Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cult Following, Part Two

Obviously, there is similarity in the titles of both Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur (2007) and Theodor Roszak's The Cult of Information (1986). Both of them also claim the ethos of the cognoscenti and categorically deny that they are technophobes. Keen describes himself as "an apostate, an insider now on the outside who has poured out his cup of Kool-Aid and resigned his membership in the cult," and Roszak compares himself to the boy in the fairy tale saying that the emperor has no clothes, although he also points out that the "manuscript for this book was typed on a word processor," and that "at numerous points, the research for the text made extensive use of electronic data bases." Like Keen's book it's also full of stories from the author's professional and personal life as he explains the roots of his skepticism.

However, Roszak's reading of religious fervor around technology is considerably more subtle, in that it focuses on the "folklore" of technology and looks closely at the history of information theory and the contributions to the field of computer science and signal processing by sometimes problematic pioneers like Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener. It's also a more theoretically sophisticated book: it uses the theories of Habermas rather than merely name-drops or tells anecdotes about the contemporary German philosopher. In pointing out the Weberian character of electronic bureaucracy, Roszak facilitates dialogue with scholars like Jane Fountain, who work on Weberian theory and the "virtual state." Furthermore,in its critique of educational technology, it presents a much more nuanced argument about "vested interests" instead of a tirade like that of the book version of Digital Diploma Mills by David Noble. Even twenty years later, Roszak's book is still relevant, while Keen's may not be.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home