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The Digital “Aura” in a World of Abundance

From Scarcity to Abundance

Twenty years ago, I had a dream that was to live day and night, especially the night, in a library. Today, this dream has become a reality: we all live in a huge library, where almost all the written books of the classical literature are instantaneously accessible, by day as by night. By the way, the world of knowledge is dramatically changing. It's becoming a world of abundance where all pieces of information are permanently at the disposal of everybody. To appreciate the amplitude of the evolution, let us have a glance into the past. Up to the end of the Middle Age, books were so expensive and so difficult to manipulate that only the happy few had access to them. In addition, this access was not permanent: it was required to be through a library or a monastery, which precluded access during travels, even for the richest. In the modern age, printing techniques allowed the reduction of cost and size of books and consequently their dissemination. However, despite these improvements in manufacturing, books were always expensive and inconvenient, which restricted their access to a small part of the population. It was only with the industrialization of the printing techniques, at the end of the nineteenth century, that the literature, the newspapers, the philosophical and scientific essays and more generally all kinds of writings have begun to broadly disseminate across all society. In parallel, the techniques of lithography, invented at the end of the eighteenth century but which have received a considerable development during the nineteenth century, considerably facilitated the reproduction of pictures, which was largely used to enrich books, newspapers and posters. Lastly, photography, invented in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and then the phonograph and cinematography, both invented by the end of the nineteenth century, allowed progressively the automatic reproduction of pictures, sounds and movement.

Nowadays, with the development of information technologies, the movement of mechanical reproduction seems to have been considerably amplified. It is neither surprising, nor new: this had already been anticipated in the twentieth century by thinkers like Paul Valery in 1931 in a small text entitled “La conquête de l'ubiquité” (Valéry 1928). However, today, the quantity of available contents exceeds, far more than ever, our cognitive abilities. It results in modifications in our perception of works of the mind in general and of works of art in particular. Do these transformations simply prolong and extend the movement initiated in the nineteenth century with the mechanical reproduction or do they constitute a new qualitative step that characterizes entering into a world of abundance? That is the question we would like to discuss here.

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