Enciclopédia e Hipertexto

Hyper-text and Hyper-reality: Contributions for the Study of the Ontological Contours of Technological Information Networks[1]

Fernando Ilharco



This article briefly develops some themes considered worth of pursuing in establishing the ontological relevance of the overwhelming presence of information technology, of its devices and information, in the contemporary world. First, I address the question of the meaning of the screen as such. Then, I argue that both the notions of screen and display point to a grounding notion of agreement. This is followed by an analysis of the traditionally analysed and questioned correspondence between sight and true. Next I recover Heidegger’s notion of Ge-stell and work it out on the realms of information technology (IT). Finally, I conclude by trying to point out the technological based ontological contours of globalisation.


Information as Screen

Let me start with a few numbers about our pervading world of “technological information” (Borgmann 1999). The last decades have witnessed a massive penetration of TV screens into people’s day-to-day lives. It is a long way from November 1937, when the BBC made its first outside broadcast - the coronation of King George VI from Hyde Park Corner - which was seen by several thousand viewers, to the landing on the Moon in 1969, carried by satellite to an estimated audience of more than 100,000,000 viewers (E.B. 1999), to the “Live Aid” music festival, in London and Philadelphia, in 1985, which raised US$120 million, while attracting an estimated TV audience of 1.5 billion (R.M. 2002), or to the funeral of Princess Diana in August 1997, followed by an estimated TV audience of 2,500 million (ABCnews 1999), which represents more than 40 per cent of the world’s population. “Bay Watch” is nowadays the most widely viewed TV series with an estimated weekly audience of 1.1 billions. From 1996 on the series has been translated in 44 languages, and it is watched in 142 countries, in every continent except Antarctica (Guinness Book 2002). More recently, the majority of the world’s population watched on TV and on the Internet – that is, on screens – the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. All these events were and are what they are also, and perhaps mainly, on account of their presentation or display on screens in front of which we increasingly find ourselves.

The PC screen seems to be experiencing an even more accelerated spreading than the TV screen. In 1985 there were 90,1 and 36,4 computers per 1000 people, respectively in the USA and in the UK. The USA is forecasted to grow to 592 Internet users per 1,000 people in 2002 (Int. Ind. Alm. 2002). It is projected that by the end of 2002 there will be 601 million worldwide Internet users. The amount of computers in use today is estimated to be more than 625 million, up from the 551.1 million computers at year-end 2000 (Comp. Ind. Alm. 2002). The diffusion of mobile phones is even more pervasive. Last year the number of mobile phones worldwide was double that of Internet users. In 2002 the mobile phone users worldwide is estimated to reach one billion. It is expected that by the end of 2003 in Europe 69% of people will have a mobile phone. (D.L. 2002).

This pattern of invasion, and implicitly of colonisation (Habermas 1987) of the everyday world, by information technology (IT) screens is also significant in cultures and regions of the world other than the industrialised West—where the phenomenon is most obvious (Castells 2000). China for example is expected to become the world leader in the amount of mobile phones in use by the end of 2002 (D.L. 2002). It is evident that screens – being TV, PC, mobile phones’, or palmtop screens – are a medium (way or mode) into and onto reality, and also part of that same reality as well. What does this mean for our lives? What does it mean that we spend a significant part of our waking lives literally dwelling in technological information, watching what’s on at the screen? What is our watching of PC, TV, computer, and palmtops’ screens?

Screens present, show, exhibit, what is supposed to be relevant data in each context, be it a spreadsheet while working at office, or a schedule while walking in the airport, or a movie while watching TV. Screens exhibit what was previously chosen, captured, processed, organised, structured, and finally presented on the screen.

The screen, as a screen, finds itself at the centre of the activity: in showing it attracts our attention, often also our physical presence, as it locates our activity. It is often the focus of our concerns in that environment, being at office, working, or at home, watching a movie or the news. Apparently the screen enters our involvement in-the-world—as a screen—when we attend to it by turning it on. When we push the ‘on’ button the screen locates our attention, we sit down, quit—physically or cognitively—other activities we may have been performing, and watch the screen, as it is the place, the location, the intentional experience of consciousness, in which what is relevant or supposedly relevant for us at that particular time is happening. We rely on it as a transparent ready-to-hand being that shapes, affects, mediates our own be-ing (Heidegger 1962). Yet, this involvement, shaping and mediation that screen brings does not happen, i.e., it is not only when we turn the ‘on’ button that it is present. On the contrary, that we push the ‘on’ button means precisely that the screening of screen, its possibilities in its transparency and pervasiveness, is already there in a world where we, beings-in-the-world (Heidegger 1962), are already relying, basing ourselves, our possibilities, the references in which we dwell, and the whole phenomenon of in-the-world (Heidegger 1962), on the screenhood of screens. Hence, screen, in-the-world, locates us, centres our activities and possibilities, either if we are actively engaged with screens or otherwise – once we have experienced screens as screens we are always already relying or counting on them.


