is ­ given the multi-
sensorial character of consciousness ­ an
even more natural form. Supported by
increasingly powerful search engines, the
World Wide Web has the potential to
become a truly inalienated communicational
environment.The Web ­ now enhanced by
the miracle of mobile communications ­ is
still vastly underrated, and indeed misrepre-
sented, even by leading opinion-makers, not
least since headstrong views characteristically
lack the foundation of hands-on experience.
Hypermediality creates an environment in
which fragmented theoretical knowledge,
and also practical knowledge dispersed
among the members of society, becomes
more easily accessible than ever before.
the task of translating multimodal contents
into the single modality of spoken lan-
guage.Written language is a rather more
limited medium.Thus digital multimedia
documents, adding sound and image to
text, can be truly liberating instruments
of communication.
L
et us note also that, whereas written
language is poor at conveying practical
knowledge, pictures, especially animated
pictures ­ by themselves, or in combina-
tion with words ­ are quite effective.
61
Pictures can show what texts can merely
tell about, and pictures can summarise, in a
way that can be grasped in a single glance,
complex information that may be unintel-
ligible when propositionally expressed.
62
T
he emergence of digital graphics is
of course only one aspect of the pro-
found change in the course of which the
computer (as part of the interactive multi-
media global network) has become an
everyday element of knowledge produc-
tion.Those patterns of mobility,
immutability, compoundability and
demonstrability analysed by Latour gain an
entirely new meaning in the medium of
the Internet. Science based on the book is
replaced by science based on the global
network.The barriers separating different
specialties seem today to become fluid
once more. A new, transdisciplinary mode
of science emerges.This change is not
independent of the fact that, as Gibbons et
al. put it in their book The New Production
of Knowledge, `the density of communica-
tion among scientists through various
forms of mobility has been greatly
increased in recent decades', resulting in
the `linking together of sites in a variety
of ways ­ electronically, organisationally,
socially, informally ­ through functioning
networks of communication.'This new
mode of science is characterised by prob-
lem solving `organised around a particular
application', rather than by problem solv-
Picture printing was invented around 1400
AD.This was arguably a much more revo-
lutionary invention in the history of com-
munication than that of typography half a
century later. Prior to printing, pictures
could not become aids to the communica-
tion of knowledge, as their inevitable dis-
tortion in the course of the copying
process meant that information could not
be reliably preserved. Printing allowed pic-
tures to become more or less exactly
repeatable; tangible knowledge became
easier to disseminate. Of course, woodcuts,
etchings and engravings were still a long
way from being faithful copies of what
they attempted to depict. Until the age of
photography, there existed no technology
of exactly repeatable pictorial representa-
tions of particular objects.
I
n the mid-1980s, there began a veritable
iconic revolution, made possible by the
graphical capabilities of computer software.
The ease with which one can produce pic-
tures and the everyday possibility of picto-
rial communication bring about a world in
which people are becoming familiar with
pictures, and are acquiring a rich experi-
ence of dealing with them, to an extent
unprecedented throughout written history.
The fact that we are increasingly able to
communicate via pictures is of fundamen-
tal significance, since not words but per-
ceptual symbols and, in particular, images
are the primordial stuff of consciousness.
To this age old view ­ never doubted by
everyday thinking but practically forced
underground by the psychology and phi-
losophy of the first half of the twentieth
century ­ science increasingly appears to
return today. Human consciousness is a
network of multisensorial, multimodal rep-
resentations reflecting a world of move-
ments, shapes, colours, sounds, and so on.
Oral communication, rich in metaphors,
embedded in here-and-now situations, and
accompanied by non-verbal metacommu-
nicative signals, can successfully cope with
61 For some references see Kristóf Nyíri `Pictorial Meaning and Mobile Communication', in Nyíri (ed.), Mobile
Communication: Essays on Cognition and Community, pp. 175 f. and 179.
62 A brilliant book on the subject is Colin Ware, Information Visualization (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 2000).
63 Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott and Martin Trow, The New
Production of Knowledge:The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: SAGE
Publications, 1994), pp. 38, 6, 39, 45, 44, 3.