Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ghetto-izing the Internet

Nien pointed me to this cool resource: Urban Dictionary, "a slang dictionary with your definitions. Define your world." Check out how these phrases are (re-)defined:
January Joiner:
Someone who joins the gym in January as part of a New Year's resolution and by February is back to being a couch potato.

ho ho ho:
Santa's cry, or three prostitutes.
Similar to Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary allows people to collectively shape the world from THEIR perspective, based on THEIR understanding, not the expert's, not the few elite's.

Why am I bringing this up? As much as I like the the Internet, I am also concerned about its deficiencies and biases. ICT is not culturally neutral; it incorporates modernist, western values into whoever is using it or connected through it.
  • Inayatullah and Legget, in Transforming Communication, questioned ‘who speaks, who is on the net, and whose ways of knowing are privileged.’ Are women’s perspectives incorporated by the new technologies? Can women can use the new technologies to break out of traditional, marginalizing, roles?
  • A chapter by Obijiofor in this book was critical of the language of the Internet. Any language creates certain forms of thinking and suppresses others. English, in particular, as the Internet’s dominant language, is ‘a language of technical rationality’.
  • Manuel Castells, in End of Millenium, furthermore noted that there is a geographically uneven distribution of Internet content providers, as most of them are concentrated in a few metropolitan areas. This largely shapes the assumptions used in providing this content, and the types of content available on the Internet.
  • These region and life-style specific assumptions have led to the exclusion of non-metropolitan cultures, and as Castells wrote in The Internet Galaxy, make it ‘difficult for people without sufficient education, knowledge, and skills to appropriate the technology for their own interests and values.’
These are why I support efforts to bring alternative content into the Internet; content created by the not-yet-modernized, the non-urban, the marginalized urban, the non-English-language-oriented. A potential Indonesian example is Saluran Informasi Akar Rumput - an online news agency run by community radios in West Java and Yogyakarta. Through such initiatives, we can show that the world is not monolithic, that "our" knowledges are just as valuable as "their" Knowledge, and that the Internet can be used as a tool to diversify the world, rather than homogenize it.

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