Against Nature: The Metaphysics of Information Systems

London, UK: Routledge (2018)
Authors
David Kreps
University of Salford
Abstract
Against Nature – Chapter Abstracts Chapter 1. A Transdisciplinary Approach. In this short book you will find philosophy – metaphysical and political - economics, critical theory, complexity theory, ecology, sociology, journalism, and much else besides, along with the signposts and reference texts of the Information Systems field. Such transdisciplinarity is a challenge for both author and reader. Such books are often problematic: sections that are just old hat to one audience are by contrast completely new and difficult to another. My hope is that in the interconnections, arguments and thrust of this polemic, readers will discover both interest and insight, alongside a range of new avenues to explore. This introductory chapter sets the scene – today’s digital world of Tech Giants and Fake News, its roots in the philosophical arguments of the 1920s, and the book’s key claims: (i) that the early 20th century philosophical grounding of today’s digital revolution is culpable in digital’s (growing) contribution to the ecological catastrophe unfolding in the 21st century; (ii) that process philosophy offers a new way to rethink that philosophical grounding, and reshape the digital revolution to support strategies to counter that catastrophe. Chapter 2. The Problem with Digital. This chapter begins with a brief overview of the research approaches in information systems as an academic field, before turning to the deeper roots of its malaise, in individualism, and its looming consequences. The three branches of Information Systems research, in academia, prove to be a useful lens through which to understand the field: Positivism, Interpretivism, and the Critical stance taken by this book. The ‘scientism’ at the root of positivism is examined, and the positivism in Information Systems critiqued as a historically contingent response to the ascendancy of a new brand of economics in Business Schools after the Second World War. But the computational market-fundamentalist form of economics sponsored in the 1950s (and applied by governments since the 1970s) centred around notions of the individual rational actor as an information processor. The philosophical underpinning of methodological and possessive individualism in this approach is exposed, and its influence upon the development – long before computing – of the science of ecology, and our notion of ecosystems, introduced. Chapter 3. The Future Does Not Exist. The philosophical core of the book, this chapter introduces process philosophy. Through an examination of the irreversible reality of subjectivity, Bergson’s famous notion of the durée reélle, and Whitehead’s critique of the bifurcation of subject and object, are introduced. The causally closed ‘time’ of positive science determines existence from the beginning to the end of the universe, be it three seconds or three trillion years. But the reality, of course, is that the future does not exist: our choices are real, and only one of myriad potential futures comes into being at each moment. As Bergson insists, durational succession exists, I am conscious of it; it is a fact. Bergson’s star – once the brightest of any living philosopher in the world – faded almost as quickly as it rose, under the onslaught from the logical positivists whose verificationism insisted that any proposition has no factual meaning if no evidence of observation can count for or against it: all ethics, aesthetics, romance, and metaphysics – and the very subjectivity with which duration is experienced - were thus closed down and dismissed. In this chapter it is reintroduced, to a new audience. Chapter 4. The World in a New Light. Many fundamental problems in the world can be seen as resulting from the false philosophy of bifurcation, fixity, and the reification of abstractions critiqued by process philosophy. Being – with all the isolation and focus upon the individual that it entails – must, if we are to address these problems, be seen as secondary to Becoming, with all the connection, interrelatedness, and complex collectivity that it implies. Choices become clearer, between positivism and interpretivism, between accents upon individualism or collectivism, between reductionist and complex adaptive systems approaches. The systemic individualism in Anglo-American societies can be regarded as actually harmful: the Tech Giants severing ties and bonds rather than connecting us; algebraic ecological models actually breaking the co-dependencies and co-requisites upon which real – complex - ecological health depends. Positivism, built as it is upon methodological individualism, seen in the light of process philosophy, becomes a danger to personal psychological balance – cutting us off from one another; a danger to the social fabric – undermining and impoverishing our civic life; and a danger to the ecological health of the planet – ignoring the immense (eco)systemic impact of our activities over the last centuries upon everything around us in the natural world. Chapter 5. A Theoretical Manifesto for Green IT. We are not islands, and in a process-relational social organisation much must be held in common. We are individuals, but we cannot survive alone. Four different perspectives on individualism show it to be little more than greed. An ecological economics reintegrating the household, the social, the supportive State, and – crucially – the life-giving earth into our polities is introduced and promoted. I introduce the concept of ‘Infomateriality’ – a non-bifurcated digital world where the physical bodies of people - fingers touching keyboards and eyes scanning screens - are as much ‘hardware’ as cabling, circuitboards and haptic interfaces, and the social practices, power relations, and embedded politics within IT artefacts define all such techné as fundamentally social. Abstract divisions are false, and whole, socially embedded systems should be the focus of IS, and from a philosophically and sociologically much deeper perspective. ‘Tech for Good’ is held up as movement in the right direction. My hope is that this book will help promote action, in the field of information systems, toward a better world, where Green Tech for Good is deployed for Nature, rather than against it.
Keywords Bergson  Whitehead  Process  Digital  Information
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