Is The Internet Bring A New Era
Of American Cultural Imperialism Essay, Research Paper
The Internet has emerged as the most rapidity adopted communication medium in history. The Internet by design is de-centralized, inexpensive, uncensored, and accessible from anywhere in the globe. Bill Gates contends that the Internet is first step along the Information Superhighway , which will ultimately create a global village that will allow for a more symmetrically distribution of information. The United States, which invented most of the underlying technologies for the Internet, leads the rest of the world in embracing the Internet as measuring by users, the number of English based web-sites, and Internet Service Providers (ISP), but also producing the hardware and software that drives the Internet. Unlike previous technological revolutions in which the novel idea or technology is inherently neutral, the some of the core technologies behind the Internet are culturally biased. This fact combined with the United States commanding dominance in nearly all aspects of the Internet and the apparent lack of controllability of the content of Internet has fueled international fears of a new era of American cultural imperialism. According to Barber, this Western tidal wave of cultural biased information and products will create a bi-polar world (Jihad vs. McWorld). However, Barber concludes that unless Jihad s supporters (e.g. religious organization) embraces the Internets and the new markets it creates, the Jihad s long-term survivability is low (Barber, 156).
Schiller, Barber, and Hamelink maintain an antiquated view of cultural imperialism. They contend that in our current information society, information technology has remained in the hands the economic elite. They hold view the core , mainly composed of MNCs, as the entity that controls uni-directional information and technology flows to the periphery nations (i.e. Third World states). Schiller defines cultural imperialism in as the spread of a culture of capitalism in which a economically denominate culture will create structurally imposed needs (Tomlinson, 104). Tomlinson proposed that these needs are not necessarily all the expression of subjectively experienced needs and desires, but may be need imposed on agents by the conditions in which they live. (Tomlinson, 133) MNCs and other components of the core employ mass-media as the vehicle for corporate marketing. This marketing campaign will create audiences whose loyalties are tied to brand named products and whose understanding of social reality is mediated through a scale of commodity satisfaction. (Tomlinson, 38)
However, certain aspects of the debate such as the conglomeration of ownership, standardized production, and formatted content, do not apply in terms of new media informational flows, especially via the Internet. As Tomlinson skillfully pointed out the modern reality: media technologies and economies have become more intertwined, which have forced cultures to become more morphic. Thus, the one-way flow according to the traditional definition of cultural imperialism reverses itself into a two-way flow in which what sells abroad influences what Americans see at home (Tomlinson, 125)
Tomlinson presents a novel and modern interpretation of cultural imperialism through his theory of the globalization of capitalist post-modernity . (Tomlinson, 175) Instead of an invasion of weak cultures by a stronger one, the capitalist modernity is a Western disease which promotes decay of local cultural practices. These cultural practices are manifestations of social imaginary , which are the basis for culture. He claims that the institutions of capitalist modernity (e.g. MNC) will colonize the imagined cultural space of less developed societies with new goals of possessive individuality and consumption. He employs the word globalisism instead of imperialism because the interdependency and interconnection happens in less intentional way (Tomlinson,174). There is no international conspiracy by MNCs to promote one culture over another. Rather, MNCs independently establish and promote their global markets by creating cultural practices that promote consumption or their goods and services in all nations. Therefore, globalisism is a disorganized process to weaken the cultural coherence of all individual nation-states (Tomlison, 175)
Appaduria (KIM) constructed five cultural flows that globalism creates. Enthonscapes refer the flows of peoples. Technoscapes includes the flow of machinery, hardware, and software through the production processes of MNC, national corporations and governments. Finanscapes involves the flow of images and information from various forms of media. Ideoscapes, are similar to mediascapes in that they are image oriented however, they are often political in nature and deal with the flow of ideology through the globe. The reason the Internet is such a powerful tool in the globalization process in that it enables all five of Appaduria s cultural flows to occur at the speed of light. One can simultaneously find employment in another country, buy or sell tangible (i.e. computers) and non-tangible products (i.e. investment strategies) , watch media reports from any part of the global, and join Usergroup of a radical political organization. In the 21st century, the primary vehicle for globalism is the Internet because of its ability for all five cultural flows to transcend national boarders at minimal cost (Hedly, 198). The questions are if these flows are truly symmetrical and their effects on perceptions on defining local .
