A presentation to the 16th edition of the series of FAPESP 60 Years Conferences emphasized the importance of giving users of digital communications technology a minimum of means to defend themselves from fake news (photo: Rodion Kutsaiev/Unsplash)
Published on 12/19/2022
By José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP – “Digital culture” is an idea that is rapidly becoming obsolete. Culture is undergoing such a comprehensive and irreversible process of digitalization that to speak of digital culture is almost redundant. Digitalization is becoming as integral a part of human activity as electricity, and before long no one will bother to point this out.
With these thoughts, Giselle Beiguelman began her presentation to the 16th edition of the series of FAPESP 60 Years Conferences. The title of the event was precisely Digital Culture.
Beiguelman is a researcher, artist, writer and activist, and teaches at the University of São Paulo's School of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU-USP).
At the core of this process of digitalization of culture, Beiguelman argued, images act as the main interfaces mediating everyday life. “Images do far more than convey ideas and languages. Images have become the focus for current political tensions,” she said.
She went on to describe the “datasphere”, which has a real presence and which we produce, but which envelopes us and by which we are constantly produced, giving rise to new forms of surveillance, exclusion and oppression dictated by algorithms.
Beigelman also spoke about deep fakes, videos that are produced by synthesizing images and sounds using artificial intelligence (AI), and that purport to show people saying and doing things they have never said or done. Combining big data and machine learning, deep fakes take the manipulation of minds exemplified by fake news to an extreme.
Given the tsunami of images produced every day and distributed throughout the world by multiple platforms, she urged her audience to strive for “digital literacy” in order to acquire at least some ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and to avoid being manipulated like cattle in a “society with more control than has ever been imagined”.
To some extent, Beiguelman’s presentation complemented the talk by sociologist Muniz Sodré, which preceded it. Sodré is an emeritus professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), a member of the Bahia Academy of Letters, and a former President of Brazil’s National Library Foundation (2005-11).
In his presentation, he spoke about the links between technology and culture, and how to conceive of our relationship with technological exteriority. “It’s not a matter of rejecting or demonizing technology, which is a product of human ingenuity, but of making technology human,” he said. “Without the cultural dimension, technology becomes narcissistically trapped in itself. It fascinates us because its technical performance, which encompasses individual cognition, is so effective, but to date it has repressed all links to community and the socio-historical context. These links are what make knowledge politically transitive.”
Sodré associated culture with the Greek philia, which is usually translated as “friendship” but also refers to “neighborliness”, “cohabitation”, “a predisposition to sociability”, and even “communication”.
“Culture isn’t a bundling together of different kinds of content. Culture is active mapping of the world around us,” he said.
“Digital addiction is the object’s secret revenge against the sovereignty of the subject,” he added. “Unless technology is compatible with culture, it becomes remote from the technical heart,” which is “the identity of the human and the technological, without radical separation”, or “the object’s insertion into a web of interpersonal relations.”
The 16th FAPESP 60 Years Conference was chaired by Eduardo Morettin, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP). Opening remarks were delivered by Marco Antonio Zago, President of FAPESP.
Zago recalled that the popularization of digital media has been accompanied by enormous technical development. “The scale of this revolution can only be compared to the introduction of movable-type printing by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century,” he said. However, the information conveyed by mainstream media is far more subject to verification, whereas “anyone can spread fake news via the new digital media”.
Digital systems have given voice to extremists and disinformation, he added, concluding with this food for thought: “How can we defend society’s interests without restricting freedom of expression?”
A complete recording of the 16th FAPESP 60 Years Conference on Digital Culture can be watched at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMoGrRjPMOI.
The previous events in the series are at: 60anos.fapesp.br/conferencias.