Communication with Computers, or How Next Society Calls for an Understanding of Temporal Form
Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift fuer soziologische Theorie, Vol. 13, pp. 409-420, 2007
12 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2011
Date Written: January 1, 2007
Communication via electronic media of communication, Niklas Luhmann assumes in his book Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, is not only different from communication via other media of dissemination, most notably language, writing, and the printing press, but it is also forcing society to change both its structure and its culture by catastrophically presenting society with an overflow of meaning. This new overflow of meaning cannot be dealt with by the structure and culture forms of society, which proved able to deal with the overflows produced by language, writing, and the printing press. The computer, as Luhmann sees it, is separating the input of data into the computer from the retrieval of these data, thus separating utterance from understanding and enabling computations on these data opaque to any user. "Who is feeding the computer with data," Luhmann is writing, "does not know (and if he knew he did not need the computer) what will be retrieved out of it." There is an overflow of data with no hints as to which actions and intentions might lend it accountability. Mediated via the screen, presenting us with a new relation between surface and depth, known before only from religion (and art), communication becomes dependent from structural couplings with an "invisible machine," which add to those structural couplings traditional societies entertain with spirits, ghosts, and gods, and modern society entertains with human consciousness. The present paper is trying to emphasize Luhmann's original insight and to look at the two arguments this insight consists of. It leads to an account of the notion of temporal form, which may turn out to provide for the cultural form enabling next society to deal with the communication overflow produced by computers and their derivatives.
Keywords: computer, culture, Luhmann, society
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