Digital transformation of social theory
Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School and Yerevan State University
Harry F. Dahms, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Frank Welz, University of Innsbruck
Sandro Cattacin, University of Geneva
There once was a time when leaders could both appreciate books and govern empires without knowing how to read and write (Dutton, 2016; Pascal, 1970). Today’s thought leaders are in a very similar situation. Though hardly ever away from keyboard, we scholars in general and social theorists in particular relate to the dominant media of the 21st century as if we still lived in the Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan, 1962), as exemplified in the prevailing use of computers and Internet mainly to write books and articles to store and search for in online libraries. The situation is even more remarkable in that we not only continue to treat the new media like traditional media, but also produce more and more traditional media on the new media. Today, there are publications on the digital transformation of almost everything. Human identity (Nagy & Koles, 2014) is being transformed digitally, along with more mundane aspects of social life such as work (Stone, 2004), production (Potstada et al., 2016), or healthcare (Agarwal et al., 2010); and then again time and space (Berthon et al., 2000), and thus even the globe (Heylighen & Lenartowicz, 2016) and all of our everyday life (Wajcman, 2008); apparently, not even the traditional media (Coyle, 2006; Roth et al., 2017) can escape the digital transformation.
In such a context of inescapable digital transformation, our professional insistence on oral and written language remains consistent as long as we have reason to believe that these traditional media remain dominant even in the new media age (Turkle, 2016). The less committed we are to this belief, however, the clearer it becomes that books and articles on the digital transformation systematically fail to “walk their own talk”. Digital copies of printed theories do not constitute digital theories, just as literature does not constitute mere transliterations of oral speech. Even if smart attempts to tie programming languages back to the traditional forms occasionally result in the discovery of new genres such as code poetry (for an example, see Bertran, 2012), to most of us even these literalised forms of computer language remain as inaccessible as the Bible once was to the majority of the medieval populations. Thus, of all people, we scholars also belong to the illiterate farmers of the information age today, as we harvest our research fields at computer-mediated conferences and virtually augment our stocks of books and papers. The heirs of the medieval monks, our profession of bookworms and elaborate natural language processors itself grew dependent on trust in and reliant on spiritual guidance from a community of cybermonks who shape and administer the increasingly omnipresent knowledge architectures of the future …