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On the Internet (Thinking in Action) [Hardcover]

Hurbert L Dreyfus
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

21 May 2001 Thinking in Action
Drawing on a diverse array of thinkers from Plato to Kierkegaard, On the Internet is one of the first books to bring philosophical insight to the debate on how far the internet can and cannot take us.
Dreyfus shows us the roots of the disembodied, free floating web surfer in Descartes' separation of mind and body, and how Kierkegaard's insights into the birth of the modern reading public anticipate the news-hungry, but disinterested risk avoiding internet junkie. Drawing on recent studies of the isolation experienced by many internet users, Dreyfus shows how the internet's privatisation of experience ignores essential human capacities such as trust, moods, risk, shared local concerns and commitment. On the Internet is essential reading for anyone on line and all those interested in our place in the e-revolution.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (21 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415228069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415228060
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,736,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

..."sharp and stimulating discussion of the promises of the Intenet. Going beyond the hype of the cybercrowd, Dreyfus a celebrated writer on philosophy and technology, asks whether the Internet can really bring humanity to a new level of community and solve the problems of mass education. Dreyfus' critique of huper learning provides much food for thought and raises the level of the discussions amongst concerned educators and technologists."-" First Monday "A clear discussion of the promises of the Internet...brings a philosopher's eye to bear on an issue that affects all of us.."-"Ubiquity "Interesting and definitely much needed...a short and thought provoking book that can be read by any net enthusiast and/or scholar who is interested in the topics of learning, knowledge and identity in relation to the Internet.."-"Humanist "At a time when bookstores and magazine stands are saturated with titles about the internet, it comes as no small, blessed relief to read one that is actually interesting and realistic, whose arguments are worth thinking about and engaging with Whether you're a novice to the internet or someone deeply involved with it - as a user or developer - On the Internet will engage you in topics ranging from the seemingly mundane (hyperlinks) to current trends toward distance learning.."-"Tech Directions "This book is an important addition to the growing literature on the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet."-"Revue Philosophique

