March 28, 2011

New book: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies

The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies

Author: Philippe Breton
Translator: David Bade
Price: $22.00
Published: March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-936117-41-3
Printed on acid-free paper

French author Philippe Breton examines the Internet and the culture surrounding it through the lens of its philosophical and cultural background. Central in his insightful analysis of “the Internet as cult” are Teilhard de Chardin and the New Age, but he looks also at the fears, passions and pathologies of Alan Turing and Norbert Wiener, the imagined worlds of Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard and Timothy Leary, the prognostications and confessions of Bill Gates, Nicolas Negroponte and Bill Joy, and the philosophies of Saint-Simon, McLuhan and Pierre Lévy. Breton contrasts the dreams of a transparent and unmediated world, a world in which neither time nor space are relevant, a world without violence, without law, without a distinction between the public and the private, with the reality of propaganda, computer viruses and surveillance; the world in which “sociality in the sense of mutuality disappears in favor of interactivity,” where “experience with another and with the world in general is replaced by brief reactionary relations that hardly engage us at all.” This English language translation is by David Bade.

When the book was first published in France as Le culte de l’Internet: une menace pour le lien social?, the publishers described the book with these remarks on its cover [translation by David Bade]:

For the first time in the history of humanity human beings have created a technical system—the Internet—that allows us to dispense with all face-to-face communication. No one would have considered such a possibility if the Internet had not been the object of a cult offering the promise of a better world, the world of “cyberspace”. The advocates of “the Internet for everything” seem to have carried the day not only against technophobes but more importantly against all those desirous of a reasoned use of new technologies.

These militant fundamentalists call for a global information society in which social relationships will be founded upon a separation of bodies and a collectivization of consciousnesses. Their vision is one that mixes together the heritage of Teilhard de Chardin, Zen Buddhism and New Age philosophies. It is a vision that mobilizes American cultural values such as Puritanism, manicheism, the quest for social harmony and the cult of the young. It is rooted in a religiosity that celebrates the utopia of transparence in the context of a political crisis and the waning influence of monotheism and humanism.

Technical developments since 2000 have brought many new imaginations and practices, but Breton’s description of the imaginations that have surrounded the development of the Internet remains a superb corrective to the commonplace that technological developments are changing our world. The reader of The Cultural Origins of the Internet and the Internet as Cult will come away with an awareness of how our own imaginations, our fears and our fantasies form and fashion our futures, technological, social and otherwise.

March 26, 2011

Professors’ email may be public

No comment about this or predictions about where the case may be headed or whether there will be broader implications for privacy down the road, except to say to anyone out there who uses an email account set up by a public university: Best to keep as much as possible on your own private email accounts.

Wisc. GOP defends request for professor’s emails

Some links for you…

I haven’t been posting much, but I do have some links to share:

By Steve Coll, in the New York Review of Books: The Internet: For Better or for Worse, a review of two books skeptical of the idea of the internet as a force for liberation.

By Richard Dorment, also in the NYRB: What Andy Warhol Did, about an interesting legal dispute over the authenticity of one of his works, and the systems and actors involved.

Brian Christian writes in the Atlantic Monthly about how the push for more advanced artificial intelligence can help us understand what it is to be human (a favorite topic of mine): Mind vs. Machine

In The Chronicle Review, an article about Sherry Turkle’s recent work on our use of computers for social networking, taking a more worried tone than she is known for: Programmed for Love

Words for Daniel Bell, the sociologist and public intellectual who died this January, from Morris Dickstein, Russell K. Nieli, Michael Aronson, and Lindsay Waters.

Gautam Naik writes in the Wall Street Journal about enthusiasts of a new spiritual technique for the information age: Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation

Avi Steinberg, author of Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, writes briefly of his experience in the Boston Globe: Escape route.

March 25, 2011

Smart commentary on Judge Chin’s decision

I am not personally diving into the discussion of Judge Chin’s decision on the Google Settlement, because I am too war-weary of fighting it out with other librarians on issues where I feel like a lone dissenter, but I will go as far as to say that I like this post on the topic by David Crotty: The Google Books Settlement: Where Things Stand, and Some Suggestions for What’s Next….

March 15, 2011

A whole other basket of FOIA exceptions – statutes

Susan Maret sent an interesting link to the PLG listserv to an article about statutes that create new exemptions to FOIA. If you’re interested in access to government information, this is something you should be aware of.

March 14, 2011

Nadia Plesner free speech case

Librarians interested in intellectual freedom should take note of a case of censorship by copyright lawsuit. Danish artist Nadia Plesner has used an image of a Louis Vuitton handbag in some biting artwork about the genocide in Darfur to show our culpability in not bridging the gap between the tragedy there and our shallow consumerist lives. Louis Vuitton sued her a couple of years ago, and a judged ruled in their favor in January, without giving Plesner a chance to testify in her own defense. You can read about it on her site.

March 7, 2011

New book from Richard J. Cox: Archival Anxiety and the Vocational Calling

Title: Archival Anxiety and the Vocational Calling
Author: Richard J. Cox
Price: $35.00
ISBN: 978-1-936117-49-9
6″ by 9″
372 Pages
Published: March 2011

Richard J. Cox’s fifteenth book on archival studies related topics, this collection of essays responds to anxieties affecting the archival profession as societal changes highlight the importance of archives and records-keeping and begin to push archival work in new directions. The initial part of the book consists of three essays exploring the notion of archival calling, including a lesson about a lost opportunity for advocating the critical importance of the archival mission and a very personal reflection on the author’s own calling into the archival field. The second part of the book concerns one of the pre-eminent challenges of our time, government secrecy, and how, if left unchallenged, it can undermine the societal role of the archival profession. The third part of the book considers one of the most important issues facing archivists, indeed, all information professionals, the possession of a practical ethical perspective. The fourth and final part of the book concerns the matter of teaching the next generation of archivists in the midst of all the change, debates, and controversies about archives and archivists. In a brief concluding reflection, the author offers some final advice to the archival community in charting its future.

March 5, 2011

Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize – Call for Submissions (student paper contest)


Are you an LIS student interested in activism and the struggle for social justice? Do you stay awake at night thinking about how your politics might inform your professional practice?

The MIRIAM BRAVERMAN MEMORIAL PRIZE, a presentation of the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG), is awarded each year for the best paper about some aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Papers related to archivists, archives, and archival work are also eligible.

The winning paper will be published in the Summer 2011 issue of Progressive Librarian. The winner of the contest will also receive a $300 stipend to help offset the cost of travel to and from the 2011 American Library Association (ALA)annual conference in New Orleans, LA. The award will be presented at the annual PLG dinner at ALA.

Think you might be interested? Here’s the fine print.

1. Contestants must be library and/or information science students attending a graduate-level program in the United States or Canada.

2. Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the contestant, and must be written in English. Entries may not exceed 3,000 words, and must conform to MLA in-text citation style.

3. To facilitate the blind review process, each entry must include a cover sheet providing the contestant’s name, full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of the institution where the contestant is enrolled, and the title of the paper. No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the paper itself.

4. Entries must be submitted electronically, in Microsoft Word or RTF format, to Entries must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. CST on May 1, 2011.

5. The $300 stipend is available only to help defray the cost of ALA conference attendance in 2011; if the winner of the contest is unable to attend, the money will remain in the Braverman Prize endowment fund and may be donated to a progressive cause at the discretion of the selection committee.

Any questions regarding the contest or the selection process can be directed to the co-chair of the selection committee, Steve Lorenz at or Sarah Clark at More information about Miriam Braverman and about the Progressive Librarians Guild is available at