- Series: Thinking in Action
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (December 19, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415775167
- ISBN-13: 978-0415775168
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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On the Internet (Thinking in Action) 2nd Edition
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Praise for the first edition:
"A well-crafted polemic…We need more teachers like Dreyfus himself, integrating the web into courses that are still deeply human." - Adam Morton, Times Literary Supplement
"...sharp and stimulating discussion of the promises of the Intenet. Going beyond the hype of the cybercrowd, Dreyfus a celebrated writer on philosophy and technology, asks whether the Internet can really bring humanity to a new level of community and solve the problems of mass education. Dreyfus' critique of huper learning provides much food for thought and raises the level of the discussions amongst concerned educators and technologists." - First Monday
"A clear discussion of the promises of the Internet...brings a philosopher's eye to bear on an issue that affects all of us." - Ubiquity
"Interesting and definitely much needed...a short and thought provoking book that can be read by any net enthusiast and/or scholar who is interested in the topics of learning, knowledge and identity in relation to the Internet." - Humanist
"At a time when bookstores and magazine stands are saturated with titles about the internet, it comes as no small, blessed relief to read one that is actually interesting and realistic, whose arguments are worth thinking about and engaging with Whether you're a novice to the internet or someone deeply involved with it - as a user or developer - On the Internet will engage you in topics ranging from the seemingly mundane (hyperlinks) to current trends toward distance learning." - Tech Directions
"This book is an important addition to the growing literature on the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet." - Revue Philosophique
About the Author
Hubert Dreyfus is Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School at the University of California at Berkeley, USA.
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Top customer reviews
In reading the book, I found that Dreyfus pretty much articulates views I had already formed on my own many years ago, so of course I agree with him and I like the book. Here are the main points:
* The Internet exemplifies technology in terms of its flexibility, and the more extreme Internet enthusiasts (wrongly) claim that it will eventually enable us to transcend our bodies. By contrast, Nietzsche argued for transcending our human limitations by using the emotional and intuitive capacities of our bodies.
* The hyperlinked informational structure of the Internet resists hierarchy and flattens everything to one level, thus obscuring qualitative differences and meanings relevant to the needs and interests of particular individuals.
* The Internet has value in education and supports distance learning, but only to the level of developing rudimentary competence. Development of real expertise generally requires the emotional involvement and richness of experience that comes from live face-to-face interaction between student and teacher.
* To avoid becoming detached spectators of life, we need to instead be embodied involved agents in the world, facing the possibilities of surprise and real risk. This involvement is what enables us to maintain a grip on reality, develop trust in others, and gain the context needed to function skillfully in diverse situations. Moreover, surveys indicate that people tend to feel more isolated and depressed as they use the Internet more, so psychological wellness is also at stake.
* The Internet fosters a situation in which anyone can express an opinion on anything, without having real expertise, genuine commitment, or tangible consequences. This can lead to trivialization, superficiality, and corresponding hazards, but it's still possible for people who are already knowledgeable and serious to use the Internet in ways that are more beneficial than harmful.
* The upshot of all this is that the Internet is a powerful but limited tool. To benefit from it, we need to control it and our use of it, rather than falling prey to it controlling us. This requires that we focus on our embodied existence, with all the pleasures and sufferings that entails, rather than naively fantasizing that we can meaningfully live in some sort of escapist cyberspace.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reflecting on how the Internet can impact our lived experience. And I especially recommend this book to people who spend too much time in front of the computer, rather than interacting with real live people, nature, and the rest of the real world.
The most important diagnosis that Dreyfus provides is on the subject of telepresence and disembodied interactions (ch.3-5). What makes a human being unique and distinguishes us from machines is that we not only have an intellect, emotion and will, but also the ability for them to interact with each other within ourselves as well as with other human beings. The Internet may have an impressive and seemingly infinite intelligence to provide almost any information we need and the technology to bring people all over the world closer together via social networks, text, voice and video communications. But it doesn't have emotion and will and in my opinion, will never replace a true human emotion and face-to-face, physical interaction with a virtual one. A virtual interaction not only lacks these qualities but also poses some dangers as well. First, it tends to deceive us into thinking that the Internet provides all our emotional needs (p. 68-69, 136). Second, it discourages commitment (or unconditional commitment as Dreyfus puts it) and risk-taking (or bold experimentation to use Dreyfus's term, p.102-105) due to the comfortable and risk-free nature of online engagements. Third, it numbs our ability to discern what is important. It makes us lazy and indifferent to real needs. As a corollary of the second danger, it tends to paralyze us into perpetual observers and disable us from doing anything useful (p.76-77, 79, 81). The last thing we want to happen is we care more about our online friends who live thousands of miles away at the expense of neglecting our family in our household or the people who live in our neighborhood. The Internet is the best means to escape from reality.
In summary, Dreyfus warns against inordinate infatuation with the Internet that tends to adversely affect our human personality. I can think of at least three things we can do in response if we believe his conclusion is true. First, we ought to labor to seek physical rather than virtual interactions as much as possible. Prefer face-to-face conversations with people who are present physically in front of us to the use of electronic mediums such as chat rooms or applications like Second Life. Seek as close personal interactions as possible. For example, a video is better than a phone conversation. A phone conversation is better than a text message or chatting on Facebook. Second, we ought to labor to find wise mentors who live nearby. Seek counsel and learn from them often instead of relying solely on the Internet. There are information and skills that can only be acquired from people directly through a personal interaction. Third, we ought to prefer physical to online activities. It is more beneficial for our health to go hiking at the real Yosemite than the virtual one we find in Second Life. Serving meals at a homeless shelter is a greater blessing to others than counseling people online. Dreyfus does not imply that the Internet is totally worthless. He just encourages us to use it wisely, such as to advance the causes that are dear to us (p. 137), to communicate with our loved ones who live in a distant place, and to receive education when face-to-face learning is prohibitive.
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