Screen as Skin

Screen looks like a rather simple word. It is both a noun and a verb and its contemporary plurality of meanings can be brought together along three main themes: projecting/showing (e.g., TV screen), hiding/protecting (e.g., fireplace screen), and testing/selecting (e.g., screening the candidates) (OPDT 1997:681-2). 

The origins of the word ‘screen’ can be traced back to the 14th century. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary (MW) the contemporary English word screen evolved from the Middle English word screne, from the Middle French escren, and from the Middle Dutch scherm. It is a word akin to the Old High German (8th century) words skirm, which meant shield, and skrank, which meant a barrier of some kind. Yet, the word screen still suggests another interesting signification, further away from us in history. It is a word “probably akin” (MW) to the Sanskrit (1000 BC)[2] words carman, which meant ‘skin’, and kränti, which signifies ‘he injures’ (MW). These meanings, possibly, are the ones from which the Middle Age words evolved. This Sanskrit clue suggests thus that the notions of protection, shield, barrier, separation, arose as metaphors of the concept of skin, possibly that of human (or animal) skin.

Let me now suggest a very brief sketch of the chronological etymological relations these words seem to have. A barrier or a protection is something raised over and against another something—the original Sanskrit meaning. This ‘other’ something faces the barrier, as the wind faces the windscreen of a car, which means that the screen protects against something that moves towards it. That which is moving towards the screen could have been understood as a projection (from the Latin word projectare, which meant ‘to throw forward’) over a surface - just like the arrows and bullets were projected over the shields, or like the heat is projected onto the fireplace screen. The screen protects and shelters because it receives and holds the projection of that which is not to be received ‘inside’ the cover the screen provides. But what happens when something stopped by the screen is allowed to pass through? The answer is that it was screened. This means that it was permitted to pass through that barrier. The screen as a barrier is now understood as a “system for detecting [for example] disease, ability, attribute” (OPDT:681-2).

When we say “his geniality is just a screen” (MW) we are relying on this notion of separation, of a barrier, between what is the surface –symptoms, appearance, superficiality - and what is inside that surface – disease, the thing itself, essentiality. Indeed it seems not too difficult to admit that an expression with the same meaning as the one above could be “his geniality is just a skin”. This recovers within a rich context the meaning of skin of the Sanskrit word carman referred. This interpretation links, or so we hope, the three central themes of meaning attached to the word screen: hiding/protecting, projecting/showing, and testing/selecting (OPDT 1997:681-2).

The screen—as the ‘location’ for screening—is something common, and to some extent something fundamental, to the computer, TV, mobile phone, palmtops, and to many other IT devices. We act on, and interact with, most information technologies by observing or touching screens. The screen is the typical face or interface of information technology. On the basis of the etymological analysis presented thus far, we might indeed say, acknowledging its intuitive meaningfulness, that the screen is the skin of information technology.


Display as Agreement


Often we refer to screens as displays. This word “display” entered the English language as a verb in the 14th century, and as a noun in the 17th century (MW). As a verb display means “to put or spread before the view” (e.g., display the flag), “to make evident” (e.g., displayed great skill), “to exhibit ostentatiously” (e.g., he liked to display his erudition) (MW). As a noun it means “a setting or presentation of something in open view” (e.g., a fireworks display), “a clear sign or evidence”, an exhibition (e.g., a display of courage), an “ostentatious show”, “an eye-catching arrangement by which something is exhibited” (MW). These notions of showing, in open view, and making evident are central to the word display.

Those aspects in turn are linked to the idea of unfolding and of agreement. The Latin prefix dis- was akin to the Latin word duo and to the ancient Greek word dyo (MW), which meant two, both or together (Crane 2002). This suggests that the unfolding referred to above, the making evident, that the word display points to, is something achieved together—by an explicit or implicit agreement of two persons. Indeed by more than one person because the meaning of duo should have been used to stress the together-ness implied in the prefix dis- and not the character of being just two as such. It is this same notion of agreement, sharing, and together-ness, that is nowadays present in verbs such as discover (“be first to find” in OPDT:211) or disclose (“expose, make known” in OPDT:210).

The implied agreement refers to a grounding understanding, which is the basis on which our own actions in the world gain their references and significance. Obviously it does not mean that one has to agree with the terms, conditions, analysis, or format of that which is revealed. The agreement is only on the referential whole (Heidegger 1962) within which the screen is a screen that attracts our attention as part of our ongoing activity in that form of life.


Sight as True

This account of the etymology of display also touches upon another aspect highly relevant to our investigation: the way in which the notions of ‘evidence’, ‘agreement’, or something ‘without complications or complexities’ join in the contemporary English word display with the human sense of sight. The relationship between what is evident and what is “put or spread before the view” (MW), made equivalent in the word “display”, belongs to the central strand of Western philosophy that assumes “Being as beholding” (Heidegger 1984), and goes back to the ancient Greece.

