The Digital Dialectic Summary

The Digital Dialectic

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The contributors to The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media can barely conceal their enthusiasm for the new digital media that are in the process of transforming not only our tools and games but the entire way we live and think. A revolution is underway, and at stake is nothing less than the structure of our mind, body, society, and value system. Each contributor celebrates this revolution but also analyzes the shocks and dislocations that mark any such transitional period. Their primary concern is not so much technical as ethical, and their shared faith is that through careful consideration and conscious choice we can manage this revolution, turning the digitally enhanced Virtual Reality into, to coin a phrase, a Virtuous Reality: one that is humane, communitarian, empowering, compassionate, imaginative, and ethically responsible.

This may seem utopian, but each essayist takes great pains to engage with skeptics and anti-technological Luddites. The “dialectic” that provides the title for the volume refers largely to the necessary dialogue between critics of techno-society and the new generation of technophiles, a back and forth process of mutual education. The essays help technophobes gain a fuller understanding of, without being frightened away by, the contours of the new digital world described herein, with its aesthetics of the unfinished and non-linear, new environment of cyberspace and hypertext, and optimistic vision of extropy, that is, life always building up rather than running down. And the essays also demonstrate how technophiles can learn to ground their “network idealism” in a thorough-going “technalysis,” responsibly addressing the fundamental question, “What is the moral content of the cultural identity we are building with digital media?”

There is much to be startled by in The Digital Dialectic, including the realization that the technological revolution is already here—that in a very real sense we are already cyborgs—but the authors offer many thoughtful observations on, to use Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, how to shape the media that are shaping us.