The Internet and Diversity

pen pal
via weheartit

This post will be largely based on Kelly Askew’s introductory chapter in The Anthropology of Media: A Reader

Anthropologists are no longer the gatekeepers to other worlds, other societies and other cultures. When I was quite young, probably about 8 or so, I wanted to use email to write to new people. I had heard of penpals and indeed, one of my Japanese teachers set up a pen pal programme for us. Problem was, we weren’t assigned Japanese pen pals, we were assigned other Australian students learning Japanese as pen pals. The novelty wore off quickly.

The internet made things easy though. I did not have to disclose my address to some unknown stranger (just my email address) and I found a website where young people from around the world wrote a little bio about themselves and you could email whoever seemed interesting. Sure, you must be careful on the internet – don’t send photos or your address or anything like that, but getting oneself an ‘ePal’ from the other side of the world is pretty easy. A more recent website than the one I used is Language Exchange, where you actually make friends with someone who speaks a different language to you so as to assist you in improving in that language. C’est super truc!

Askew writes about how the internet puts us in direct contact with, well, the world:

Anthropologists remain committed to the pursuit of ethnographic knowledge and cross-cultural understanding, but it is CNN, Hollywood, MTV, and other global mediathat now present and represent cultures to the majority of our world. Local communities from Africa to America to Australia and everywhere in between catch their first glimpses of distant lifestyles through images in print, on television screens, and on celluloid. They hear unfamiliar musics and languages through radio broadcasts, music videos, and mass-produced (frequently pirated) cassettes. And they meet and interact with persons continents away by logging on to the internet.

There is a limit to this. I think it’s easy to overlook the fact that there is no such thing as the ‘World Wide Web’ when it has definitely become something quite ordinary for most of us, for instance I use email for work and for keeping in contact with people, heck, I’m writing a blog for a class assignment. That doesn’t discount the fact that most people in the world don’t have internet access. It is a thing for the globally privileged, and so diversity on the internet is not full and complete, even though we might like to think that it is.

Nonetheless, I don’t have to be an anthropologist to email someone from Korea, learn their language and ask lots of questions about them and their culture. And I don’t have to be an anthropologist in order to learn a lot from doing something like this. But, what kind of effect does this direct access to people from all over the world have on neoliberalism?

Firstly, it is obvious that people who have different ways of thinking can talk about their own political ideas to those who may have a neoliberal outlook so as to ‘expand their horizons’, as it were. Likewise, people who think in neoliberal ways can encourage others around the world to do so as well. Askew talks about this tension between homoginisation and diversification in her introduction. One example she gives is that global media may privileged Hollywood films. On the other hand, if it weren’t for global media, Westerners would know little about Bollywood films, which are also quite popular.

Of course I’m limited in my conclusions by time and practicalities, but I think the real key to figuring out this part of the equation would be to see (a) how much people do interact with people unlike themselves on the internet and (b) how much they actually talk about politics. As well as (c) how seriously do they take what the other person is saying.

In my own experience (which is hardly extensive) people from certain places are quite vocal opponents of neoliberalism. In the discussion groups I have been a part of though, sometimes opposition is dismissed. ‘Of course he’s socially progressive’, a user may say. ‘He is from the Netherlands’ (for instance).

Thus, the internet can challenge people by providing them with diversity. On the other hand though, it can also just reinforce everything one already thinks anyway. This is complex territory and there is little data on the matter.

2 Responses

  1. […] A is in relation to this post, and is touched on also in this […]

  2. […] effect of the fact that the internet is globalised is unclear, as I talk about in this post. Do people talk to others in the same contexts as them or different ones through the internet? Does […]

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