Sylvia Petter

Listening to the Engineers of the Imagination

In 2003, I submitted the following paper to a conference in Vienna on The Unifying Aspects of Culture and spoke about the need for writers to break down what I perceived as barriers of the mind against them sharing their work on the Internet. Thirteen years later, hardly a writer is not on the Net in some way, be it through online journals, blogs, Amazon or social media.

2003 was also a year full of hope for an information society heralded by a World Summit that to my mind has itself now become a tired apparatus for stakeholders to pay lip service to a not so brave and no longer so new world, although in the background a new world order is becoming visible despite efforts to uphold a mechanism once noble but sadly stuck in a past already relegated to history.

Back in 2003, concerns that may have kept writers and artists at bay were cyber security and freedom of expression. Today these concerns rule and have spawned industries of their own – either for or against.  Yet, writers write. The word has never been so strong. The information society, however, has become parcelled up into delineated areas ruled by political belligerency and greed. What has been lost in the thirteen years since the first preparatory meetings for an information society is not the technology – no, that has been striding forward apace – but ethics and empathy, human features no machine can replace.  Control is of the essence, by whom and for what, nobody seems to care, as long as the pie is negotiated, and après moi le deluge.

But writers write, so instead of the pundits and politicians with use-by-dates, why not listen to writers? More and more journalists are being killed, imprisoned and muzzled. Even poets are dangerous in the eyes of a growing number of would-be czars and rulers. Self-censorship, a subtle control spinoff of the powers that be, is stronger than ever. Listen to the writers of fiction: Orwell’s 1984 has become part of the vernacular, but a second look at the Stieg Larsson tales may throw light on a cabal, as does Timothy Findley´s Famous Last Words. Not just Kafka pointed to Amerika! Nobel Prize-winning US author Sinclair Lewis even foresaw the rise of Donald Trump in his 1935 novel It Can´t Happen Here. Margaret Atwood´s dystopian novel, The Handmaid´s Tale, is as topical as ever as a picture of how far we have come. It´s all been said, but do we listen? Just fiction?

Writers are writing. And they are writing on the Net. There are stories on Twitter, almost allegories, memes cry out for our attention, cartoons and artwork. But those who vote in international fora, those who veto and bomb, those who form alliances, which on a smaller scale could be considered as those of the abused and depraved, in short the bully powers in search of a copycat, are given full hearing and may act with impunity.

Rather than a focus on IoT, the Internet of Things, surely we should be focussing on ensuring that the information society nurtures its humanity rather than pursuing Faustian deals in favour of a New World Order lacking in empathy and soul. Writers and artists, the engineers of the imagination, needed to be heard in 2003 and still need to be heard today.

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