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Culture: Uniting Us and Preparing Us for the Future*
These days culture is defined in terms of services, and services are
measured by technology. The issue of who serves whom and for what reason has
yet to be resolved. Is the individual one more expendable piece in the
machinery of the State and corporations? And are networks-- or the
information highway as Bill Gates likes to call it – the cloth that turns
everything into products, including individuals and culture?
In an ever-changing world that is increasingly more unbalanced, information tends to level things. While on the one hand it does not resolve the issues regarding the dignity of life – such as access to health, education, housing and work – it does tend to even out the borders of other cultures and create a homogenous culture, one in which only very few people exist. Resolving this conflict is the main challenge for the future.
In some unique areas, electronic knowledge has replaced books. This is not necessarily a bad sign, but we must recognize that books, which hold the memory of humanity, are unavoidable goods. If we abolish books– whose death has been predicted by those who predict the end of the world, novels, theater, socialism and even the end of religion – we run the risk of an unexpected blackout, an incurable virus that hinders the memory of mankind.
In the national archives of Washington, DC, experts are alarmed because too much virtual information has been accumulated, and thousands of documents that are only 15 years old are unreadable because current software is a thousand times faster. The official decision to copy really interesting photographs and texts to paper recognizes the redeeming role of the printed page in culture.
Books are the primary source of knowledge and research. They depict what is happening on an ongoing basis and nourish all other languages: television, radio, Internet and CD-Roms that need to be updated year after year, month after month. Information that is contained in books is ongoing: think of the stories of civilization, information regarding evolution and tragedy. We are who books tell us we are. We must make knowledge available to everyone.
People read more these days, that’s for certain. But there are fewer people reading. At the pace at which social inequalities are growing, we could help the paradox of an entire library being condensed onto a single CD-Rom, to which only a very small percentage of potential readers could have access. All human knowledge could fit in a hand, but that hand would not belong to all people.
In essence, what prepares us is not all that we know, but all that we do not know. In the helplessness of the universe, books --and the networks that stem from them-- are our only vehicles for comprehension. What fighting has done to separate us and take us back to the past has been compensated by what culture has done to unite us and prepare us for the future. In this situation, we need to respond the question “how can we use the resources that Internet offers us to strengthen and expand culture as a link for solidarity and growth among our people??
Tomás Eloy Martínez
Director of the Latin American Study Program
Rutgers University, New Jersey (USA)
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.