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The following interview of the Italian philosopher Giancarlo Livraghi took place in Prague during the APC Europe Internet Rights Workshop. My thanks to Karen Banks and Chris Bailey of APC for inviting me to speak at the workshop. See also the other interview carried out in Prague of the lawyer, Andrea Monti entitled "Does Cyberspace exist?".

Souls writing on the Net

You wrote an article called "The Soul and the Body", what was it about?

I wrote it in 1997. It was about the most successful thing I ever wrote. It's been travelling online around the world. It's been translated into 7 or 8 languages. It was about people and the Internet. The notion was very simple. Normally we get to know the body before the soul. On the Net it is the other way round.

What do you refer to when you mention the soul?

I wasn't being religious. I meant the personality, the style, the brain, the feelings, and the human being other than the physical appearance.

These things are communicated online by writing. Isn't writing a limitation to the communication of those characteristics?

Not really. It is surprising how much can be conveyed by writing. In a way, the Internet was a rediscovery of writing at a time when audio-visual media were predominant. It is really interesting how much of a person's personality and style comes through. I don't just mean the rational side but also the emotional side.

So according to you, the online world is quite emotional.

It can be. I'm saying that communication in writing is not any poorer or less emotional than any other form of communication. When it works, it can be stronger. Writing is a part of our lives.

In face-to-face communication there are all sorts of things being exchanged which are not limited to the words. Whereas an exchange by e-mail is limited in its exchange.

The limitations are due to the nature of the message. But if you read a message carefully, trying to understand who wrote it even when it is a total stranger, you have less of a chance of misunderstanding. There is an intensity in the use of words just because the words are on their own.

Do people naturally develop such an awareness towards words in the online context or should it be "taught"?

Learning is an active process. You don't learn things from somebody teaching you them. A lot of the time you learn from people who are not there to teach you anything. I have learnt a lot from people who weren't trying to teach me anything. They happened to have grasped something that was interesting to me. Learning is an attitude of mind. Having said that, I think that form of awareness of words can be explained if not taught. It depends on how much you care about understanding what the person has to say.

Writing well is really difficult. However, if people strongly want to convey a meaning, they generally succeed in doing so. In various situations I was supposed to help people improve their writing. I hardly ever sat down and told them the way to write. I'd discuss something they'd written. I'd try to make them do the work rather than just tell them what to do otherwise they will just duplicate me. That person won't have my style. You've got to help them develop whatever talent they have.

Giancarlo Livraghi, philosopher, Prague February 2001
Interview Alan McCluskey

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Created: March 3rd. 2001 - Last up-dated: March 3rd, 2001