Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Cyberculture, Québec Identity and Globalization

Serge Proulx*

As a further step following on a friendly request from my colleague Florian Sauvageau, who set up a series of seminars on the theme of American cultural influence, I have tried to reflect on the difficult question of whether there is a form of “Americanicity” built into the design of certain technical devices, parts of what are now called “technologies of information and communication” (TIC) (Chambat, 1994). I would like to return to the subject here (Proulx, 1999). I should mention from start that I have built up my definition of “Americanicity,” by taking inspiration from what, by analogy, Barthes once called “Italianicity,” in his famous analysis of an advertisement for Panzani pasta (Barthes, 1964). Barthes placed the emphasis of the image, on the presence of a connotative system, whose meaning was the “putting together of tomato, green pepper and the tricoloured tint (yellow, green, red) of the poster,” and what was meant was “Italy, or rather Italianicity.” According to Barthes, the knowledge called up by that sign was typically “French,” as it was based on the knowledge of certain touristic stereotypes about Italy. For me, the expression “Americanicity” also calls up a system of connotations which embody a style, ways of doing, choices for producing rhythms, etc., which are usually attributed, willy-nilly, to the people of the United States of America. My question can be put that way: are the technologies of communication that we make so much use of these days, influencing our cultural representations over the strict content they carry? In other words, is the very design of technical devices found on the market of mediated communication also carrying a configuration of possible uses that could be connected to a connotation system which might be called “American” — in the same sense as cultural products spread the world over, such as McDonalds or Coca Cola, are considered to be typically American?

1. a cultural model being debilitated because of the banalization of uses

In a paper I published in the book edited by Florian Sauvageau, I discussed many answers to the question of whether communication devices could generate, as technologies, their own culture, independent of the content they carry. I put forward the idea that those technologies could be defined as intellectual technologies, that is that they dictate a way of thinking, a framework opening only to specific conditions and possibilities of cognitive production. When I looked more closely at three communication devices of the second half of the twentieth century in America, I was in a position to describe the components I found as being a peculiar technological culture. The culture of writing was replaced by the culture of image, of simulation and interactivity. “Cyberculture” would constitute a place of synthesis for the diverse elements thrown into relief during the previous waves of change. Indeed, cyberculture is becoming the culture of the mediated image, put into action and movement as a result of a sophisticated apparatus of simulation and interactivity (Weissberg, 1985).

Let us come back to the question of Americanicity, whose subtle presence can be found in the design of various technical devices of communication. Each of these technologies was first developed in the United States. Each is impregnated with the respective sociocultural universe in which those who conceived them were immersed. One can think then that a certain form of Americanicity is present in the programming of the first devices that each innovation produced. When use of the devices gains some distance from the first stabilized techniques, their Americanicity tends to lose its importance. We can draw here an analogy with the automobile.1 In 1949, the cars produced in the United States represented 90% of all the cars in the world. Forty years later, their share of the market was less than 50%. One could imagine that the culture of mobility which resulted from the advent of the automobile began as an expression of American values. But, as the car became commonplace throughout the world, the differentiated appropriation of this novelty in various countries led to a culture of the automobile which, ultimately, had not much in common with the initial American context. By the 1970s, the Americans began abandoning some of their production techniques and adopting European technologies of production.

Chapter 5, continued >


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