Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies
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New Media and the Power of Culture

Bert Mulder
Information Advisor to the Dutch Parliament, Netherlands

Bert Mulder illustrated his lecture by displaying pages of the Power of Culture website on a large screen.

real audio fileNew media and the power of culture are the two forces that will shape society in the years to come. This presentation is about the meeting between these two forces. After a description of each of them their possible synergies and the work that needs to be done to realize that are outlined.

In what context should we see this power of culture? In what dynamic sense is it a power and what kind of power is it? What is it that awaits us in the coming years?

I think we can take this power almost literally and state that culture will be the driving force of developments in the next ten years. Developments in various sections of society show that in the coming five years culture will form the driving force behind the creation of new structures.

In recent publications on the economy, such as Fukuyama's Trust, the view is expressed that economic models need more at their centre than a rational agent optimizing a utilitarian position. Traditional economics is built on models that are no longer adequate. Fukuyama examines the differences between Japan, France, Germany and Italy and relates their cultural structure to the kind of economies they can sustain. Culture, and in this case social capital, is more basic to economic activity than the flow of money and the infrastructure. In their book Economies of Signs and Space the authors Lash and Urry discuss the increasing reflexivity in society and give what they call 'aesthetic reflexivity' a central role in the restructuring of society and economy. In their view the design and media industries are a necessary development in an age characterized by increasing complexity and change. The same development can be seen in education. The period in which knowledge remains applicable is so short that it is impossible to focus solely on the knowledge itself. Instead we need to learn how to learn. This depends more on the basic human qualities of the student and introduces the need for more profound values. That is why in the coming years we will see cultural values driving education more than content.

The same is true for employment. Education within companies increasingly addresses human qualities such as personal excellence while organizations attempt to create a culture that stimulates and upholds such values.

pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
Introduction (Madala Mphahlele)
David Nostbakken
Horst Stipp
Bert Mulder
Panel Discussion
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
General Introduction

There is a need and a longing to return to basic values. Basic values that we normally refer to as cultural values. Culture in this sense is not limited to artistic expression: this is culture in a broader sense. When we talk about the power of culture, it is a way of identifying this new direction. It replaces the power of money as a structural principle of economics. It replaces the notion of culture as purely aesthetic expression. It replaces the notion of culture as a given historical context of a people as a simple object for study. The power of culture defines the structuring element of the transition at the end of the twentieth century. Culture is not stability but change. It is not convergence but divergence. It is not constraint, but freedom, providing the tools for self expression.

When it comes to discussing new media, its complexity makes it hard to actually tell what new media is really about. Although we may explain the technology, its psychological, social and cultural consequences are hard to discern. Today it is often thought of as the Internet - a connection linking sixty thousand networks, allowing millions of people to communicate and distribute information. The Internet carries a so called website with a report on this conference. I wasn't at the conference yesterday, but before coming I was able to read the day's proceedings. And while this meeting is taking place in Amsterdam an almost live report is available immediately to a hundred million people all over the world at very low cost.

Basic ideas may, and do, recur in several cultures because cultures have partly common roots, build on similar human experiences and have, in the course of history, often learned from each other. In other words, cultures do not have sharply delineated boundaries.

Inleiding Report 'Our Creative Diversity'

The use of these technologies is growing at an incredible rate. Recently, I was in Prague visiting a conference on the use on information technology in parliaments. It showed that all European parliaments were present on the Internet. But just one year before, the Internet was not even mentioned in any of their strategic plans. They had no budget for it and didn't even know how to spell it. A year later they are all connected and all their information is on Internet. Why is that? What is this driving force, this power behind new media? And what effect does it have on us? At the same time we must realize that in this form new media is more present in industrialized countries than elsewhere. A telling example of this is that two thirds of the world's population has never made a telephone call.

In the perspective of this conference, new media may be a platform to combine the power of culture and that of information technology. Let's look at the new media as a technology expressing the symbolic domain, the domain of information. Then we have to consider the question what new media – for example the Internet – actually offers. On the one hand it carries information and distributes it. On the other hand it is a tool for communication. That is why on the conference website there is both information about the contributors and communication through which participants may exchange views.