About the Author

Hubert Dreyfus is Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School at the University of California at Berkeley, USA.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The Internet Book raises the following questions: Can we leave our vulnerable bodies while preserving relevance, learning, reality, and meaning? The latest book of Hubert Dreyfus examines in complete details the various perspectives -of the Net through the eyes of a Philosopher -the attraction of life on the Internet as a way of achieving Plato's dream of overcoming space and time as well as bodily finitude. Drawing on philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hubert Dreyfus discussed and seriously criticised the Net. In his criticism in the book, he explaines -that, in spite of its attraction, the more one lives one's life through the Net the more loses a sense of what is relevant, and so faces the problem of finding the information one is seeking. Also, in spite of economic attraction of distance learning, such learning by substituting telepresence for real presence (how much presence is delivered by the telepresence?), leaves no place for risk-taking an apprenticeship which plays a crucial role in all types of skill acquisition. Furthermore, without a sense of bodily vulnerability, one looses a sense of reality of the physical world and one's sense that one can trust other people. Finally, he discusses while the anonymity of the Net makes possible experimentation, the overall effect of the NET is to undermine commitment (what Kierkegaard spelled out in The Present Age) thus to deprive life of any serious meaning. This fascinating discovery shows that the Internet has profound and unexpected effects. Presumably, it affects people in ways that are different than the way most tools do because it can become the main way someone relates to the rest of the world. Given the surprises and disappointments through the Net, Hubert Dreyfus explores the question, what are the benefits and the dangers of living our lives on line?
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The attraction and dangers of Internet Platonism 2 Aug 2001
By Arun Kumar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Internet Book raises the following questions: Can we leave our vulnerable bodies while preserving relevance, learning, reality, and meaning? The latest book of Hubert Dreyfus examines in complete details the various perspectives -of the Net through the eyes of a Philosopher -the attraction of life on the Internet as a way of achieving Plato's dream of overcoming space and time as well as bodily finitude. Drawing on philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hubert Dreyfus discussed and seriously criticised the Net. In his criticism in the book, he explaines -that, in spite of its attraction, the more one lives one's life through the Net the more loses a sense of what is relevant, and so faces the problem of finding the information one is seeking. Also, in spite of economic attraction of distance learning, such learning by substituting telepresence for real presence (how much presence is delivered by the telepresence?), leaves no place for risk-taking an apprenticeship which plays a crucial role in all types of skill acquisition. Furthermore, without a sense of bodily vulnerability, one looses a sense of reality of the physical world and one's sense that one can trust other people. Finally, he discusses while the anonymity of the Net makes possible experimentation, the overall effect of the NET is to undermine commitment (what Kierkegaard spelled out in The Present Age) thus to deprive life of any serious meaning.
This fascinating discovery shows that the Internet has profound and unexpected effects. Presumably, it affects people in ways that are different than the way most tools do because it can become the main way someone relates to the rest of the world. Given the surprises and disappointments through the Net, Hubert Dreyfus explores the question, what are the benefits and the dangers of living our lives on line?
In the Internet book-the author tried to give answers in greater depth to the questions, which is important in field of humanities and Philosophy -that why reach beyond ourselves and our humanity? Why seek to become posthuman? Why not accept our human limits and renounce transcendence?
In my view, the book On the Internet discusses in greater depth the important question How does the Dreyfus's Skill developmental model and his non-representational learning relate to the Internet-facilitated education!
The book is divided into four chapters:
Chapter 1. Hyperlinks -In this chapter The hype about hyper-links Professor Dreyfus discusses the hope for intelligent information retrieval and the failure of AI. He raises one good question, how the actual shape and movement of our bodies plays a crucial role in grounding meaning so that loss of embodiment leads to loss of relevance.
Chapter 2. Distance-Learning -In this chapter, How far is Distance Learning from Education? Hubert Dreyfus discusses the importance of mattering and attunement for teaching and learning skills and phenomenology of skill acquisition. Apprenticeship and the need for imitation. "Without involvement and presence -he said we cannot acquire skills."
Chapter 3. Telepresence -The chapter, Disembodied Telepresence and the remoteness of the Real will let us know about -the body as source of our presence of causal embedding and attunement to mood. Hubert Dreyfus raises a question, how loss of background coping and attunement leads to loss of sense of reality of people and things. (I see something like you, but I don't see you and I hear something like you, but I don't hear you)
Chapter 4. Nihilism -The last chapter (most important), Nihilism on the Information Highway: Anonymity vs. commitment in the Present Age discusses in details about the meaning, requires commitment and real commitment requires real risks. The anonymity and safety of virtual commitments on-line, leads to loss of meaning. In this chapter, Prof. Dreyfus translates the Soren Kierkegaardian view of The Present Age to the Net.
Professor Dreyfus translates Kierkegaard's account of the dangers and opportunities of what Kierkegaard called the Press into a critique of the Internet so as to raise the question: what contribution -- for good or ill -- can the World Wide Web, with its ability to deliver vast amounts of information to users all over the world, make to educators trying to pass on knowledge and to develop skills and wisdom in their students? He then elaborates Kierkegaard's three-stage answer to the problem of lack of involvement posed by the Press -- Kierkegaard claim that to have a meaningful life the learner must pass through the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious spheres of existence -- to suggest that only the first two stages -- the aesthetic and the ethical -- can be implemented with Information Technology and Net, while the final stage, which alone makes meaningful learning possible, is undermined rather than supported by the tendencies of the desituated and anonymous Net.
In the aesthetic sphere, the aesthete avoids commitments and lives in the categories of the interesting and the boring and wants to see as many interesting sights (sites) as possible. In the ethical sphere we would reach a `despair of possibility' brought on by the ease of making and unmaking commitments on the Net. Only in the religious sphere is nihilism overcome by making a risky, unconditional commitment. Dreyfus concludes that only by working closely with students in a shared situation in the real world can teachers with strong identities, ready to take risks to preserve their commitments, pass on their passion and skill to their students. In this shared context students can turn information into knowledge and practical wisdom.
The risk-free anonymity of the Internet, Dreyfus said, makes it a good medium for slander, innuendo, endless gossip, and ultimately, boredom. "Without some way of telling the relevant from the irrelevant and the significant from the insignificant, everything becomes equally interesting and equally boring." He later argued, "The nihilistic pull of the new network culture doesn't prohibit such personal commitment but does inhibit.
