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Let us first mention an assortment of designations found in the literature: All the above expressions are applied to innumerable technical devices, to the 'ironmongery' as Cloutier puts it, and they are deemed appropriate for objects fulfilling very different functions such as: DBS television and high definition TV, interactive tele-conferencing using both sound and image, telematics, videotext, ISDN digital networks, different kinds of information up- and downloading systems, data browsing in a telematic system like, to quote but one, the Minitel. In the field of image processing, the above labels are used to talk about the digital photographic camera, videodisks, CD-ROMs, CD-Worms, the CD-I and DVI, virtual worlds, etc. Following suit, each one of these technologies is exemplified in a particular sphere of activity. To quote a few: telecommunications (circulation, broadcasting and reception of information); scanning, processing and storing images; simulations and production of digital artefacts of all kinds, etc. In spite of all its fuzziness, the term has made a fortune in the market-place of specialised speech and is worth its weight in gold (Bourdieu, 1982).

However, specific typologies are to be found which propose a classification based on functional distinctions. We propose one below after Basinac, Wentland (1984):

  1. Techniques :
    Computer techniques
    micro-computers; data scanning, digital data compression
    phone lines and modems, telex/teletext networks, digital networks, etc.
  2. Hardware
    Storage devices
    hard and floppy disks, audio CD, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, photo CD, video cartridges, videodisks
    Input devices
    scanning appliances, digital sound and video sampling cards, Videoman, etc.
    Output devices
    digital video generators, digital transparencies generators, etc.
    Display devices
    monitors, video [projection systems], etc.
  3. Software
    authoring systems, expert systems, hypertexts, hypermedia
  4. Audio-visual devices
    classical appliances (TV, transparencies, etc.) and eletronic blackboards
    We ought to remind the reader that if some technologies do modify profoundly the way information is managed and processed - as is the case in desktop publishing and computer generated graphics - other ones have a hardly noticable impact on actual everyday practice. A good number of so-called 'transparent technologies' remain completely unrecognised by the user and do not affect the way they are operated: telephone communications are nowadays mostly transmitted through digital signals, a fact that most people happily ignore.

    DBS television and satelite to dish direct transmissions do, however, indenyably increase both the offer of programmes and the broadcasting of multilingual productions. But, for the viewer, the way the transmission and broadcasting is achieved does not change anything to the way a given programme is selected and received, nor does it modify the consuming habits of TV's target audience. From our particular standpoint, the actual problem is not to transmit, store or communicate information, but rather to receive it. This is an issue very much recognised by Berger. The actual question here is about how much data a subject can actually accommodate once acknowledged that he has a limited time-budget and is already massively overloaded with information and communication items of all sorts.

    Accordingly, we believe that it is necessary to establish clear-cut distinctions between technical features and technological systems. Metaphorically speaking, to differentiate among the different strata of every particular usage. It is the only way to escape being submitted to either a technological or - even worse - to a market-driven coherence for which novelty for its own sake constitutes a mere marketing advantage disguised as an unavoidable technical necessity (Chambat, 1994). The recent development of multimedia represents an excellent example of the dangers entailed by this kind of drift in markets and practices.

    To bring a conclusion on these reflections about technology, we would like to quote a remark by G. Jacquinot: new technologies are so as to say tautologically defined but the fact that they are new. Now, such a characteristic has no meaning outside of a given context of integration or use, out of their particular "ecological niche" (Perriault, 1989). The telephone or the overhead projector may still be regarded as new technologies in the context of some under-developed countries with their particular cultural, social, economical and technical situation. To assert this truism is not to try a flash of wit, but rather to demonstrate the specific way by which the notion of novelty is related to the user's appropriation process. To stay with the same idea, Punie et al., remind us that an innovation is not simply a product or a service as such: it is mostly an idea. Innovation is therefore new or innovative only if it is perceived as such by potential users (1994: 230; see also the "task-artefact cycle" concept in Carrol, 1991).

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    Etat au 10.11.1996.
    D. P.