In-the-world we, as the beings that we ourselves are, have a structural tendency to assume the primacy of seeing (Heidegger 1962). The screen is first and primordially seeing, watching, perceiving with the eyes. Seeing, according to Heidegger (1962:214), is “a peculiar way of letting the world be encountered by us in perception”. In everydayness (Heidegger 1962) the human sense of sight performs a central role in our involvement in-the-world (Heidegger 1962). What is at stake in this supremacy of seeing, so to speak, is not a characteristic or feature of humans, but an ontological conception of being human in which cognition is conceived as seeing. For us this fundamental conception, of the ontological primacy of seeing, grounds the way in which screens unfold in-the-world as screens, already relevant—rather than as mere dynamic surfaces.

Heidegger (1962:215) notes that the early Greeks conceived cognition in terms of the ‘desire to see’. Aristotle’s (1998: 4, n. 980a) treatise Metaphysics opens with the sentence “By nature, all men long to know”. In order to capture what Aristotle wrote, with reference to ancient Greek, Heidegger suggests that we must stay with the original meaning of the sentence, which would then translate as: “The care for seeing is essential to man’s Being” (Heidegger 1962:215). That such a reading is correct is supported by the text of Aristotle that follows that sentence:

“By nature, all men long to know [i.e., The care for seeing is essential to man’s Being]. An indication is their delight in the senses. For these, quite apart from their utility, are intrinsically delightful, and that through the eyes more than the others. For it not only with a view to action but also when we have no intention to do anything that we choose, so to speak, sight than all the others. And the reason for this is that sight is the sense that especially produces cognition in us and reveals many distinguishing features of things” (Aristotle 1998: 4, n. 980a).

In its turn, this thesis rests on Parmenides’ (c.515 BC - ?) early conception of Being—“For thinking and Being are the same” (Parmenides in Heidegger 1984). In order to clarify this position of Parmenides, Heidegger takes the word translated in the last quotation as ‘thinking’, and seeks the roots of its original ancient Greek meaning, which is ‘to perceive with the eyes’ (Heidegger 1962:215, fn.3). Accordingly, this view of cognition implies, “Being is that which shows itself in the pure perception which belongs to the beholding, and only by such seeing does Being gets disclosed. Primordial and genuine truth lies in pure beholding” (Heidegger 1962:215). Such an ontological conception of seeing is at the core of Western thought, and grounds many chief epistemological developments ever since. Saint Augustine also noted this priority of ‘seeing’—this correspondence between seeing and cognition. In this regard Heidegger (1962:215) refers to Saint Augustine’s notes from The Confessions:

“We even use this word ‘seeing’ for the other senses when we devote them to cognizing (…) We not only say ‘See how that shines’ (…), but we even say ‘See how that sounds’, ‘See how that is scented’, ‘See how that tastes’, ‘See how hard that is’ (…) Therefore the experience of the senses in general is designated as the ‘lust of the eyes’; for when the issue is one of knowing something, the other senses, by a certain resemblance, take to themselves the function of seeing—a function in which the eyes have priority” (Saint Augustine quoted in Heidegger 1962:215-6).

This priority of seeing, in which cognition is understood as seeing, and thus seeing as the access to truth, gets revealed in a particular way in the phenomenon of screen, that is, on our world grounded on technological information.  In the phenomenon screen, seeing is not merely being aware of a surface. The very watching of the screen as screen implies an already there ontological agreement about the nature of the world—as a world that is relevant (and true) to us that share it, in and through the screening of the screen. 

This power of sight, of already agreement coming as screen, can for example be seen with regard to our general view of television in everyday life. Though there are many observations we can make here, we will refer to only one of these. What do we tend to think of people who live, on a permanent basis, without a television in their house? A few years ago a writer and her husband in the UK received a visit from the police to enquire about their reasons for not having a television…[3] We tend to think of this as strange (maybe somehow dangerous). Why is this so?  Maybe we feel that these people do not share the already agreement—and the relevance implied—that the television is. We often refer to them as ‘living in another world’. Our analysis provides an explanation for such a view. As Fry (1993:13) puts it, the “television has arrived as the context” and those people seem to be out of that context.

The power of television to reinforce what is presented just by the presentation itself has important consequences in our daily lives: “all that is important is revealed on television while all that is so revealed on television acquires some authority” (Adams 1993:59). But this power does not belong to the essence of television but rather to the essence of screens, as the following example will show

The kind of data about us that appears on a screen, at the bank, at the office, at the medical doctor, at a public department, is often taken as more valid and trustworthy than ourselves—as many of us have found out to our dismay. That the hidden meaning of screen is already agreement indeed helps to explain this. It is because screen is essentially bound by already agreement that that data is often taken as more valid and trustworthy than ourselves. Thus, this primacy of that which is on the screen over that which is not on the screen seems to be an issue that need to be taken into account while designing new systems. Seemingly trivial decisions about entities and attributes to be included/excluded in the database have important ontological consequences for how we will understand our world, and relate to and in that world, in which these decisions will function as ontological clues displayed on screens.


