Over the past few decades, we have been subjected to a steady barrage of assertions that humanity has become one "family of man" -- challenging the earlier understanding that humans have in fact organized themselves into an array of substantially differentiated civilizations.  At the Center, we believe that this detour into "globalism" no longer makes any sense and that a renewed effort to understand human civlizations (plural) under digital conditions has become highly relevant.

Indeed, the Center proposes that the earlier notions about civlization be fundamentally reconsidered in the light of digital technologies.  We suggest that a new notion of Spheres is needed -- reflecting civilizations which have achieved global-reach and which have incorporated new technologies into what we call Operating Systems for Society (OSS).  Indeed, we have already begun our research on the China Operating System and plan to follow-up with studies into the development of the other spheres as well.

In addition, we propose that the capacity for "autonomy" by digital systems -- or as our Research Advisory Board member George Dyson puts it, "the shift from numbers that mean something to numbers that do something" -- must be taken very seriously.  Accordingly, in addition to the traditonal human cultures considered by earlier researchers, we propose that the expanding Digital Sphere be understood as standing apart, independent and alien from the human spheres.

We believe that this constitutes new research territory which must have a high priority.  As Marshall McLuhan put it a 1969 letter to Jacques Maritian, "There is a deep-seated repugnace in the human breast against understanding the processes in which we are involved.  Such understanding involves far too much responsibility for our actions."

Norbert Wiener, in one of his last published interviews, just before his death in 1964, said, "There is a worship of gadgetry. People are fascinated by gadgets. The machines are there to be used by man, and if man prefers to leave the whole matter of their employment to the machine, by over-worship of the machine or unwillingness to make decisions -- whether you call it laziness or cowardice -- then we're in for trouble.”

The Center believes that the time has come for us to act responsibly.  This will require new research that wasn't available to either McLuhan or Wiener.  The Center intends to be a focus of that investigation.


Mark Stahlman

The Center for the Study of Digital Life (CSDL) is a not-for-profit strategic research group dedicated to understanding the effects of digital technologies on civilizations -- both East and West.

-Mark Stahlman