February 02, 2003
Just Read : The Hyper Complex Society

Disappointed as I was by Small Pieces Loosely Joined, in particular about the naive descriptions of the 1-1 society, and the 'global village' approach to networked life, I was happy to find a much heavier (in content not pages) book that adressed the problem of information saturation in the networked society within the five first pages! I am talking about The Hypercomplex Society which is just about in print in an english edition but came out in Danish in 1998.

This is a brilliant book by a Danish professor of multimedia, Lars Qvortrup, and it is good to see that it is being translated into english. The (danish edition that I have) is extremely well written and kept in a light-hearted style in a mock dialogoue with Qvortrup's daughters - supposedly preparing an essay for school on the information society The text makes no excuses about explaining the content with reference to a host of philosophers and social scientists, with quotes dating from 1486 to the present.

The book does what Small Pieces fails in trying - namely present the nature of the networked society from a human perspective as opposed to a technological perspective. It is refreshing to get a a view on the impact of technology in the networked society that explains this society entirely in terms of the ideas and developments driving people and society and not in terms of the enabling technology. The concept driving the book - the Hypercomplex society - is a real eye-opener for me, in pointing out the fundamentally changed role people play in this new society. This is not just mysticism but a workable rational theory about people, communication, and networks. It manages to be very simple to explain and still have a very great explanatory power in describing our present society.

The idea makes perfect sense, and furthermore it also makes sense of the development in our understanding of meaning since the ideas about safe universal meaning finally collapsed completely in the 1920s. It's easy to feel (or at least it was during the postmodern wave of the 80s) that the collapse of universal meaning has left no meaning at all, but this book does a fine job at delineating what boundaries we have to accept for meaning, but still recovering the meaning that is left for us to share.
If you're conversant with the literature it's based on this should not be shocking, but the ideas are presented in a a very straightforward and understandable style, considering the depth of the material. You're greatly helped in your reading if you know your history of ideas up until 1900, but for later developments the text is fairly self-contained.

A word of warning for the casual reader: The english edition promises to be much more scholarly and probably more condensed, being a reworking of three danish language titles into one monography.

Posted by Claus at February 02, 2003 12:42 AM
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