Ge-stell as Background

Let me now address a key aspect on the ontological contours of technological information: the intimate relationship between IT and globalisation. We all experience that information technology (IT) and globalisation are phenomena deeply linked. Research in diverse fields has been pointing out this aspect as well (e.g., Angell 2000; Beck 1992, 1997; Dahrendorf 1993; Desai 2001; Dicken 1994; Featherstone 1990; Giddens 1999;  Gray 1999; Walsham 2000, 2001). Trying to address the planetary development and spreading of IT, I relied on Heidegger’s (1977) grounding notion of Ge-stell as the essence of modern technology. This follows the Heidegger’s (1981) clue of the Der Spiegel interview (in 1966, published in 1976) in that his phenomenology of modern technology should be picked up and further developed.

The work of Heidegger (1977) on technology is a widely recognised turning point in Western thought on this theme, so it is likely that it might only be a matter of time before Heidegger’s influence on these issues is felt more heavily. As Heidegger (1977) stressed, although the tool character of technological objects is obviously correct, by no means does it signify that technology is itself essentially a tool (Heidegger 1977:6). The tool-ness belongs to the realm of appearances, that is, to particular and actual technological devices. For Heidegger (1977) the essence of modern technology is anything but a tool.

At the centre of our argument is the historical evolution of the notion of the technological[4]. Historically techniques were organised groups of movements, generally mostly manual, united to reach a particular end. As such, techniques mix with the origins of human history. “[I]n all civilisations technique has existed as a tradition, that is, by the transmission of inherited processes that slowly ripen and are even more slowly modified” (Ellul 1964:14). Before the arrival of industrial technology there was not the technological but rather there were techniques. People have their techniques for hunting, for fishing, for clothing, for fighting, for transport, for building, and so forth.

The involvement of man in his activities as they were delivered to him by culture and tradition, suddenly changed from the activities themselves to the way in which those activities were performed. This shift has the relevance of a changing of worlds. “[W]hat we talking about is a world once given over to the pragmatic approach and now being taken over by the method” (ibid.:15). Hence, in this passage from the realm of techniques and tradition to the domain of the technological there lies the origin of the relationship between industrial and information technologies. What precisely led from techniques to the technological no one knows.

The technological is a deliberate grasping as a unity of the ways, both manual and mechanical, in which activities are performed. The technological does not rely on the tradition of the many techniques. The logos of technology relies on the ever more efficiency it brings to human activities. The technical procedures must fit the criterion of being the most efficient way of achieving a result. This is the ordering process towards an ever more efficient relationship of man to his world; its tradition becomes its own path of efficiency. Heidegger (1977) indicates this course as the essence of modern technology.

Heidegger (1977) took Aristotle’s thesis of the four causes (Aristotle 1998) in order to de-construct causality, which reigns in the instrumentality that characterises the tool-ness of technology. He asks what unites the four causes from the beginning? (Heidegger 1977:8) He shows that causality is grounded on a revealing, which in itself is a granting of the possibility of truth, of Wahrheit in German.This revealing is an already there that gathers the four causes of occasioning, letting beings come into unconcealment, to presence as beings to be preserved (bewahren), to endure (währen), to be watched over and kept safe (wahren), to be manifest (Wahrnis). “Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing” (Heidegger 1977:12). This way of revealing is an ontological one because it does not only concern the beings that come into presence, a craft’s work or a machine, but also and fundamentally it is the disclosure of is-ness as such. The technological revealing is primarily and fore mostly the background against which appears that which is. This ontological revealing is the fundamental nature of technology.

Would this revealing be the essential nature of modern technology as well? Heidegger’s (1977:14) answer is unambiguous: “It too is a revealing”. “[A] tract of land is challenged into the putting out of coal and ore. The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as mineral deposit (…). The field that the peasant formerly cultivated and set in order appears differently than it did when to set in order still meant to take care of and to maintain” (ibid.:14-5). Modern technology changes decisively the coming into presence of humans, things, animals, tangibles and intangibles; of that which appears for man. A revealing not only reveals that which is differently, but also reveals and conceals differently. Truth, meaningfulness, thus being-in-the-world (Heidegger 1962) is differently grounded. There is nothing metaphorical here. Modern technology changes substantively that which is decisive in-the-world. It lets unfold a whole conception of is-ness, engulfing what-to-do/what-to-be, and appearing as a  challenging.

This challenging forth is a setting-in-order that sets upon nature. As a challenging-forth of nature, technology is always directed from the beginning “toward driving on to the maximum yield at the minimum expense” (ibid.), that is, towards efficiency. In this way technology reveals a world of resources. These resources belong to an already ongoing process, which essentially does not designate the dam, the hydroelectric plant, the machine, or any other typical technological object, because it rather chiefly designates “nothing less than the way in which everything presences” (ibid.:17). The unconcealment that the technological revealing brings about is a particular standing in which beings show themselves in their belonging to an efficiently ordering process. This is for Heidegger what is most essential about technology. He calls it Ge-stell, enframing in Lovitt’s (1977) translation.[5] In Ge-stell the real is revealed in the mode of ordering; that is, enframing reveals, that which it reveals is ordering.


IT as Ontology

The ordering element of Ge-stell is the very technological nature of IT. IT endorses its essential belonging to Ge-stell precisely because it is order about data and/or information; it is an efficient ordering process directed to data, information, and thus to meaning. Thus, essentially IT is order about meaning, which implies that within IT meaning is dominated by order.[6] But how can meaning be dominated? The answer has been given: IT dominates meaning in that Ge-stell is an ontological revealing.

