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Illich/Silence is a Commons

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Silence is a Commons by Ivan Illich (The CoEvolution Quarterly, Winter 1983)[1]

Computers are doing to communication
what fences did to pastures
and cars did to streets.[2]
“The Computer-Managed Society”[3] sounds an alarm. Clearly you foresee that machines which ape people are tending to encroach on every aspect of people’s lives, and that such machines force people to behave like machines. The new electronic devices do indeed have the power to force people to “communicate” with them and with each other on the terms of the machine. Whatever structurally does not fit the logic of machines is effectively filtered from a culture dominated by their use.
The machine-like behaviour of people chained to electronics constitutes a degradation of their well-being and of their dignity which, for most people in the long run, becomes intolerable. Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical[4]. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.
After enclosure, the environment became primarily a resource at the service of “enterprises” which, by organizing wage-labor, transformed nature into the goods and services[5] on which the satisfaction of basic needs by consumers depends. This transformation is in the blind spot of political economy.
I hope that the parallel now becomes clear. Just as the commons of space are vulnerable, and can be destroyed by the motorization of traffic, so the commons of speech are vulnerable, and can easily be destroyed by the encroachment of modem means of communication.
We could easily be made increasingly dependent on machines for speaking and for thinking, as we are already dependent on machines for moving. Such a transformation of the environment from a commons to a productive resource constitutes the most fundamental form of environmental degradation[6]. This degradation has a long history, which coincides with the history of capitalism but can in no way just be reduced to it.

  1. http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1983_silence_commons.html
  2. "Les ordinateurs sont en train de faire à la communication ce que les enclos firent aux pâturages et les voitures aux rues."
  3. "La société gérée par l’informatique” (c’était le titre du colloque japonais où intervenait Ivan Illich)
  4. Les observations de l’effet iatrogène des environnements programmés montre que les gens qui y sont soumis deviennent indolents, impuissants, narcissiques et apolitiques.
  5. Après clôture, l’environnement devient avant tout une ressource au service d’”entreprises” qui en organisant le travail salarié a transformé la nature en biens et services. (cf. Rousseau)
  6. :Nous pouvons facilement devenir de plus en plus dépendant de machines pour parler et pour penser, comme nous sommes déjà dépendants de machines pour nous déplacer. (cf. Platon)

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