The False Promises of the Digital Revolution

How Computers transform Education, Work, and International Development in Ways that are Ecologically Unsustainable

by C.A Bowers (Author)
©2014 Monographs X, 119 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 469


The False Promises of the Digital Revolution examines what currently goes largely unnoticed because of the many important uses of digital technologies. While many people interpret digital technologies as accelerating the global rate of progress, C. A. Bowers focuses attention on how they reinforce the deep and ecologically problematic cultural assumptions of the West: the myth of progress, the substitution of data for different cultural traditions of wisdom, the connections between print and abstract thinking, the myth of individual autonomy, the conduit view of language that hides how words (metaphors) reproduce earlier misconceptions, and a Social Darwinian justification for colonizing other cultures that is now leading to armed resistance – which, in turn, strengthens the ties between corporations, the military, and the computer science industry. The book also investigates how to understand the cultural non-neutrality of digital technologies; how print and the emphasis on data undermine awareness of the tacit information pathways between cultural and natural ecologies; and how to identify educational reforms that will contribute to a more informed public about the uses of digital technologies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: The Cultural Non-Neutrality of the Digital Revolution and the Deepening Ecological Crisis
  • The Language of Justification and Marginalization
  • Cultural Amplification and Reduction Characteristics of Technology
  • The Amplification/Reduction Characteristics of Print
  • Computers and the Loss of the Intergenerational Knowledge Essential to the Diversity of the World’s Cultural Commons
  • Chapter 3: The Digital Differences Between Community-Centered and Corporate Capitalism
  • Recovering Accountability in the Use of Our Political Language
  • The Digital Revolution, Community-Centered and Corporate Capitalism: Sorting Out the Differences and Sources of Influence
  • The Connections Between Community-Centered Capitalism, the Cultural Commons, and Living More Lightly on the Land
  • Examples of Communities and Groups Motivated by These Concerns
  • Corporate Capitalism in an Era of Declining Natural Resources
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 4: Why Cultures Cannot Be Reduced to Information and Data
  • How the Emerging Digital Age Is Deepening the Ecological Crisis by Undermining the World’s Cultural Commons
  • Chapter 5: How the Digital Revolution Contributes to the Colonization of Other Cultures and Increases the Threat of Terrorism
  • Other Western Forms of Progress that Will Lead to More Violence and Social Chaos
  • The Bottom Line in Today’s Politics: The Friend/Enemy Distinction
  • The Connections Between Surveillance and Friend/Enemy Politics Within the United States
  • The Local and National Alternatives to Friend/Enemy Politics
  • Chapter 6: Making the Connections Between Educational Reforms and Democratizing the Uses of Digital Technologies
  • The Continuing Hold of Archaic Ways of Thinking that Educational Reforms Must Address
  • Two Key Overarching Conceptual Frameworks—The Nature of Ecological Intelligence and the Linguistic Construction of Reality
  • 1) All Living Systems Are Ecologies—Including the Exercise of Intelligence
  • 2) What People Assume to Be Reality Is Largely Linguistically Constructed— and Thus Will Differ From Culture to Culture.
  • 3) Technology Issues to Be Discussed with Older Students and within Adult Learning Groups
  • The Double Binds We Face When Introducing Educational Reforms
  • Appendix: How the Online Revolution in Higher Education Will Lead to the Elimination of Faculty
  • Replacement of Workers (Professors) by Machines
  • How Print-Based Knowledge and Communication Contribute to the Further Spread of Abstract Knowledge and to the Process of Linguistic Colonization
  • How the Printed Word and Other Abstract Systems of Representation Undermine the Exercise of Ecological Intelligence Necessary to Reducing the Human Impact on Natural Systems
  • Are the Faculty and Computer Programmers, and Thus Students, Aware of the Importance of the Missing Information in Most Online Courses?
  • Who Is to Receive the Monetary Benefits from Online Courses?
  • One of the Moral Double Binds that Arises in the Industrialization of Higher Education
  • How Computer Scientists Are Greasing the Slippery Political Slope Leading to a Police State
  • References

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The sketch of the water fountain in the Alhambra in southern Spain, the totem pole of a Northwest indigenous culture, and Michelangelo’s painting of Jonah in the Sistine Chapel may all seem incongruous with the main themes of a book critical of the digital revolution. If the cover of the book were larger I would have included the iconic images of other cultures’ moral and conceptual world views. But these three iconic images are enough to make the point of what is being overlooked by the combination of computer scientists, corporations, and the military that are pursuing their goal of creating a global monoculture that relies on super-computers to make data-based decisions about how people should live their lives. The architectural beauty of the Alhambra is representative of one of the high points in the development of Muslim culture, just as the totem pole is representative of indigenous cultures that achieved an understanding of how to live in sustainable relationships with their bioregions. Michelangelo’s painting is a reminder of the Judeo-Christian traditions that are still very much alive. The central place it occupies in the sketch is not meant to suggest that it as more important than the other two iconic images.

