2002 / 11月
Laura Li /tr. by Josh Aguiar
In this era of burgeoning mass media, the rapid emergence of the digital industry has changed every aspect of life, as well as giving rise to an endless stream of controversy. How can we best make use of technology without being enslaved by it? This issue merits consideration.
1. Thinking Through Images
Digital content primarily strives for novelty and excitement, employing every kind of iconic representation and cartoonish figure to seize the attention of the audience. But the use of such images invariably entails arbitrariness, simplification, and superficiality. The e-Generation's predilection for image-based reasoning is causing their patience for serious reading and logical writing to gradually erode. Their writing is incoherent and even in spoken language they show a tendency towards the abbreviated, partially formed language favored by commercials; in the end, their actual meaning evaporates in a flash of fragmented information.
2. The Digital Divide
The most impressive digital content appears as multimedia. A one-minute video clip only requires about ten seconds to download via broadband Internet, but using narrowband may require six to ten times that long. In order to ensure smooth downloading and broadcasting, computer hardware and software require continuous upgrading. In addition, monthly broadband service costs range from NT$600-1000, which is too steep for some families. Thanks to the pervasiveness of cable TV, the broadband fiber optic cable network in Taiwan is almost as extensive as in European and North American countries. However, many places in Taiwan's mountainous regions and outlying islands are still underdeveloped in this regard.
In addition, as computer multimedia technology continues to mature, embedded video recorders, 3D glasses, other installations that allow for vivid sensory experience and simulated physical contact will soon be becoming available. Though the rich will be able to fully enjoy the thrill of the virtual world, poor folk will only be left with a deepened sense of deprivation.
Moreover, in regard to the ease of accessing information, it is estimated that at present 80% of Internet information is in English, while a mere 5% is in Chinese. For educated people and those in society's upper crust, this translates into the ability to procure the information that can assist them with their financial, scholastic, and career plans. In a society where "information equals power," it is apparent that the gulfs between urban and rural, rich and poor will be increasingly difficult to traverse. Disparities in digital technology accordingly will become one of the world's most controversial issues.
3. Addiction and Alienation
The rise of the World Wide Web has produced an explosion of information which has since coursed through Internet channels, and in the process placed a tremendous burden on the shoulders of those employed in information-related fields. Now with various information technologies we are afforded the leisure of accessing digitized information wherever and whenever we so desire. As a result, there are those who are stricken with a kind of information obsessive disorder-they browse away ritualistically for five or six hours on end downloading, cutting and pasting, after which they toss it all aside to embark on a new search. Information has become a new sedative that numbs the intellect and the will to think.
In order to prevent children from getting hooked on digital technology too early, elementary schools in many countries with widespread computer facilities place great emphasis on in-person, "real" interaction between students and teachers. And when the Yuletide season arrives, every Internet portal does more than merely provide electronic greeting cards to send friends, but also serves up a reminder that no greeting card, however flashy, can compete with being together with family. Likewise, virtual travel sites, no matter how vivid, cannot compare to making the journey in the flesh.
4. Virtual Nightmare?
Digital content is chiefly about entertainment, and violence lies at the heart of it all, especially in computer role-playing games. Children assume the role of the weapon-toting commando and in the process attain a level of concentration and immersion that easily surpasses that of watching TV or movies. Trend expert John Naisbitt, in his High Tech, High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, discusses the threat posed to American youth by violent virtual reality games (especially lifelike combat games), stating that they render children unable to distinguish between real and virtual. This in turn has generated a slew of on-campus firearms attacks that have left American society reeling.
Digital technology is developed to the point where the virtual and the real have merged. Psychiatrists have employed virtual bridges and ladders to assist patients in overcoming their fear of heights; military units make use of computers to effectively perform simulated combat training exercises. And recently people have been making friends via the Internet, engaging in "spiritual" affairs, with some even going as far as having "digital marriages" to testify to their commitment-these kinds of digital involvements have already put many real marriages in peril. Could the movie The Matrix, in which real and virtual are nightmarishly inverted, be a herald of things to come? It's certainly food for thought.