Tomlinson postulates that we lack ability to imagine a global community because there are no global institutions and that there are no cultural representations of a global identity (Tomlison, 177). Al Gore coined the phase global village in which he pronounced that that Internet would create a global cyber-community which would allow individuals to express aspects of their culture via two-way, horizontally connected Internet devices.(Evagora, 1) The Internet could allow us to construct a new imagined global map which still allowing us to maintain a local map which Tomlinson deems necessary for providing satisfying accounts of daily life (Tomlinson,178).
One helpful way of creating these global and local maps might be through virtual civic forums. Barber states that the McWorld , an American-based consumerist capitalistic culture, denies people a public voice . He predicted that if the Internet would continue to be unregulated, McWorld would spread to the entire world. The only way to stop the advance of McWorld is if governmental, public, and private organizations joined together create cyber democratic civil forums to discuss the status of national, regional, or global cultures (Barber, 275).
There are trepidations by many non-U.S. citizens that America has too much influence on how the Internet is being developed. They point to the Internet s apparent lack of controllability and America s dominance in nearly all aspects of the Internet as signs for an impending age of the McWorld culture dominating the Internet. They fear the Internet is the start of a tidal wave of American cultural information which will replace local cultural practices and judgements with ones based on hedonistic consumption (Barber, 286-287).
Proponents of American cultural imperialism via the Internet point to American dominance in the areas of Internet construction, content, and, use. The area of construction is the most complicated issue and will be dealt with later. In the areas of content and use, there are two facts which seem to indicate a clear case for American cultural imperialism: most of the Internet s content is in English (89%) and 42% of the world s active Internet users are from the United States. However, there are indications that these numbers will decrease, as worldwide acceptance of Internet will increase in the next decade (Galati, ). By 2003, Western Europe and Asian-Pacific region will increase their share of the world user market (361.9 million) to 30% and 27% respectively while the percentage of U.S. users will drop to 36.9% of the aggregate Internet user population. (Lynch, 3b).
Culturally protective countries, such as France, feel extremely threatened by the dominance of English on the Net. American colloquialisms such as wired , email and cyberspaces have already been ingrained in French society. The France is at the forefront of defending its cultural solidarity as demonstrated by the formation of its Ministerial department of la francophonie which spreads the word to 50 other countries. The leaders of this cultural ministry must be disheartened to learn that 89% of the Internet in English with only 1.2% in French. France is partly to blame for it s unequal representation on the Internet (Stanko, 10a). Until 1997, the French government focused its IT efforts on developing France Telecom s Minitel system which was great from booking train tickets but lacked the Internet s scalability, flexibility, and multi-media support. Now the French government focuses funding French language sites instead of Minitel. Yet, these efforts might be inefficient considered that facts in 1998, only a fifth of French households had a computer, compared with two-fifths in America; and only 2% of French households were connected to the Internet. The French government is persecuting web sites who are based in France but are not in French. Considering the de-centralized manner of the Internet, this attempt by France seems too desperate (Hunt, 35-37).
Even though current language translators for the Internet are still in the developmental stages, they promise to eliminate the biases associated with an Internet dominated by English. The only problem might be that most of the work done in text translation is being conducted by private companies. The fear is that translator programs will not be developed for extremely small markets. A case study is how Microsoft decided not to include software support for Icelandic. Even though a majority of the country speech English, this step by Microsoft is construed by the people of Iceland as a threat to their linguistic survivability(Kim, academic paper). As Professor Yi-Lee stated, although information technology helps accelerate the cultural globalization of a privileged language, the local one (as exemplified by the French) could still ride on the same technology to attain presence if there is public and private funding for cultural web sites. (Lee, http://www.job.am/inet98/5e/5e_1.htm))
Tomlinson points out that language is only one component that contributes to our imagined culture (Tomlinson, 11) As the bandwidth of the Internet increases, the amount of informational choices increases. In countries with more conservative ethics than the West such as Singapore, the Internet is proving a technology difficult to tame. Singapore is known for its seemingly conflicting values and ethics: its full embrace of new technologies and its strong values of conservatism and familial loyalty. The influx of pornography and other illicit Western cultural imports via the Internet will have an detrimental effect on the younger generation. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) was established to monitor and censor sites which are deemed misleading , undermining public confidence in the government or judicial systems , obscene , and promoting homosexual activity . American designed software filters out sites from the pipeways from Japan, Western Europe, and North America which the SBA labels unacceptable . However, satellite, wireless technology, and direct broadcast services are sophisticated ways around the government s efforts to prevent certain Internet access. The Singapore example brings up another point about how open the Internet is (Morris, http://is.gseis.ucla.edu/impact/f96/projects/smorris).