IT brings efficiency directly to the domain of language, that is, to man’s essence (Heidegger 1962, 1971, 1978), to human fundamental coupling in/with/to the world. Acting in language IT affects horizontally each and every kind of human activity. Castells (2000:70) mentions that it is because information is an integral part of all human activity that all processes of our individual and collective existence are directly shaped[7] by IT. Language is that which adjusts us to environment and to others. We are what we are in language. Affecting our structural coupling, in autopoietic terms (Maturana and Varela 1980, 1992), IT substantively affects us. Fundamentally acting in language IT is a part of being-in-the-world, opening up a way for the ontological decisiveness of Ge-stell further to unfold.

Heidegger pointed out that the typewriter reveals the intrusion of technology into the domain of language (Zimmerman 1990:206). Yet, nor the typewriter neither handwriting provides the efficiency of the production of texts as successfully as the contemporary word processor. In processing words, language enters the ordering process of technology: “In the technological world, even language becomes an instrument serving the production process. Heidegger argued not only that German dialects are being pushed aside by standardized German (promoted by radio and television, as well as by schools), but that the German language itself is being replaced by Anglo-American—the universal language of modern technology” (ibid.:215); indeed we might say the same as far as it concerns all languages touched upon by IT.

Hence, IT essentially is a background against which that which is appears. Within IT the real shows up as an environment overloaded with detailed and towards-ordered information (McLuhan 1987). Ontically the domination of IT is linked to this planetary spreading of technological information and technologies of information; ontologically that domination is the very spreading of the essence of IT. As more and more IT devices penetrate every corner of the earth Ge-stell unfolds, enframing enframes. To confirm this we only need to make a thought experience.

Let us think, how would we all live without IT?

A formally correct answer is that that world would indeed be another world, which means that IT is a world. The kind of possibilities, thus of intentions, aspirations, and actions, that these two worlds reveal are evidently substantively different. For example, without IT we would never have seen images of the earth taken from the moon, because man would never have gone there. The moon would still stand in the sky above us, as the mystery it still is, although no longer recognised as such. The possibilities for being that IT has brought to us, and the way in which these possibilities address the whole earth and the all of human activities, is per se de dominating character of Ge-stell as an essential element of the essential way in which IT unfolds in the world. It is in accordance with the possibilities revealed by IT as background that man nowadays is experiencing the real.

Hannah Arendt (1958) argues that modernity is founded, besides the discovery of America and the Reformation, on Galileo’s invention of the telescope, which firstly made possible to consider the nature of the earth from the perspective of the universe. Our analysis is consistent with this view. Not only is Ge-stell fundamentally linked to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, but also the telescope might indeed essentially be understood as an IT device. This fundamental perspective began to come to actuality as its distinctive sign when the project of landing a man on the moon shows its factual possibility in the 1960s. By landing on the moon it was the earth and not the moon that was mainly discovered in a new way. The pictures of the earth taken from the moon, offer us a concrete push for the historical theme of the globe to enter its own epoch. Thus, man’s landing on the moon might have not brought a new fundamental perspective on human experience, but having relied on an opened perspective, to which Arendt claim the invention of the telescope belongs, it might have recovered and strengthened that same perspective, so that it is in our epoch what is more typical and decisive.

In its ordering in information, IT shows up the real as a systematic way of rendering meaning, which equals saying that IT shows up as a system of information. The meaning of the world revealed in/within/through IT, for example, is in exact science identifiable through calculation so that it remains orderable, i.e., so that nature and humanness be kept under the essential revealing of Ge-stell. It is because technology unfolds in this way that enframes:

“that nature reports itself in some way or other that (…) it remains orderable as a system of information” (Heidegger 1977:23).

In this paragraph Heidegger addresses indirectly the essence of IT that we are indicating by suggesting that ordering meaning is the evident nature of a system of information. He uses the expression ‘system of information’ to disclose the orderability that for him is an implicit and evident meaning of that same expression.

The meaning of the real, in the sense of the world in which we always already find ourselves, is identifiable as to remain orderable. As a systematic way of rendering meaning—as a system of information—IT changes the perception of the real, which is equal to say that it changes reality. “[R]eality, as experienced, has always been virtual because it is always perceived through symbols that frame practice with some meaning that escapes their strict semantic definition (…). Thus there is no separation between “reality” and symbolic representation” (Castells 2000:403). The perception of reality depends upon the structure of information, which is substantively affected by IT.

Revealing the real, forming the background, establishing itself as a world, IT determines the relation of man to that which exists. “Through technology the entire globe is today embraced and held fast in a kind of Being experienced in Western fashion and represented on the epistemological models of European metaphysics and science” (Heidegger 1984:76). This all inclusive human experience of reality was first concretely unveiled in the sixteen century by the ‘Memory Theater’ of Giulio Camilio (Borgmann 1999:175), in which all information about reality would be gathered in one well-ordered information-space (ibid.). The prototype of this space is today the Internet and its logic of navigation, hypertext, and search engines (ibid.).


