Zarathustra and beyond: exploring culture and values online [Book Review]

AI and Society 28 (1):95-105 (2013)
Illusions of control and fantasies of power are important themes in human history and culture. The first objective of this paper is to explore Zarathustran fantasies in the information society, and our dreams of God-like control and mastery over ourselves and the Universe. This paper does not try to be faithful to Nietzschean philosophical concepts of Zarathustra, but instead explore cultural themes, which can be related to a mythology of God-like control and omniscient perception. It draws together strands from science fiction, anthropology, philosophy, technology development, systems engineering, socio-technical systems, finance and e-business to set out how we have fallen for the technocultural illusions we have created. The paper then shifts gear, and in an attempt to address these technocultural problems, identifies an intellectual trajectory centred on an anthropological perspective. Using examples from e-business and Schwartz’s universal model of human values, applied into a technocultural context, the paper shows how it is possible to create meaningful systems of organisation that utilise advanced technologies to help provide a deeply value-laden cultural system. Our world is changing fundamentally and dramatically, and we desperately need new approaches to help us understand these transitions. The paper’s primary contribution is to critique both human-centred thinking, and mechanistic, Taylorist views of organisation and technology. It stimulates debate concerning the relationship between technology and culture as it is worked out in the information society. Shifting the perspective from humans as social, functioning creatures, this paper offers a new human-centred approach based upon humans as cultural, valuing beings.
Keywords Culture  Values  Integral systems  Systems failure  Socio-technical systems  Information systems development  Systems engineering  Anthropology  Information society  Complexity  Philosophy of technology
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DOI 10.1007/s00146-012-0412-4
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