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IAPE public lecture by Andreas Ströhl (Director, Goethe Institute, Washington DC)


Abstract: How did we get ourselves into the mess we are in? Why does everything seem to be falling apart? Why does it seem like there is no more cohesion in society?

The media, the codes and the wiring of the channels of communication we use, strike back at us.


The media shape our society no less than we shape the media. Fractured and splintered media use leads to decomposing societies in which different life-worlds coexist without much contact. So-called „media bubbles“ or „echo chambers“ are the result, and in a vicious circle they further reinforce and accelerate the decay. However, being human is being a zoon politikon. We need to share common ground, certain truths we hold to be self-evident. But there are two different kinds of concepts we refer to as „truths“.


The Czech-Brazilian communications philosopher Vilém Flusser developed an entire body of theories about the realtion between the structures of communication and the qualities of a given society shaped by these structures. While developing his futuristic utopia in the 1980s, he also warned of the imminent dangers of a fractioned society as a consequence of evolving media technology. That dystopian view has come true to a frightening extent. Democracy and a minimum of coherence in a society that continues to share at least a few basic beliefs can only be upheld, if a large number of people are enabled to critically deal with the media – not only with its contents but more importantly with the structures of communication themselves. Media literacy is the key to the survival of Western civilization.

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