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On the Internet

av Hubert L. Dreyfus

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1753118,429 (3.46)Ingen/inga
Drawing on a diverse array of thinkers from Plato to Kierkegaard, On the Internet is one of the first books to bring philosophical insight to the debate on how far the internet can and cannot take us. Dreyfus shows us the roots of the disembodied, free floating web surfer in Descartes' separation of mind and body, and how Kierkegaard's insights into the birth of the modern reading public anticipate the news-hungry, but disinterested risk avoiding internet junkie. Drawing on recent studies of the isolation experienced by many internet users, Dreyfus shows how the internet's privatisation of experience ignores essential human capacities such as trust, moods, risk, shared local concerns and commitment. On the Internet is essential reading for anyone on line and all those interested in our place in the e-revolution.… (mer)
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Although brief, the book provides a very thoughtful examination of how life online may or may not enhance human existence. The second edition came out, though, before Google (et al) introduced its personalized search algorithm(s?). Additionally, I would have appreciated some commentary on issues of privacy and of targeted advertising, but those topics may have taken Dreyfus away from his examination of embodiment versus virtual reality. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Feb 9, 2012 |
I enjoyed it. Some de-hype, some highlighting of genuine points, some references to philosophers (Plato. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche...) in the context of e-learning, newsgroups or Second Life. Easy to digest for philosophy aficionados like me spending more hours using connected devices than reading deep essays. ( )
  qgil | Jan 20, 2011 |
If technology followers have heard of philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, it's probably for his 1978 critique of symbolic artificial intelligence, What Computers Can't Do: The Limits of Artificial Intelligence, and the 1992 sequel, What Computers Still Can't Do. Though initially dismissed strongly by some in the AI community, Dreyfus's work eventually was seen to have a positive effect on AI research and the discourse surrounding it, and in fact directly influenced the directions some computer scientists subsequently followed in their research. [1]

On The Internet, though published five years ago, touches on several topics actively debated in 2006. Dreyfus addresses claims made for the net in four areas: the hyperlinking of knowledge, distance learning, telepresence, and collective action in virtual communities.

In "The Hype about Hyperlinks", Dreyfus refutes the sort of arguments that say that we add value to information simply by linking it together electronically. Dreyfus points out that we're still a long way from accurate, relevant information retrieval on the net. Semantic information gets lost in an ideal "hyper-connected library" compared to the traditional kind. When I first read this chapter, I thought it sounded a bit dated for 2006, given the current Google worship, and the "semantic web" and all that. But we're easily fooled into thinking Google works well just because it returns some relevant results. You can't have confidence that you're getting any kind of inclusive coverage, the way you might if you went to a reference librarian and asked for all the important information on a given topic. I also thought when I read this that nobody still used that kind of rhetoric about the power of linking information together, but then I read about Kevin Kelly's utopia of hyperlinked snippets in his recent New York Times Magazine article.

In "How Far is Distance Learning from Education," Dreyfus considers the promise of distance learning over the net as a substitute for traditional classroom teaching. Dreyfus writes that learning consists of seven stages: novice, advanced beginner, competence, proficiency, expertise, mastery, and practical wisdom. Distance learning, where the student has no personal contact with the teacher, can at best produce competence. Beyond that, human involvement is necessary for the encouragement and apprenticeship required for proficiency, expertise, or mastery. Later in the book, Dreyfus describes some of his own experiences with recorded audio or video of lectures as a substitute for class attendance. He found that with most students, audio lectures worked perfectly well, but only after the student attended the first few lectures to get the necessary personal context. Dreyfus favors using the tools of the net to supplement teaching, but doesn't feel they'll ever replace classroom teaching because personal presence is necessary.

This leads to the question: what if virtual reality telepresence became so effective that it could be just like being there in person? Dreyfus responds to this in the next chapter, "Disembodied Telepresence and the Remoteness of the Real." In short, Dreyfus doesn't believe this will ever happen. Real "embodiment" and presence are much deeper and subtler than we realize. For his arguments, Dreyfus borrows from E.M. Forster's classic story, "The Machine Stops," and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's theories of embodied perception.

In the final chapter, "Nihilism on the Information Highway: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age," Dreyfus considers "virtual communities" as championed by Howard Rheingold and others, who have argued that the net is fostering new and better social networking and community activism. Certainly it's true that on-line organizing can work, but Dreyfus's criticism is that online communities threaten to replace real-life communities, and that would be unfortunate, as in-person communication is surely superior. As with education, Dreyfus feels that personal embodiment is vital to making groups work.

It would be a mistake to see Dreyfus's book as being against the internet -- he's clearly quite happy to recognize and use it where it helps. What he's done here is introduce new, philosophical ways to think more deeply about what it truly does and does not offer.

[1] Val Dusek, Philosophy of Technology, Blackwell, 2006. p. 77.

(Reviewed at Question Technology: http://www.questiontechnology.org/blog/2006/06/on_the_internet.html) ( )
  kevinarthur | Jun 6, 2008 |
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Drawing on a diverse array of thinkers from Plato to Kierkegaard, On the Internet is one of the first books to bring philosophical insight to the debate on how far the internet can and cannot take us. Dreyfus shows us the roots of the disembodied, free floating web surfer in Descartes' separation of mind and body, and how Kierkegaard's insights into the birth of the modern reading public anticipate the news-hungry, but disinterested risk avoiding internet junkie. Drawing on recent studies of the isolation experienced by many internet users, Dreyfus shows how the internet's privatisation of experience ignores essential human capacities such as trust, moods, risk, shared local concerns and commitment. On the Internet is essential reading for anyone on line and all those interested in our place in the e-revolution.

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