World as Globe

This power of Ge-stell, concealed in modern technology, “rules the whole earth” (Heidegger 1966:50). Ruling the whole earth, it logically and necessarily reveals what is the earth as such. The earth, our world, is now enframed, that is, united, and thus it appears as something, as the globe for the case of our age. Ge-stell reveals the earth as a globe. As the earth is ITised it becomes global. This globe as such, hanging suspended in space, is a technological being because it relies, depends, and appears only on grounds of a world previously revealed by Ge-stell. Phenomenologically we confirm this by describing rigorously the event of the globe in space, which it is not something we perceive directly with the eyes, much in the sense Aristotle (1998) used this expression to refer to knowledge, and Parmenides (quoted in Heidegger 1985) used it to indicate thinking as such. On the contrary the globe hanging suspended in space is a photograph, a picture, or a video. Only a very few men actually saw, with their eyes, directly and naturally I would say, the globe in space as such. Hence, this globe in space, the icon of our epoch, is a technological being.

By making the earth global, IT makes all human activities globalised. Hence, the globalised world is that on the basis of which the possibilities for being are now revealed in our lives. This revealing is everywhere, not only as a present-at-hand entity (Heidegger 1962), that is, as something to be observed, fragmented and analysed, but also and more significantly as a ready-to-hand being. Globalisation is thus the human dwelling upon this earth being globalised. In globalisation all of our activities and involvement in-the-world make sense against a ready-to-hand globalised background. This signification was somehow captured forty years ago in McLuhan’s expression ‘global village’ in which the world is understood, taken, presupposed, absorbed, as one whole community in which distance and isolation have been dramatically reduced by information technologies (McLuhan 1995). Still, there is a difference in the distinction we are pointing out: the global village is nowadays a ready-to-hand entity. A crucial way in which the essence of IT essences is thus this substantive transformation of earth into the globe. The globe hanging suspended in space is nowadays the most common and ready-to-hand equipment of our daily coping. The globe is now part, a constitutive element, of being-in-the-world. As such it is an a priori present meaning of what we are and it contextualises, shapes, forms, develops, materializes every and each one of our activities.

This conception of the earth made global, and of the globe made an object hanging suspended in space, has for long been prepared, particularly by Renaissance and Enlightenment’s quests for man to be the master of his destiny. This perspective is the History of Western civilisation, and its origins go back to the Romans, and to a less extent to the ancient Greeks as well.[8] The Romans understood the world as the empire of Rome (Crane 2001: entry terra, particularly the references to Cicero Balb. 6.16, and to Agr. 2.13.33). Wherever Rome reached, the world was revealed against the imperial presence of Rome. IT and globalisation currently rely on this same perspective.

In globalisation the essence of IT addresses the real. Thus, globalisation is not a phenomenon of the economy, of the markets, of politics, of culture, or of any other kind of human activity. Globalisation is an aspect of the essence of IT, which, as ontological, has primacy over all the other aspects characteristic of the present epoch—it is how man is making sense of the world today. It is the basic and fundamental perspective on the basis of which each and every human activity in the world now gains its meaning. The global perspective is the background against which the several arenas of human activity are being addressed.

Almost wherever we look now we find the picture of our age, the globe: on the TV channels’ logos and news bulletins (e.g., CNN, BBC, CBS, ABC, TVE, TF1), on a significant percentage of the advertising material that runs in magazines and newspapers, in the material of international organisations (e.g., UN, OECD, WB, IMF, Greenpeace). Yet in this appearance of the essence of IT, it is not the picture as such before our eyes that is most relevant for us. What matters, because it is what changes our lives substantively, is the globe hanging suspended in space as background of our action in-the-world. What is at stake is the collective appropriation of the meaning of that image and perspective in human activities. This human embodiment of the globe in space is what is most decisive in globalisation.

Globalisation as a setting that establishes possibilities and the contours of the analysis, has been an explicit or implicit assumption for much of the research of recent years in several areas of interest besides economy, markets, finance, and world power,[9] which might be considered the ones most obvious; for example the law (e.g., Borchgrave 1996; Braithwaite and Drahos 2000; Evenett, Lehmann, and Steil 2000; Gessner and Budak 1998; Wiener 1999); culture and social issues (e.g., Albrow 1997; Appadura 1996; Doheny-Farina 1996; Fearherstone 1990; Jameson and Miyoshi 1998; Postman 1993; Stromquist and Monkman 2000; Rash 1996; Wresch 1996); the individual versus the collective (e.g., Angell 2000; Friedman 2000; Davidson and Rees-Mogg 1999); sports (e.g., Bairner 2001; Miler, Lawrence, McKay, Rowe 2001). As the earth turns into a globe, and man assumes the role of the subject observing, analysing, and intervening upon this globe, everything is in the process of being globalised.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, in the USA, the terrorist acts in Bali and in other places also are examples of the unfolding of this globalisation of everything. The underlying logic of that new kind of terror is imminently global. Its global operational reach is a corollary of something more important and previous to it: the global perspective. Global terror is conceived and unleashed against a background in which human action, even when that action is inhuman, makes sense within this global ready-to-hand perspective.

