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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Cross-cultural Communication: Perspectives in Theory and Practice by Thomas L. Warren (Baywood) is a collection of essays that examines how practitioners can improve the acceptance of their documentation when communicating to cultures other than their own. The essays begin by examining the cross-cultural issues relating to quality in documentation. From there, the essays look at examples of common documents, analyzing them from several perspectives. Specifically, the author uses communication theories (such as Bernstein's Elaborated and Restricted Code theory and Marwell and Schmidt's Compliance-Gaining theory) to show how documents used by readers who are not native speakers of English can be written and organized to increase their effectiveness. The principal assumption about how practitioners create their documents is that, while large organizations can afford to write, translate, and then localize, small- to medium-size organizations produce many documents that are used directly by people in other cultures-often without translating and localizing.

The advantage the writer gains from these essays is in understanding the strategies and knowing the kinds of strategies to apply in specific situations. In addition, the essays can serve as a valuable resource for students and teachers alike as they determine ways to understand how cross-cultural communication is different and why it makes a difference. Not only do students need to be aware of the various strategies they may apply when creating documents for cross-cultural settings, they also need to see how research can apply theories from different areas-in the case of these essays, communication and rhetorical theories. Another value of the essays (particularly the Chapter 4 essay on international communication in the international standards community) is to show the students the role standards play in cross-cultural communication; standards are written by committees that follow style rules developed by the International Standardization Organization (ISO) in Geneva. Thus, both students and practitioners can find valuable cross-cultural communication advice in these essays.

Encyclopedia of Communities of Practice in Information And Knowledge Management edited by Steve Clarke, Elayne Coakes (Idea Group Publishing) is the leading reference source for dynamic and innovative research in the field of communities of practice (CoPs) in information and knowledge management. With knowledge management work on the increase, this single volume encyclopedia provides a comprehensive, critical, and descriptive examination of all facets of CoPs, and includes 550 terms and definitions as well as 1,950 references to additional research. More than 120 researchers from over 20 countries provide in-depth coverage of conceptual and practical issues as well as topics regarding learning, leadership, ethics, social, intellectual, rewards, and language challenges.  More

Holding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium by Albert Borgmann (University of Chicago Press) We hear constantly about our current "information revolution." Twenty-four-hour news channels and dizzying Internet technologies bombard us with facts and pictures from around the globe. But what kind of a "revolution" is this? How has information really changed from what it was ten years or ten centuries ago? Albert Borgmann offers some riveting answers to these questions in Holding on to Reality.

Borgmann has written a brilliant history of information, from its inception in the natural world to its role in the transformation of culture--in writing and printing, in music and architecture--to the current Internet mania and its attendant assets and liabilities. Drawing on the history of ideas, the details of information technology, and the boundaries of the human condition, Borgmann explains the relationship between things and signs, between reality and information. His history ranges from Plato to Boeing and from the alphabet to virtual reality, all the while being conscious of the enthusiasm, apprehension, and uncertainty that have greeted every stage of the development of information.

Holding on to Reality is underscored by the humanist's fundamental belief in human excellence and by the conviction that excellence is jeopardized unless we achieve a balance of information and "the things and practices that have served us well and we continue to depend on for our material and spiritual well-being--the grandeur of nature, the splendor of cities, competence of work, fidelity to loved ones, and devotion to art or religion." Holding on to Reality is an eloquent call for caution and historical understanding, and everyone concerned with the future of information technologies will find their thinking enlivened and enriched by Borgmann's lucid and impassioned exploration

Albert Borgmann is Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Montana. His books include Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life and Crossing the Postmodern Divide, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


Information technology has deeply influenced the ways we cope today with the threat of the devastation and loss of meaning. The challenge to the festive resolution of the ambiguity that rises from the surrounding injustice and misery we are inclined to meet with a version of virtual ambiguity, a loosening of the ties that should con­nect our celebrations with their real and entire context. While virtuality is our reply to the devastation of common meanings, hyperinformation is our response to the oblivion of individuals. Common hyperinformation is the huge amount of colorful information we ac­cumulate through pictures and videos especially. But all the other records we keep and that are kept about us are part of hyperinforma­tion. Utopian hyperinformation is the brainchild of scientists who, in the tradition of artificial intelligence, believe that the core of an individual is the information contained in the brain, and purport that software can and will be extracted from the wetware of neurons and transferred without loss to the hardware of a computer or some other medium forever and again in this way and that so that the core of individuals, their personal identity, will achieve immortality."

All of these are desperate attempts. To the extent that we shield celebration through virtual ambiguity from the reproaches of a suffering world, we empty celebration of meaning. At the limit, when celebration is fully protected, it is no longer worth saving. The endeavor to be remembered through common hyperinformation is indistinguishable from a headlong rush into oblivion. Some of the information will be overtaken by its physical and social fragility. If we find a way to stabilize it, however, its sheer disorganized and im­posing mass will excuse our offspring from taking it to heart.

