THE GERMAN DEBATE

ON THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

Rafael Capurro
 

 
 
 


The German debate on the information society is split into several areas. Firstly there is a general debate about the educational system. The German school is in a crisis as analyzed by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment of the OECD). A programme for networking shools (Schulen ans Netz) has been started. However, the debate is not restricted to the role of the Internet and new media in education but concerns also classic media, particularly TV, and their merging into mobile media of all kinds (such as laptops, cellular phones, smart objects etc). Several cases of murder by teenagers in German schools gave rise to a debate on the influence of the widespread portrayal of violence through mass media and now even more accessible on the Internet.

The German university is no less in a crisis. The changes brought up by the Bologna guidelines led to a transformation of the German Diploma into Bachelor and Master degree programmes which are supposed to be equivalent to similar degrees in other European countries as well as abroad. However in practice, this is not the case for instance concerning the UK. There is still a transformation taking place regarding teaching methods (for example the concept of a virtual university) as well as the range of services offered by universities.

The question of access is one main issue in the public debate on science and the Internet particularly at the level of research institutions. The “Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities”  (October 2003) signed by all major German as well as by other European research institutions stresses the idea of the open access paradigm. This means a radical change of the whole system of publication and distribution of publicly funded science. It will see a transformation of, for example, public libraries.

There is a broad public debate on Open Source and Free Software. Some major German cities, such as Munich, have changed their systems from proprietary software to open source. Under the coordination of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung a “Charter of Civil Rights for a Sustainable Knowledge Society” was published in July 2003 as a German contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society. The charter envisions a ‘knowledge society’ as opposed to a technocratic ‘information society’ in which knowledge is considered mainly as a public good and not just as a commodity that must be kept open and accessible for everybody. The charter is a plea for a better balance between all stake holders in order to avoid a drifting into the digital divide. After a period of competition between the Internet and the mass media it seems as if the latter have found their niche in the Internet by somehow distorting the dimensions of interactivity of the network. It is still unclear what the new face of the digital network will look like.

The German government has launched a programme on the Information Society embracing all public services. But e-government is not the same as e-democracy. Some ideas have been put forwarad about the concept of a deliberative democracy based ib more interactivity but as yet no specific formats have been put forward.

Finally, the Internet is no longer seen as an enemy of the book but there is still a deeply rooted insecurity concerning what Bildung or education under the conditions of new media is all about. This insecurity has to do, in part, with the immigrant population and their lack of knowledge of the German language as well as with the reunification of Germany and Europe. A European-oriented German identity in on the way but it can only be achieved through a networked Europe that re-presents itself culturally not in the classical form of Goethe-Institutes or British Councils but of a European House.



    

Copyright © 2005 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author. 
 

 
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