Bowers, Chet. Digital detachment: how computer culture undermines democracy. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016. xviii, 104 p. ISBN 978-1-138-18686-6. £19.99

The West is engaged in a powerful process of colonisation of the world. This is not a historical reference, this is part of the message about our modern world and digital revolution that is heavily criticised in the book Digital detachment. The author, Chet Bowers is a professor in education and environmental studies, known world-wide for his activism and unique approach to modernity. He is an original thinker who has written twenty-three books, according to the note about the author. However, only this last one gets a review in Information Research. There is nothing strange about this, as most of his books relate to matters such as linguistic and cultural roots of our philosophy and behaviour that led to the present ecologic crisis. This most recent book builds on the same foundation, but examines the language behind ideas and actions of computer science, digital revolution, big data, print and information, which brings it into the spotlight for library and information science.

The main idea expressed in the book is the exposure of our own ignorance of the language roots and words as metaphors that carry the weight of ancient patterns of thinking and behaviour, meanings and silences of linguistic communities who have formed them. It also exposes the advocates and leaders of progress, the market economy, excess consumption and the digital revolution as being equally and even more ignorant of this specific feature of the words they use. Their words are not neutral, they carry specific ideologies and worldviews by the power of what they express and what they hide.

According to the author, print and data have a major limitation that we all tend to ignore. Both the printed word and data that we transform on screen to texts, images, sounds and other formats cannot convey the richness of experience and complexity of human relationships in full. In one of his talks Bowers compares the experience of what happens when we are watching the sunset on a sandy beach of the sea and then write about it on a piece of paper. Print and data alienate us from the immediate contexts and, moreover, being abstract in nature they create an impression of objectivity. We lose track of the metaphorical origin of the words and their rootedness in earlier patterns of thinking, but what is more dangerous, we do not see and understand the cultural roots of our own ideas and prejudices that are taken for granted by the members of most cultural groups, but even more so by people reading these words or using the data in different settings and situations.

Thus, the digitisation gurus, corporate managers, advocates of technological progress, and modern politicians are entirely unaware that they carry on the colonialist ideology of the previous historical epochs that regard most local cultural traditions as backward and hindering progress. Progress is understood as something that advances immediate gratification of individualistically oriented humans, increases corporate profits, and uses technology for consumerist goals of the liberal markets. The author passionately criticises and attacks the dehumanising stances of these ideologies expressed through the ideas such as robotisation of workplace, neutrality of technology, benefits of distance learning, profit-oriented markets, increasing consumerism and others. All this is destroying the complexes of local cultural and natural ecologies and non-monetary modes of production and exchange in gift economies.

In our Nordic academic environment we at least are aware and acknowledge that technologies are not socially and ideologically neutral, to quite a reasonable extent we are raising problems about the conflict between technology and culture and discuss consumer economics as a threat to our ecologies and cultures. But most probably, quite many among us are blind to the metaphorical nature of words that Bowers is talking about, maybe also to some extent to the effects of print and data that quite often become a focus of our research projects.

I think that it is worth drawing the attention of our readers to the notion of cultural and natural ecologies used in this book, as it links human behaviour and thinking patterns with the impact that they have on their immediate and wider environment. In fact,the author though adamant in his criticism of thinking that binds together computer science and libertarianism, is not averse to the information technology itself. Rather he is enraged by the limited understanding of it displayed even by those who critize technology as a threat to cultural diversity or human relationships.

The fifth chapter in the book is written by two other authors (Joseph Progler and Azra Kianinejad) who explore the effects of digital revolution in Muslim cultures. They demonstrate how technology (not only computer, but also other types of it) has marginalized certain skills earlier required for community life and religious practice. They also emphasize that though there is much fear of losing the 'young generation to non-Islamic culture through viewing and participating in Western entertainment', 'the deeper cultural and ecological impact of digitisation, regardless of the content transmitted' remains unrecognized (p. 51).

The author of the book sounds somewhat disappointed by the lack of response from the academic world to his warnings about the big data and big profits replacing wisdom, as well as further commercialization of political processes and elections in the USA. Nevertheless, the final chapter is devoted to the cultural commons, face-to-face democracy, and their revitalisation as the only possible way to deal with the loss of our cultural and natural environment.

Though the book is quite complex and requires some previous knowledge of cultural theories it is directed at any intelligent reader and should be read by everyone concerned about the fates of their children and the human habitat. The passion of the author is refreshing and, though it dleads him to repeat some things too often, carries the reader into making an effort to understand sometimes quite complicated arguments and explanations

In addition, it opens new understanding of something that information professionals and library and information science educators deal with every day: data, information, print, knowledge, wisdom, and information technology. The author suggests that one of the reasons for present ecological crisis and global poverty is the failure of educational systems to make their graduates on all levels aware of their own cultural origins and roots that blinds everyone to the fates of other peoples and cultures when Western technology and values penetrate and anihilate them. The democratic right to choose their own way of development is blocked by this ignorance. Shouldn't we see it as one of our professional duties to help and remedy the situation turning the poison of data, the printed word and information technolgoy into a remedy?

Elena Maceviciute
Swedish School for library and Information Science
University of Borås
May, 2016