The global perspective means an addressing of the world from space, that is, man’s activities in the world disclose their meaning while addressed, so to speak, from outside the world. Yet, as it is obvious that man is not in outer space, that picture of the globe might point to other matters as well. The out of the world perspective is primordially a statement of the totality in which reality makes sense today. The world is the globe. A globe is a “spherical object” (OPDT:319), as such it is something delimited—it is spherical—and objectified. The globe is an object because it was previously delimited. It matters the least if the world turned out to be a globe or a parallelepiped. That the world is delimited is what matters here because while enframing IT necessarily limits, reduces, restricts, regulates, controls. Within the essence of IT the world turns into an object surveyed, scrutinised, monitored, controlled, dominated by man. This rationale of IT is fully disclosed in the global perspective. Constrained to this earth by our condition we have found a way of acting as if we had it at our disposition from the outside (Arendt 1958).

Revealing the world as an object man reserved for himself the role of the subject. Thus, in globalisation the Cartesian dualism is thriving. Yet, what holds correct is not that globalisation supports the dualist subject/object model, but rather the reverse. It is on account of the path that Cartesianism has had in the Western world for the last centuries that globalisation comes into presence. Grasping the Cartesian temper of globalisation, and stripping out the words and signs of the picture of the globe suspended in space, we can more rigorously access what is at stake in globalisation. Is the globe hanging suspended in space the full representation of globalisation? The answer is ‘No’, because everything said is said by someone, everything surveyed is surveyed by someone, any perspective is the perspective of someone (Merleau-Ponty 1962). Man is simply not in space. Man is in the world always already involved. When putting man back into the picture the representation of the globe discloses quite easily the subject/object model, but at the same time it becomes untenable. Man has taken himself out of the representation of the globe because this approach is based on a Cartesian epistemology, in which man, as the subject, assumes himself as the final and objective court of reason (Palmer 1969, Zimmerman 1986). Globalisation and IT draw on this stand, and strengthen it as well.


Technology as Globalisation

IT and globalisation go hand in hand. In some cases IT is pointed out as an enabler or as a promoter of globalisation. In other cases it is just indicated as a result of the spreading of IT. Our argument is that the essence of IT holds in itself as a logical corollary the unfolding of globalisation. Essentially IT and globalisation are the same phenomenon: Ge-stell. “Informatization is globalisation”[10] (Anderson 2001:205) because what firstly and primordially Ge-stell enframes is man’s relation with a world in which he is what he is:

 “Now that modern technology has arranged its expansion and rule over the whole earth, it is not just the sputniks and their by-products that are circling around our planet; it is rather Being as presencing in the sense of calculable material that claims all the inhabitants of the earth in a uniform manner without the inhabitants of the non-European continents explicitly knowing this or even being able of wanting to know of the origin of this determination of Being. (Evidently those who desire such a knowledge least of all are those busy developers who today are urging the so-called underdeveloped countries into the realm of hearing of that claim of Being which speaks from the innermost core of modern technology)” (Heidegger 1972:7; parentheses from the original).

The essential way in which IT unfolds appears in globalisation. IT/Globalisation is now part of being-in-the-world, and, thus, it potentially alters many aspects of what we are and of what we do. Always and already in a globalised networked world, now a consummated part of the primary phenomenon of being-in-the-world, we can read with deeper meaning Heidegger’s (1984:57) words: “[m]an has already begun to overwhelm the entire earth and its atmosphere, to arrogate to himself in forms of energy the concealed powers of nature, and to submit future history to the planning and ordering of a world government”. This world government relies on the metaphysical contours of globalisation. It is surely a set of bodies whose concerns are the global addressing of issues (e.g., UN, WTO, WB, IMF, World Economic Forum, NATO), but above all, it is a global logic of acting. This global logic, for example means in economic competitive terms, that companies instinctively and intuitively take the whole planet as their typical arena. Morita, the leader of the Japanese company Sony, described globalisation as ‘global localisation’ (in Angell 1995). The planet is taken as a whole and at once, and the managers locate each function and each process, from R&D, software development, raw materials, and customer care, to finance, management, taxation, and markets, wherever on earth a higher output/input ratio is detected. Global efficiency drives the action in an ITised reality.

Once one has experienced the real-ness of IT our sense of reality changes as it cannot anymore not take into account the possibilities disclosed in IT. The IT reality is not a mere way of adjusting ourselves to the real. IT is the real and as such it is human action that adapts to IT. For example, a mobile phone indicates the possibility of reaching and being reachable by every other person on this planet. As this possibility is grasped, and appropriated on a societal basis, it not only cannot be reversed, but it imposes itself as a new mode of being and acting.