TV and new media like the Internet are all very well, but in Africa, that has an eighth of the world's population, almost nobody has a TV.
(Allister Sparks)

Experience shows that communication leads to increased co-ordination and co-operation, creating interdependence. The information society is therefore an interdependent society where people are forced to care about one another, otherwise society breaks down. This is already happening as we have seen in the economy and global politics. That is also why UNESCO's publication carries New Global Ethics as its first chapter, identifying the need for a common ground to host the necessary diversity. On the website of the conference the theme of New Global Ethics has its own page.The page carries interesting links on the left side. There we can jump to the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. It's just one example of the immense amount of cultural content that the Internet carries. The site is in the United States. Besides being a good example of information on ethics, it is also an excellent example of a new scientific journal that exists only in electronic form. This whole new breed of scientific publications significantly changes the possibilities for scientific dialogue through the use of a new infrastructure.

We can now surf a network of information. Having jumped from the conference website on the power of culture, we are now on an Internet site that is the focus of a network on Buddhist ethics. Let us examine the power of this network. Here is a link to global resources for Buddhist studies. The page offers a list of almost a hundred websites dealing with Buddhist studies all over the world. Every site is a catalyst, a hub in a network of related information. And each of those points of information is a catalyst in its own right and we can jump from network to network. The webpage on our own conference site mentions not only the Journal of Buddhist Ethics but also human rights and Islam, which brings us to a site concerning Islam. Although we don't know where this site is or who maintains it, it appears on our screen and we use it to jump to another site showing the Qur'an and numerous related sites all over the world. To read the Qur'an we now access a site in the US and we see the first surah of the Qur'an in Arabic. This is the kind of thing new media can do, unlocking vast amounts of information on profound cultural and existential values in a diversity of cultures.

Normally interdependence is intended to refer to trade, foreign investment, the flow of money and capital, and the migration of people. Rapid progress in transport and communications, in particular technological advances such as optic cables, computer microchips, fax machines and satellite transmissions, have shrunk the world.

The report: Introduction
Seeing this inspiring information may give us hope but there are many issues that need to be addressed when we want to develop the possible synergies between new media and culture. Firstly, although the potential may be enormous and much may have been achieved, new media is still mainly a phenomenon in industrial nations. Another, much deeper issue is that on the Internet what you see is only the representation of information. All it is, is text. I may see the Qur'an, but at the same time I was educated in a Christian world, with a Christian and Western scientific background. How can I understand the Qur'an? I could read this text - actually I can't read it, but I could read a translation - however, how am I supposed to understand it?

Now that all this information is out there - and it will keep on increasing - it may play a role in stimulating a new global ethic and the creative diversity of cultures. We need to develop a creative and constructive dialogue to enable the integration of all this intercultural activity, and to raise the level of the discussion around this information to a higher plane will be an important part of that.

The Power of Culture is a new endeavour in which we are actually creating a new form of culture whereby each of us is rooted within his or her own particular culture, but in which we understand the other cultures. The basis is that we understand that there is a creative diversity which we each need to manage individually. The power of culture will be the major structuring principle of the next decade. Not the power of money, or of war. It is the power of culture that we return to when we are looking for a framework to order society. As a result, the need for cultural information in all its various forms will increase. The growing need will ensure that there will be no reason to actively spread it. All that is required is that the information be available in the right form. People will use it in courses, in business education, in government courses, or in teacher training. Cultural information and human values will turn up everywhere as a referential framework. It is important to understand that this will happen not because we would like it to be this way, as an idealistic goal, but because it is a necessary development in a time of great personal and social change and increasing interdependence.

Combining the power of culture and the power of new media will provide enormous opportunities. Yet it remains more of a problem than a solution. The problem is partly a question of access and technology, but mainly a question of content. Although we may have access to information on other cultures the ability to see through their eyes to understand its meaning requires another kind of development.

The Qur'an puts great emphasis on the right to seek justice and the duty to do justice. In the context of justice, the Qur'an uses two concepts: 'adl and ihsan. Both are enjoined and both are related to the idea of balance, but are not identical in meaning.
Conference: Speach Riffat Hassan

As always, the problem is staring us in the face and we will solve it. The quality of the solution will be determined by what we actually do with the content and the meaning we give to the intercultural dialogue. Indeed each of us will be involved, at however small or large a scale, in creative diversity. Each of us will be able to understand what it means to be Chinese, in such a way that we will respect the Chinese mind. We will understand what it means to be an Indian, to be an Aborigine or a Native American. All this in a way that enables us to respect the other's position even though we will never be Native Americans ourselves. And that is an entirely new way of integrating this kind of knowledge. This new area of development is one of the interesting things about the conference and the UNESCO report. It marks a transition from culture as a given context, alongside all the other cultures - one of which is ours - to the power of culture in which culture actually becomes something that shapes a person's individuality in the midst of a creative diversity.
Challenges of a media-rich world