Digital Dualism

Dualism has both philosophical and theological definitions. On one hand, it is the belief that there exist two states of being. Descartes developed, and is commonly associated with, the concept of mind-body dualism in which mind and matter are distinct and capable of independent existence. Metaphysical dualism raises new problems when one considers Norbert Wiener's concept of "cybernetics" and the problem of distinguishing man and machine. As computers continue to increase in processing power according to Moore's law [28], and as artificial intelligence approaches human intelligence, philosophical issues demand new attention.

Today's world is one in which information is gaining the upper hand over raw materials, where software is more valuable than hardware, and where, according to Negroponte (1995), bits are more important than atoms. One might also say, borrowing from Descartes, that in today's information society the issue is often mind over matter. Today, more than ever, information exists in digital form. As traditional media make the migration to digital acquisition, processing, and distribution, they merge with the computer world. Digital information, code written as a series of binary digits, 1s or 0s, is essentially dichotomous. At any point in time, the signal is either on or off, 1 or 0, but never in between. So albeit in a very crude way, digital media exists in a dualistic state.

Another type of duality found in the Web is due to its unique form and communication potential. Carey (1992), posited two models of communication: the "transmission" and the "ritual" (p. 18). According to Carey, "If the archetypal case of communication under a transmission view is the extension of messages across geography for the purpose of control, the archetypal case under a ritual view is the sacred ceremony that draws persons together in fellowship and commonality" (p. 18). The nature of networked computer-mediated communication on the Web captures the dualistic nature of Carey's models. The Web is a mass medium with one-to-many potential while, at the same time, enabling many-to-many and one-to-one interpersonal modes of communication. By its very nature, the Web is a dichotomy of communication technologies. As expressed by Paul Saffo, a computer industry consultant at the Institute for the Future, the Web is "television colliding with the telephone party line."


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