Globalisation as Metaphysics

Action is now global, that is, the referential whole (Heidegger 1962) in which each one of us always and already is immersed, is global. In this action that globalises, that is, in globalisation, the world shows up as a planetaryIT system. The real appears as a planetary system of communication, that is, as a fundamental mode of coupling and adjusting ourselves to and in the world. In this world turned into a ‘village’, a properly shaped and appropriated language—needed for the coupling of the entities of this new community—is emerging as global: a new English, the “Anglo-American the universal language of modern technology” (Zimmerman 1990:215). In/with/through IT is now the mode in which many of us in the Western world experience ourselves in-the-world. In this light it is interesting to note that the contemporary scientific and professional communities call the Internet central routers the truth (Village Voice 2001).

Hence, IT and globalisation essentially are the same phenomenon; an ontological phenomenon that addresses being-in-the-world. IT/globalisation addresses human on going adjustment to the world and thus it features a domination over meaning in that it is the essential unfolding of the ontological revealing that rules our epoch. As an appearance of Ge-stell globalisation is the logos, the ground for action, against which what appears appears. Globalisation means, rigorously, the globalisation of everything. As such, as a phenomenon with metaphysical contours, globalisation holds complete domination over all the phenomena of our times.

We should mention that this domination is not equal to social, political or economic uniformity whatsoever. Although by the logic of this investigation that kind of event cannot be put aside, it cannot be taken as inevitable as well. What is at stake in here is a much deeper disclosure of the real against which uniformity and multiformity, themselves, show up. For example, the ontological background of Ge-stell is that on the basis of which the Western world is “developed” and many Asian and African countries are labelled “developing”. IT and globalisation, as the background of our times, are becoming the implicit criteria against which countries, regions, and cities will be further and further classified (Heidegger 1972:7). In its grounding of an age, we could say of IT, and thus of globalisation, what Heidegger (1977:115) synthesised about the fundamental way in which metaphysics unfolds: IT/globalisation “grounds [our] age, in that through a specific interpretation of what is and through a specific comprehension of truth it gives to [our] age the basis upon which it is essentially formed. This basis holds complete domination over all the phenomena that distinguish [our] age”.



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[1]This article was prepared for the Project Enciclopédia e Hipertexto of the Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa (http://www.educ.fc.ul.pt/hyper) and draws upon the following papers of mine: “The Globalisation of Everything or Ge-stell by Other Name: A Phenomenological Analysis of Information Technology”, just submitted to a conference on phenomenology and the human sciences; “The Emergence of Ontological Agreement in Organisational Life”, co-authored with Lucas Introna presented in Interpretive Approaches to Information Systems and Computing Research, 26th and 27th, July 2002, Brunel University, London, UK; and “Globalisation Out of Information: A Hermeneutic and Autopoietic Analysis”, to be presented at the International Association for Development of the Information Society (IADIS) e-Society 2003 Conference, June, Lisbon, Portugal.

[2] Sanskrit - the language in which ‘The Vedas’, the oldest sacred texts, are written - was an early form of an Indo-Aryan language, dating from around 1000 BC. The Indo-Aryan languages derived from Proto-Indo-European (before 3000 BC), from which also evolved Slavic, Baltic, Classical Greek, Latin, Germanic and other families of languages. Old High German, Middle English, and Middle Dutch, belong to the West branch of the Germanic family. Middle French belongs to the Italic (Latin) family (Crystal 1987).

[3] I was unable to recover the specific details of this story, which I read around 1998/1999 in a major UK newspaper.

[4] In general the term the technological is closely related to the term the technique;to the French expression la technique in Ellul’s (1954) La Technique ou l’enjeu du siécle (The Technological Society, 1964);and to the German expression die Technik of Heidegger’s Die Technik und die Kehre (1962b) – The Question Concerning Technology (Heidegger 1977).

[5] In the ordinary usage Gestell means some kind of apparatus, frame, shelf, or skeleton. Hyphenating the word—Ge-stell—Heidegger both wants to bring forward the gathering that the prefix Ge- denotes, and to open us to the whole realms of meaning addressed by the family of verbs centred in the verb stellen, and in the noun Stell. The noun means place, spot, location. The verb stellen means to place, to set, to put, to stand, to arrange, to regulate, to provide, to order, to furnish or to supply, and in a military context, to challenge or to engage (Lovitt 1997:15 fn.14; Ciborra 1998:318). Ge-stell is translated by Lovitt (ibid.) by enframing,trying to suggest through the use of the prefix ‘en-‘ “something of the active meaning that Heidegger gives to the German word” (ibid.:19 fn.17).

[6] Literally, ‘order about’ means domination (OPDT:522).

[7] Castells adds: “(although certainly not determined)”.

[8] For example, refer to Crane (2001) to the entries of the Latin words terra, sphaera, orbis, globosus, globo, con-globo, and to Greek entry sphaira; Strabo in 2.3.1. refers explicitly to the earth as the “terrestrial globe”.

[9] Markets and technology, e.g., Barnett and Cavanagh 1994; Corsi and Kudrya 1998; Henderson 1999; Ohmae 1990, 1996; Woods 2000; financial system, e.g., Campbell 1996; Gray 1998; Hutton and Giddens 2000; politics and world power, e.g., Baylis and Smith 1997; Beck 1997; Nye and Donahue 2000; Rosenau and Czempiel 1992; Vayrynen 1999.

[10] Our translation from the original “Informatização é globalização”.