As a philosopher Professor Hubert Dreyfus expresses his concern in not going to become involved in criticizing some specific uses of the Internet and defending others. His question is a more speculative one: What if the Net became central in our lives? What if it becomes what Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government calls an "irresistible alternative culture?" To the extent that we came to live a large part of our lives on the line, would we become super or infra human? In seeking an answer, to above questions, Hubert Dreyfus ellaborates..that..we should remain open to the possibility that, when we enter cyberspace and leave behind our animal-shaped, emotional, intuitive, situated, vulnerable, embodied selves, and thereby gain a remarkable new freedom never before available to human beings, we might, at the same time, necessarily lose our ability to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, lack a sense of the seriousness of success and failure necessary for learning, lose our sense of being causally embedded in the world and, along with it, our sense of reality, and, finally, be tempted to avoid the risk of genuine commitment, and so lose our sense of what is significant or meaningful in our lives. In greater depth, the Internet book discusses the hope that if our body goes, so does relevance, skill, reality, and meaning. If that is the trade-off, the prospect of living our lives in and through the Web may not be so attractive after all.
The book is highly recommended to educators, techno philosophers and techno enthusiasts. Thank you.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Existentialistic Pessimism 30 Jun 2001
By YARIME Masaru - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Books on the Internet abound these days, but there are few which take serious philosophical approaches to this important technology. This book is a welcome exception. Referring to Existentialistic thinkers such as Kierkegaard, the author discusses how the anonymity and ubiquity of the Internet will affect our involvement with the "World." He argues that the absence of physical body, locality, and concreteness in the Internet communication will invite the loss of our commitmentted action, ultimately leading to "despair." This arguement is particularly interesting when it is compared with the rather positive view to the rational "public sphere" advocated by Habermas and others.
I would recommend this book to anybody who cares about the implications of the Internet for our life.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, provocative, little book 15 Jan 2006
By William F. Heidbreder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Dreyfus is a Heidegger scholar who is also known for his books explaining "why computers can't think." This short (it can be read in an evening), provocative book discusses some of the problems of reliance on the Internet as a source of information and an educational forum, in a way that is interestingly informed by Dreyfus's study of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. I highly recommend this book both to students of Continental philosophy (the author's use of Kierkegaard to argue against Habermas's notion of the "public sphere" as the locus of a meaningfully participatory democracy is especially provocative) and to anyone who has ever wondered whether the Internet really is making our lives better. Dreyfus explains why and how it may not be.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kierkegaard surfs prodigiously... 24 May 2003
By ewomack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a very little book dealing with a very big subject: does the internet add or detract from meaning in our lives? Such a topic can be covered only in a cursory way within 107 pages, but the major issues are represented in this book, and provide valuable food for thought.
Some of the questions asked are: can the internet deliver us from our bodily selves? Can the internet be used to disseminate information more efficiently and more universally? Can the internet democratize education and produce experts? What is the effect of the internet on the real? And, lastly, what are the implications of meaning in our lives concerning the internet?
These are all good questions, and each one could fill a volume on its own. Nonetheless, this book is a survey on the topics, and each topic is dealt with in about 20-30 pages.
On the issue of disembodiment and the internet, Dreyfus goes out on a limb himself while accusing others of doing the same. Why rely on the vision of the 'Extropians' (whose website is still active as of this typing) for guidance about how people are using and conceiving the internet? The vision of the web as a disembodied non-physical realm where humans will no longer have to deal with intestinal gas is a vision shared by very, very few. Dreyfus gives this concept far too much validity, and the first section of this book creates a sort of 'phantom threat' of people wanting to release themselves from their bodies (he calls it 'Cyberia'), and warnings about the consequences of wanting to do so.
The interesting part of the first section is the discussion of the failure of AI and the failing hope that cyberbeings will one day replace human beings. Those who are freaked out by the implications of 'The Matrix' will find comfort here.
Dreyfus' best arguments concern the internet and distance learning. Anyone working in education can tell you about the dismal failure of trying to replace human teachers with computers. That's not to say a certain amount of knowledge cannot be obtained from cyber-learning, but that knowledge has its limits. Expert knowledge is even difficult if not impossible from reading books (which has a certain amount of disembodiment in its own, but different, way). Face-to-face or body-to-body interaction is important, and will likely always be important, in mastering a subject or skill. That's why those who can afford it still hire tutors.
Similar arguments are put forth concerning the internet becoming a 'virtual world' in which people can potentially get sucked into and lost. It's true that this can happen, but the internet is not necessarily to blame. People can get sucked into drugs, television, reading, fantasizing, etc., and lose themselves in much the same way they can on the internet. Addictions take many forms, and the internet is but one. Still, a word of caution is justified here: the danger in the confusion of 'telepresence' - or, just because you see someone on your screen means that you're having a 'human experience' - with actual human contact is real and needs to be noted. It is not as great a danger as Dreyfus presents, however. To some it may be, but an edpidemic of Cyberians seems unlikely at this point. Also, Dreyfus points out that using the internet does not involve risk on the human level. This is becoming less and less true. It's not too hard to find out who is behind a pseudonym these days, and identity theft and monetary threat loom more and more. Not to mention that everything you type and look up on the internet is stored somewhere, and can be retrieved for purposes of marketing or otherwise. There are risks, on a fundamental human level, with internet use.
Concerning meaning and the internet, Dreyfus' claims that the internet leads to nihilism are not wholly convincing. They're based on the Kierkegaardian notion of the aesthetic and ethical life. Where Dreyfus sees problems, he defers to Kierkegaard.
Overall, the book presents a negative view on the present and future of the internet. Today it seems almost paranoid in places.The .COM burst gave us all a dose of reality, and there will likely be others to come as far as the internet is concerned. We're not to Dreyfus' distopia yet. Time may change that, or it may not. Likely more threateninig technologies will have to surface first.
This is a good place to start for exploring the philosophical implications of the internet. You won't want to stop here if this book catches your interest.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A probing and valuable study 16 Jan 2010
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this book, Hubert Dreyfus presents a philosophical study of how the Internet experientially impacts our lives. His approach appropriately draws mainly on phenomenology and existentialism, so you'll encounter names like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Merleau-Ponty. The book is short and fairly easy to follow, especially if you have some background in Western philosophy.

