Transforming images into pixels...

Photo © V. Krebs
Photo © V. Krebs
Rabah Tounsi, English version Anna and Adelasia Grandone, proofreading Sarah Webborn
03 February 2007

Television is a relatively recent invention. New technologies such as the Internet have only been used for about 10 years as a generalized means of communication. These tools have changed our way of exchanging information, of communicating around the world. But what exactly have they changed? How do they relate to volunteerism and the work of an organization such as ICVolunteers?

The spectator and web surfer --in reality one and the same person-- is a modern static traveller who needs more than ever a compass and a roadmap. The territory of imagery and the Web has become a vast and immensely diverse ocean of information and resources. In a lifetime, human beings spend millions of hours in front of screens. How do we explain this, when we know that human lives are short and surfing on the Web or dealing with any other type of screen leads people to spend time focusing on an activity largely based on perception and for which many do not get paid?

There are plenty of mysteries surrounding the functioning of our human brain, the galaxy and the Universe. In contrast, we know pretty much everything about the technology behind television and the Web, from manufacturing the device, piece by piece, assembling it into an operational item able to transmit an enormous amount of information, all the way down to the delivery of programmes --updating the number of participants by the minute. What remains much more mysterious, however, is what turns men and women into busy television consumers and web surfers, transforming the large majority of human societies into "entertainment societies".

Television and the Web evolve at breathtaking speed, conquer audiences and have a constantly increasing number of subscribers. Yet, many accuse the Internet of spoiling our youth and destroying the cultural heritage of our societies. Some teachers reject television; some intellectuals detest it. Children, on the other hand, adore it, while parents are increasingly addicted to it. Television and some programmes are held responsible for all bad things that happen on our planet. They are said to be the cause of illness, stupidity and ignorance, lack of education, violence and profanity. And yet, no real poof is ever given to justify these accusations. Maybe television and the Web will soon be held accountable for climate change too... Virulence accompanies a poverty of argument. Evidence does exist showing how older and newer generations can get the most out of the new devices available to us.

So, let us not start useless battles, like those lost lost in the past against radio, comic strips, discs, printers, pocket books and even major newspapers... This especially since the arguments brought forward have not changed at all... for each new era the same old story. Instead, let us learn how to deal with the flows of imagery and information; let us discover how to appreciate, and to live with them. If new technologies do have an impact on the profound evolution of our cultural behaviours, it is also by instilling new ways of thinking -- for example solidarity through South-South and North-South cooperation (see CyberVolunteers Programme)-- and the perception these technologies give us of the world.

What some of the critics indicate, though, is that this world of mother boards, wires and cyberspace should not simply be reduced to a giant pile of technical data and information. Computers remain empty boxes with useless memory if they are not capable of spreading the spirit of enthusiasm of their users, transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. If used in this sense, they provide a fantastic window to the world, empowered by imagery and information.

Through its projects, ICVolunteers is striving to make this connection, to empower people to use technology not simply for the sake of technology, but as a catalyst of ideas, and a generator of creativity for the good of those most in need.

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