The Internet is a vast collection of web pages, databases, and Usergroups. The key for using the Internet is the knowledge of where and how to gain information. Singapore is not alone in its attempts to control the content of the Internet. Germany attempted to prosecute CompuServe for its availability of pornographic Usenet groups. The American government has encouraged self-regulation through U.S. designed filter software (e.g. SurfWatch) which currently has technical problems. Problems with filtering software is seen when AOL tried to limit pornography on German Internet sites that hosted UserGroups by blocking the word breast . The American designed software also blocked out breast cancer sites (Aang, 72-78).
Besides Usergroups, the other main way of obtaining new information on the Internet is through search engines. The seven largest search engines on the Internet are based in the U.S. and many have plans to expand to other countries. There two problem with this American dominance: American based search engines mean more traffic goes through the U.S. and all of these search Engines are privately owned. The first problem will eventually be solved as more search engines sites are moved off-shore. The second problem seems to be more persistent. Since these sites are private, they have to rely on advertising or the sale of data to support their sites. Some cultures will not react well to web sites covered with the aggressive American style of advertising. If these cultures don t want to inundated by advertising, the only other option is the sale of data (Hedley, 78-87).
The first way of selling data is how many databases have become privatized which means if you want gain certain information, you will have to pay for it. Sites such as www.nothernlight.com and www.nyt.com have special collections which force you to pay for access to pertinent information. The second method is through the sale of cookies and other related technologies. Already there is a large debate about selling of cookies, a technology developed by two American companies, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, to commercial companies (Swisher, C01). Cookies are packets of information both sent and received by one s computer that can include such personal information as what sites you have been to and how long were you there, your name, your address, and other personal information. Bill Gates says that this technology will allow producers to market their products in a more effective way. Barber and Tomlinson would contend that this is another example of the globalization of American capitalistic modernity (Hedley, 79).
American dominance in software development is not only relegated to search engine and database management software. 96% of all Internet browsers are manufactured by two American companies (Netscape and Microsoft) and the 89% operating systems of the computers that host web sites and the manage the database are composed of three American companies (Microsoft, Oracle, IBM). Hedley protested that even though software is in binary code, software development originates in words which is he considers as the effective currency of culture . From my own experience using the basic computer languages of the Internet (J++ and HTML), I would confirm that they rely on commands that are extremely similar to English diction and grammatical structure (Hedley, 79).
American domination of Internet software is only one part of the Internet construction equation. Hardware is the other half. American companies such as Cisco Systems, which controls 81% of the router and hub market [routers and hubs direct digital information flows], Lucent Technologies, and Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems have nearly a monopoly on many sectors that contribute to the physical backbone of the Internet (Bony, http://www.cnnfn.com).
One of the seminal attributes of the Internet is that it is extremely difficult to regulate. As Barber stated, if they cannot effect a total takeover of the digital thoroughfare, they aspire at least to gain control of its gateways and tollbooths. (Barber, 273) U.S. based Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such a AT&T WorldNet, Microsoft s MSN, and AOL, are dominating the developing Western European and East Asian markets. Domestic ISPs are finding it difficult to complete against Americans companies that provide low-cost or free Internet access. This is another example of how local companies will be forced to adopt America s aggressive and unregulated style of business if they want to survive (Hedley, 198).
Barber fears that the least economically developed countries will be unable and unwilling to adopt the Internet. They will create a culture similar to Barber s concept of the Jihad in which all new forms of technology are construed as forms of Western cultural imperialism. Yet, the Internet is such a powerful and pervasive technology that a refusal to embrace this technology will, according to Barber, be a form of cultural suicide. For the Internet is a two-way informational street in which users not only have to right to choose which information they want displayed but they can also create and modify the contend ready on the Net. The two key areas to prevent American imperialism in the next decade via the Internet. The first is to ensure that there is a equitable diffusion of Internet technologies, there need to be the creation of a fund, similar to the IMF, which promotes to cultural agents of less developed nations on the Internet. This fund would not only provide web design and maintenance services but would also provide the hardware (e.g. computers) and software (e.g. Internet filters) to developing nations. The second method is the creation of Barber s concept of a virtual townhalls where discussions on cultural imperialism would held in which citizens would have a voice. As long as people are given a plethora of cultural options, the possibility of cultural imperialism via the Internet is reduced.