In La guerre du faux [War of the Fake] (1985), a collection of essays published over a decade, Umberto Eco criticizes the mass media through mass media themselves (the newspapers). His words on the displacement of power are so eloquent, they deserve to be put in today’s context:
We have a nearly perfect consistency between two epochs [the Middle Ages and today] which attempt, through different means, to fill the gap between scholarly and popular knowledge, under the same ideological cover, that of a paternalistic project of directing people’s consciousness. In both cases, the chosen elite reasons starting with written texts with a literate mentality, whilst translating into images the essential data of knowledge and the structures supporting the dominant ideology.
This is exactly what is happening today with the lords of the Internet (Google, Facebook): to master a “literate” knowledge (computer code, machine languages, big data, cognitive neuroscience) and translating it “visually” (into graphical interfaces, simple and intuitive, easy to use, addictive) to extend their economic power (with billions of users as evidence).
More than ever, we should ask ourselves who are the “intellectuals” of the 21st century, and whether code literacy is a dominant factor.