Umberto Eco and the digital buzz

From the illusion of interactivity to the globalised buzz, the semiologist – who tells “the present through the past” in his last novel – reflects on the digital media and their controversial effects on contemporary politics. With some unexpected advantages

From the reader to the user, from the TV viewer to the internet surfer: beyond terminology, what really changed in the transition from the age of the “old TV” to the present of digital media? Can we really and finally speak of interactivity? We asked Umberto Eco, who dedicated one of his most fortunate books to mass communication and in his new novel Numero Zero, just published by Bompiani, addresses again the subject from a literary perspective.

«Compared to the mass-media of the past – states Eco – there's a greater enslavement of the user: if once the user knew he could not interact, now he believes he can. But this is not true, at least for 80% of users». And he says: «Beppe Grillo himself, who promotes integration thanks to new media, kicks out of his Movement whoever he wants, without paying attention to the very value he ascribes to digital media».

Therefore, there actually has been a change but not in the essence: «With the globalisation of contacts, it's like being at the theatre with the actors repeating “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb” to create a background buzz: online communication becomes a big rhubarb destined to fade away. We communicate much less than reading the newspaper».

The internet doesn't have only negative consequences, though: despite its nature of «a tool with great potential, mostly used in an illusory manner», internet – according to Eco – can represent an advantage in order to get resources and information if it is used with sense of criticism, «throwing what's trash and filtering useful content». With desecrating irony, he concludes: «Just think, for instance, of internet usefulness for pornography!».



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