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Sunday October 26, 2008

What's next: Life in the era of high speed communication


“What’s next? Realities from the writings by Marshall McLuhan on society, and a critical reflection on western democracies; answers to the uncertainties of the future with the necessity of major information transparency; openness towards new technologies.
These were some of the themes touched upon by Renato Barilli, (University of Bologna) and Remo Bodei, (UCLA) on Oct. 21 at the Italian Cultural Institute, in answer to the theme of the What’s Next? international conference – four days of reflection organized by the Department of Italian Studies of the University of Toronto.
The Italian Ambassador to Canada, Gabriele Sardo, welcomed guests, along with Institute director Martin Stiglio, and reminded the audience that the eighth edition of the Italian Language Week is also currently underway. The theme of this eighth edition is “la piazza” [town square], a centre of discussion, of dialogue, of debate.
“I see here, coming together,” said Sardo, “contributions from Italians, Canadians, and Canadians who feel they are Italian - three worlds that haven’t always co-operated but that at this time have united not just for [the sake of] the theme, but also in spirit.”
Italian Language Week also includes, among its Toronto events, the What’s Next? conference. During his opening speech, Stiglio highlighted, how the intervention of Barilli on the reality of McLuhan’s thoughts closely approaches the “piazza” theme. During opening day of the conference, very topical current were brought up for discussion: the financial crisis, the upcoming U.S. elections, reasons for increased voter abstinence - as was evident in the recent Canadian elections – and the proliferation of information on Internet. And McLuhan’s thoughts can serve as a key in understanding the current reality: “What’s in store for us? A proliferation of McLuhan’s thoughts,” said Barilli. “A pebble thrown into the pond of ’60s culture, whose waves are slowly expanding with no hint of stopping.”
Openness towards Asia, the idea of a society being the sum of its individuals, and the overcoming of dualism “through a mediatory process” are points that demonstrate, according to Barilli, how the wave of thought from the Canadian sociologist continues to spread.

“First of all, there’s mediation, there’s connection – we’re all on a single net[work],” says the teacher from Bologna. From here on are the ethical-political consequences, and the possibility of re-thinking the electoral process of parliamentary democracies. “Just 50% vote,” says Barilli. “The voting system that seemed perfect maybe isn’t,” and borrowing from the [McLuhan’s] global village idea, Barilli says we must overcome the idea that the “individual [is] at the top of social values [the social value system]” and we must “find modes of expression for the community, as a form of communitarian democracy.”
The current financial crisis especially demonstrates how “the ego has been defeated by the contemporary culture, and the ego crisis requires community-level intervention.”
The speed of change and the uncertainties of the future are the themes dealt with by Bodei, to answer the question “What’s Next?” Time for waiting, for redemption, and for revolution is over. “Existence as a preparatory event becomes difficult to conceptualize and defend,” says the philosopher, and so “the idea of compensation becomes a mute point.” Bodei speaks of a “historic shock,” of the “destruction of the soul as a tough and eternal core.” And more: loss of faith in the authorities of the democratic society, failure of the political system, “privatization of the future” built on a foundation of individualism and the speed of change are other aspects identified by Bodei. So, how to confront the future?
“Information is fundamental for reducing uncertainty, to make predictions based on facts. But if these facts are hidden, as in the Enron and Parmalat cases, one cannot intervene.” Therefore, Bodei invites everyone to fight against the powers that hide, to fight for transparency of information so that the future can be made less unpredictable. But there are elements that, according to the teacher/lecturer, give us hope: biotechnologies, for example, “that force us to upset our parameters” but that can help us alleviate human suffering. “There are about 6,000 genetic diseases,” he emphasizes. And citing the immigration experience, Bodei concludes that “we’re all migrants over time. Memory as an aspect of continuity, with an opening to the future, is required to begin anew.”