These current worldviews, as well as those of cultures in other parts of the world, led to the development of languages that enabled people to understand relationships, make moral decisions, acquire a sense of self-identity, and to engage in activities that are the source of personal meaning (sometimes at the expense of others––including the natural environment). Over generations, each has created a cultural commons (in effect, a gift economy) that has enabled succeeding generations to survive in local ecosystems sometimes barely adequate to support more than a subsistence existence. Other cultures that existed in less restrictive ecosystems have developed the arts, a high level of ethno-science and ecologically informed technologies, and an expanded consciousness of life possibilities that extend beyond that of just surviving. The cultural commons of many of the world’s cultures have also carried forward traditions of exploitation of others, including the environment.

The main point here is not to extol the virtues of different world views. Rather it is to highlight that the world’s cultures are not being taken into account by the computer scientist/futurist thinkers who have fashioned a mix of Social Darwinism, market liberalism, and messianic progressivism into a theory of development that envisions not only the disappearance of all oral traditions that are the basis ← vii | viii → of intergenerational knowledge that sustains the world’s diversity of cultures but also the end of human life itself as the world moves into the post-biological era of evolutionary development. The majority of computer scientists working on specific advances in digital technologies, some highly useful while others are putting us on the slippery slope leading to a police state, are probably not even aware of the Social Darwinian/market liberal ideology promoted by the leading futurist thinkers in their field. They nevertheless continue to share the same silences of the computer visionaries: namely, that it is unnecessary to take account of how their inventions will transform the cultures into which they are introduced. The general failure of computer scientists to consider what is being lost that is essential to civil and ecologically sustainable cultures can only be attributed to the narrow education that most computer scientists receive. Unfortunately, their highly specialized education leads them to equate technological innovations with the myth of progress that has been for the last 500 or so years the dominant driving force in Western cultures. The narrowness of their education also accounts for their indifference to considering the cultural non-neutrality of technologies such as print and computers.

The iconic images on the front cover are intended as a reminder of what needs to be given attention now that the margins of survival are being rapidly reduced as a result of changes in the viability of natural systems, the increased pressure to acquire and exploit natural resources, and the loss of intergenerational knowledge that provided alternatives to a money and thus consumer-dependent existence. The main focus of this book is to challenge the myth that technologies, especially print and digital technologies are culturally neutral, and to make explicit the Darwinian/market liberal ideology that is being used to justify a colonizing agenda that will lead to a world monoculture where data will replace the world’s diversity of cosmologies. These foci account for the silences in my own analyses. I am hopeful that others begin to address these silences. That is, the next step is to clarify how the digital revolution, for all its important contributions, still perpetuates a new regime of “Truth” that can easily be transformed in the same way that the National Socialists of Germany also relied upon technology and Social Darwinism to destroy those who were deemed unfit and thus impediments to the forces of progress.

We now have important studies about how the digital revolution is degrading the democratic process by undermining the traditional role of in-depth journalism, the opportunities for employment as robots become more cost effective and more widely used, and are altering the quality of social relationships and an historically informed consciousness. We also have studies of how societies that have ← viii | ix → become more dependent upon digital technologies have become more militarized and have eroded the privacy rights of its citizens.

Now needed are ethnographic studies of how the introduction of digital technologies are changing the belief systems and patterns of intergenerational support systems within cultures in different regions of the world. These studies should also focus on the loss of wisdom traditions that are the basis of the cultures’ patterns of moral reciprocity and living ecologically sustainable lives. The urgency of carrying out these studies results from the possibility that the colonizing forces within the digital revolution maybe moving at such a rate that the generation within these different cultures who are still capable of remembering and practicing their culture’s wisdom traditions may be dying off, only to be replaced by the digital generation that has lost touch with the orally based knowledge of local contexts and face-to-face patterns of mutual support and cultural self-sufficiency.

Ray Kurzweil, a leading computer scientist/futurist thinker, predicts that by 2040 most work will be done by robots. Environmental scientists who study global changes in weather patterns are predicting that by around 2040 about 40 percent of the world’s population will not have access to adequate supplies of water. How will the digital transformation of the world’s cultures enable them to address these twin crises? This is only one of the major questions that now needs to be addressed.



X, 119
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
myth wisdom awareness progress
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 119 pp.

Biographical notes

C.A Bowers (Author)

C. A. Bowers (PhD, University of California) is a semi-retired professor who still writes and gives talks on educational reforms that address the cultural roots of the ecological crisis. He has written 24 books and has been invited to speak at 39 foreign and 42 American universities. His earlier book, Let Them Eat Data, has been translated into Japanese and Chinese.


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