In reading the book, I found that Dreyfus pretty much articulates views I had already formed on my own many years ago, so of course I agree with him and I like the book. Here are the main points:

* The Internet exemplifies technology in terms of its flexibility, and the more extreme Internet enthusiasts (wrongly) claim that it will eventually enable us to transcend our bodies. By contrast, Nietzsche argued for transcending our human limitations by using the emotional and intuitive capacities of our bodies.

* The hyperlinked informational structure of the Internet resists hierarchy and flattens everything to one level, thus obscuring qualitative differences and meanings relevant to the needs and interests of particular individuals.

* The Internet has value in education and supports distance learning, but only to the level of developing rudimentary competence. Development of real expertise generally requires the emotional involvement and richness of experience that comes from live face-to-face interaction between student and teacher.

* To avoid becoming detached spectators of life, we need to instead be embodied involved agents in the world, facing the possibilities of surprise and real risk. This involvement is what enables us to maintain a grip on reality, develop trust in others, and gain the context needed to function skillfully in diverse situations. Moreover, surveys indicate that people tend to feel more isolated and depressed as they use the Internet more, so psychological wellness is also at stake.

* The Internet fosters a situation in which anyone can express an opinion on anything, without having real expertise, genuine commitment, or tangible consequences. This can lead to trivialization, superficiality, and corresponding hazards, but it's still possible for people who are already knowledgeable and serious to use the Internet in ways that are more beneficial than harmful.

* The upshot of all this is that the Internet is a powerful but limited tool. To benefit from it, we need to control it and our use of it, rather than falling prey to it controlling us. This requires that we focus on our embodied existence, with all the pleasures and sufferings that entails, rather than naively fantasizing that we can meaningfully live in some sort of escapist cyberspace.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reflecting on how the Internet can impact our lived experience. And I especially recommend this book to people who spend too much time in front of the computer, rather than interacting with real live people, nature, and the rest of the real world.
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