IT and Postmodernity

There is a connection between information technology (IT) and postmodernity. This connection is, however, very complex. IT and postmodernity belong to completely different disciplines; furthermore, the concept 'postmodernity' itself is unclear and highly ambiguous. However, just because the concept ‘postmodernity' is so difficult to grasp, it is a task for philosophy to clarify its significations. According to my understanding of postmodernity, which is based on Jean-François Lyotard, postmodernity means postmodern culture, postmodern (cultural) situation, or postmodern conditions (for science and politics).

There exists some contempt against the notions ‘postmodern', ‘postmodernity' and ‘postmodernism'. This is perhaps a reason why these concepts haven't been more investigated by philosophers, although there is a rich literature about the subject. In any case, the word ‘postmodernity' is a frequently used concept, that has significance for the understanding of the contemporary information society. If the concept already is old fashioned, the reason might be that the postmodern condition is taken for granted. The perspective, that the "modern" culture could give on the contemporaneity, has been lost.

The concept ‘postmodern' plays an important role in interpretations of the contemporary society and the contemporary culture. The lack of definitions makes general discussion about the contemporaneity very difficult. In order for the concept ‘postmodern' to be useful in such a discussion, it doesn't, however, need a single, universal definition. What instead is needed is insight in how different significations of the concept are connected with each other. My point of view (that is partially influenced by Wittgenstein) is that the word ‘postmodernity' cannot be given any distinct meanings. Instead, the different meanings are interconnected. Only for this reason, the individual ways in which the word is used are meaningful.

The concept ‘postmodernity' is connected to a postmodern age, but at the same time postmodernity make divisions of history to universal eras impossible. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify which possibilities philosophy of history offers this concept. These philosophical conditions depend on the means of communication and information technology. Information technology is probably a essential course behind the plurality of perspectives an "small stories", that is typical for our time.

Analyses of concepts and especially analyses of the concept ‘postmodernity' demand historical investigations. A historical investigation is likely to show that from an early moment the concept ‘postmodernity' was connected to information technology, although one instead of using the concept ‘IT' was talking about communication technology (Amitai Ezioni), automatisation, computerised societies, post industrial society (Lyotard), telematics and electronic media (Gianni Vattimo). A distinction between two different fields that are influenced by information technology should at this place perhaps be done: methods of production (automatisation) and media (electronic, digital and computer-based media). The relevance of this distinction, which represent the difference between the metahistories of Marx and McLuhan respectively, has nevertheless decreased as a result of new media and content production. Globalization is another important factor that supports postmodernization, but also globalization is a result of the development of means of communication and information technology.

The concept ‘postmodernity' is, like postmodernity or the postmodern culture themselves, older than so called new media, but the new media seems to fit still better together with the "postmodern condition" than traditional electronic media does. Information technology has made postmodern culture an everyday reality. My intension is also to investigate the relevance of classical postmodern theoretics in the age of the web and new digital and computer-based media.

In La condition postmoderne from 1979 Lyotard gives his famous definition of ‘postmodern' as "incredulity toward metanarratives". Strictly speaking, Lyotard doesn't here talk about postmodern society. Instead he talks about postindustrial society and computerised societies (sociétés informatisées). It is the situation of knowledge, the contemporary culture and the condition of culture that Lyotard calls postmodern. In La condition postmodern Lyotard also talks about the "postmodern age" and "the postindustrial and postmodern age" as well as about the "contemporary culture and society", but it is culture that enters the postmodern age while society enters postindustrial age. The postmodern age is accordingly not an age in social history.

Lyotard gives in La condition postmoderne two alterative explanations for the "postmodern conditions" of knowledge: liberal capitalism and the technical development after World War II. Emphasise has moved from the goal of actions to their mean. Lyotard doesn't say much more about the connection between external causes behind postmodernity. It seems, however, to be clear that Lyotard sees a connection between on one hand computerisation and the postindustrial society and on the other hand postmodern culture.

In Oltre l'interpretazione Vattimo writes that Martin Heidegger realizes the transition to postmodernity, while within Friedrich Nietzsche postmodernity only begins. Vattimo suggests that a certain aspect within the philosophy of Nietzsche could be considered as postmodern in contrast to the explicit postmodernity of Heidegger. As an explanation for the postmodern within the philosophy of Nietzsche Vattimo suggest that Nietzsche's view of technology still is mechanistic, while Heidegger's understanding of technology already is shaped by informatics, which, according to Vattimo, probably is the essence of the late modern or postmodern technology. Vattimo points out an existential relationship between postmodern philosophy and "postmodern" technology. The development of philosophy towards an ontological nihilism stands in a relationship to the "general changes in the condition of existence, which is connected the modern technology and its rationalisation of the world". Before Vattimo, Marshall McLuhan , who nevertheless didn't use the concept ‘postmodern', expressed similar thoughts. McLuhan writes in The Gutenberg Galaxy that "Heidegger surf-boards along the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave."