[ISEA2011] Paper: Alan Neil Shapiro – Improving the Information Society Through Awareness of Languages


On a planetary scale, the quality of communication, work, cross-cultural empathy, scientific and business development, health care, and leisure-time experience in the information society has been limited by the specific way in which English has been adapted as the global language. It is important to have at least one global language (Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are also candidates for this status), but it is also urgent that other languages be recognized and respected, and that the entire multi-lingual situation of the network society and the era of globalization be pragmatically treated with more awareness. The trend has been towards the unconscious creation of hybrids of English and a national language. We instead need to work towards restoring the separate autonomous integrity of both English and the national language. I will consider three areas, and present two empirical examples in each area. I will make concrete suggestions for improvements to the language situation in the context of case studies. First, in software development in the IT industry, in non-English speaking countries, the quality of communication among programmers and other IT experts has been affected by the reality of hybrid language situations. I will mention the examples of the software industry in Germany and Italy. Second, in museums, the same question of English-and-national-language duality with respect to the presentation of museum objects and artefacts (both to physically present and online-remote-virtual visitors) requires serious attention. I will discuss the examples of some prominent museums in Germany and Italy. Third, I will consider how communication in online social media like Facebook, Twitter, virtual world simulations, and chat rooms is affected by the global use of loosely structured English and netspeak. I will propose measures to upgrade social experience and interaction through the educational amelioration of the English in circulation, an expanded role for national and local languages, and an appreciation of the value of colloquialisms, slang, acronyms, emoticons, and other “digital culture” socio-linguistic practices.

  • Alan Neil Shapiro is an interdisciplinary thinker who studied science-technology at MIT and philosophy-history-literature at Cornell University. He is the author of Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance, a leading work in science fiction studies and on the conception of futuristic technoscience. He is the editor and translator of The Technological Herbarium by Gianna Maria Gatti, a major study of art and technology. He is a practicing software developer, and is working on projects like “Computer Science 2.0” and “The Museum of the Future.” At his website “Alan N. Shapiro, Technologist and Futurist” , he has published more than 200 articles about his new interdisciplinary worldview. He is recognised as one of the leading experts on the philosophy and cultural theory of Jean Baudrillard. alan-shapiro.com

Full text (PDF) p. 2215-2219