The reach for utopian hyperinformation is perhaps the most tell­ing and melancholy indication that no one wants to "pass into obliv­ion;' as a medieval chronicler has it, "as hail and snow melt in the waters of a swift river swept away by the current never to return."" In ordinary people, atheists or not, this fear takes the form of the desire to be remembered and to be remembered well. Alexander wanted more than to be recorded by historians, he wanted to be transfigured by the poet. Ben Sira asks us not just to recall but to praise our ancestors. People seem to conceive of themselves as deeply ambiguous signs that call for resolution.

What is true of the microcosm of the person is true of the macro­cosm of the universe. It too is a sign as much as a thing, something that refers to its beginning and end. In our culture the normative response to the unresolved references of the cosmos is astrophysics. Though it is not inevitably committed to a beginning and an end of all things, it does concern itself with the lawful structure of the world's past and future and aims at a final theory of all there is."

As regards the middle region of the cosmos that is so artfully balanced between the structure of atoms and galaxies, the terrestrial realm of nature and culture, its welfare requires more calmness and lucidity of recollection." As it is, contemporary culture may lapse into a condition where a surfeit of information is as injurious as the lack of information. Where in the latter case one is confined by the darkness of ignorance and forgetfulness, today we are blinded by the glare of excessive and confused information. To regain our sight or the coherence of the public world we must be able to count on chroniclers-the journalists, essayists, and historians-and we must allow their work to come to rest and attention for a day at least, )r a month, or some years. Newspapers, journals, and books have seen the places of considered judgment, and these or some such focal points are needed if information technology, beyond its instrumental unctions in science and industry, is to become a constructive strand n the texture of our lives.

To recover a sense of continuity and depth in our personal world, we have to become again readers of texts and tellers of stories. Looks have a permanence that inspires conversation and recollection. When you read or recount a passage from a book to your loved and the matter at issue envelops both of you and fills the place you occupy. Stories are the spaces wherein pictures and mementos come life and coalesce into a coherent picture of the past and a hopeful fusion of the future. Records in turn keep stories straight and lend them detail. Thus the culture of the word can card, spin, and knit the Lass of technological information into a tapestry that is commensuate with reality.

As for cosmic closure, I quite agree with Steven Weinberg that a final theory will be a noble and intellectually satisfying accomplish­ment, the crowning achievement in our search for structure and law­fulness." But the world has a history as well as structure. History in the large and strict sense is the meaningful sequence of unpredictable events. It is contingency. Hence we face the question whether there can be cosmic closure of a historical as well as a structural sort. It may well turn out that at the beginning of the cosmos history and structure are indistinguishable, that the unfolding of the cosmos is simultaneously an unfolding of lawfulness. But in time structure and contingency must diverge in one way or another. There is no pros­pect of deducing the lightning that causes a devastating fire or the encounter that leads to a happy marriage from the laws of the uni­verse alone.

History, then, requires its own kind of reading, one that must consist with the laws of nature but also attend to the givenness of things and events. The decline of meaning and the rise of information have kept contemporary readings of history weak and inconclu­sive. The recent burst of information technology has further, and fortunately, silenced the voices of overt misery, of disease, poverty, and violence, both here and around the globe. There is still unspeak­able suffering in many parts of the world. But information technol­ogy is both the channel and the energy that is carrying the free mar­ket economy and its blessings to every corner on earth.

As overt misery is waning, so is the inference that used to be drawn from it, namely, that suffering would not be what it is if it did not intimate salvation in the end. And similarly, as our celebrations are losing their context and contrast of poverty and violence, they also lose their reference, weak already, to the need for final salvation. But while information technology is alleviating overt misery, it is aggravating a hidden sort of suffering that follows from the slow obliteration of human substance. It is the misery of persons who lose their well-being not to violence or oblivion, but to the dilation and attenuation they suffer when the moral gravity and material density of things is overlaid by the lightness of information. People are losing their character and definition in the levity of cyberspace.

The engagement of reality is the proximate remedy for this con­dition, and yet many of us find it hard to face up and to be faithful to persons and things. Though we feel blessed by celebrations once we have been drawn into them, all too often we lack the strength or loyalty to enter them regularly. The moral paralysis people inflict on themselves through the abuse of technological information is misera­ble any way you look at it. The constructive responses are manifold, however, and not a matter of contestation but attestation. Christians, for example, owe what fidelity to persons and festive things they possess to a strong reading of cosmic contingency-the history of sal­vation. Whatever definition they attain as persons through their en­gagement with reality they see as precarious and in need of final resolution. The world as a sign makes them look forward to the event when

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.

A written book will be brought forward
Wherein everything is gathered
Whence the world may be adjudged.

All of us will be remembered and more; our souls will be rocked in the bosom of Abraham.

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