The Civilization of Illiteracy

9 February 2007 at 10:27 pm 1 comment

I was just browsing through Project Gutenberg for fun–what else does one do on a Friday night?!–and stumbled upon a copyrighted book (I thought they were all public domain books) from 1997 title The Civilization of Illiteracy by Mihai Nadin. As I browsed the table of contents I noticed the phrase “cognitive energy” and of course thought of my concept of “energonomics”:

Networking, which at its current stage barely suggests things to come, can only be compared to the time electricity became widely available. Cognitive energy exchanged through networks and focused on cooperative endeavors is part of what lies ahead as we experience exponential growth on digital networks and fast learning curves of efficient handling of their potential.

This reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of the emerging “noosphere” as well as a few books I’ve been looking at that suggest the radical changes Mihai Nadin suggests–Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything being one of them. His thesis, as presented in brief on Amazon, claims that “literacy as a dominant framework of human activity is no longer adequate.” This is similar to what I was saying in a recent conference presentation about all of the new literacies that we are now required to learn. One encompassing term, “electracy,” attempts to capture the paradigm shift that Nadin is perhaps trying to suggest in his very long 900 page book.

Elsewhere, he suggests that equitable access to the digital resources now (and soon to be) available will put people in touch with this “cognitive energy”:

Representing the underlying structure of the pragmatics of the
civilization of illiteracy, the digital becomes a resource, not
unlike electricity, and not unlike other resources tapped in the
past for increasing the efficiency of human activity. In the
years to come, this aspect will dominate the entire effort of
the acculturation of the digital. Today, as in the Industrial
Age of cars and other machines, the industry still wants to put
a computer on every desk. The priority, however, should be to
make computation resources, not machines, available to everyone.
Those still unsure about the Internet and the World Wide Web
should understand that what makes them so promising is not the
potential for surfing, or its impressive publication
capabilities, but the access to the cognitive energy that is
transported through networks.

The other book I think of when I read this is Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence: “Genuinely human existence-like all true encounters between individuals–is born, perpetuates itself, and finds its unity in thought” (244).


Entry filed under: books, collective intelligence, electracy, energonomics.

Reason for Hope Complexity Economics

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. ggwfung  |  10 February 2007 at 5:05 am

    it’s definitely a different way of dealing with information.

    On the question of “pure literacy” I think the best measure would be a vocabulary test. Words are a shorthand for ideas, the more words the more tools for thought.



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