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Article from ejc/rec Intrinsic and imposed motivations to join the global technoculture
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 12 Numbers 3 & 4, 2002


Intrinsic and Imposed Motivations to Join the Global Technoculture:
Broadening the conceptual discourse on accessibility


Dineh Moghdam Davis
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Abstract. Regardless of their local culture or personal value system, many individuals will be facing the realities of joining a global workforce with its emphasis on technological complexity and a shift from physical to mental labor. This paper will examine certain reactions to new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) based on the diversity of human affinities and values for contributing to their social environment. Heuristic information will point to manifestations of such values within cultures, and their embeddedness (or lack thereof) in the technocultural space. Some concerns include the universal human desire for happiness, control, and choice as well as their predispositions toward natural and physical interactivity, non-mediated interpersonal relationships, rejection of compartmentalization and dualistic thinking, and a preference for flow and peak experiences in a more tangible three-dimensional environment.

"Defense of conviviality is possible only if undertaken by the people with tools they control." (Illich, 1973, p. 110)


1. Introduction

Given the rapid commercialization of the Internet and, more specifically, the World Wide Web in the 1990s, those social institutions with an intrinsic economic or intellectual interest in the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have embraced the actualization of the global village. Having reached a critical mass of users in the First World, those "within" this technoculture see little cause for preventing its universal and total adoption in the near future (see, for example, Mitchell, 1999; Negroponte, 1995). Nor do they find it advisable to delve into the psyche of the non-users of ICTs beyond finding the means to convert them into believers through shame or threats (see, for example, Twigg, 2000). The underlying assumptions seem to be that all humans have the same intrinsic interests and value system based on a Protestant work ethic, a need for higher challenges and matching skills, a desire to move from physical to mental labor, an affinity for abstraction and compartmentalization of life affairs, and a peak pleasure experience in an intellectual, disembodied state.

This paper will examine a broad range of accessibility issues and certain reactions to ICTs based on the diversity of human affinities, attitudes, and values. More specifically, the technology focus will be the by-now-traditional desktop computers with keyboard, mouse, and monitor which dominate the input/output mechanism for the Internet and the World Wide Web. Heuristic information will point to manifestations of Net-based values within cultures, and their embeddedness (or lack thereof) in the technocultural space. Some issues of concern include affinities and predispositions toward natural and physical interactivity, non-mediated interpersonal relationships, rejection of compartmentalization and dualistic thinking, and a preference for flow and peak experiences in a more tangible three-dimensional environment.

2. Definitions

2.1. Access

The concept of accessibility is a broad one. Its definition varies according to the discipline-base in which a discourse takes shape. While economists may focus on the cost of hardware and infrastructure, policy-makers may add to that definition the issues of socioeconomic standing of individual citizens and concerns of universal service. While computer scientists and interface designers may dream of a universal design that can handle the needs of individuals with diverse abilities and needs, those in the information sciences may be concerned about the best search algorithms or engines that can bring the greatest accessibility to the digitally stored information. In turn, a system administrator may view accessibility as a fine balance in the trade-offs between privacy and security; but government organizations and civic groups may use the same terminology to focus on issues of access to content in the context of censorship. This paper attempts to accommodate many such views and provide a more comprehensive approach to studying the dilemmas of accessibility.

2.2. Memes

For the purposes of this paper, memes will refer to patterns of embedded human values that are passed back and forth across cultures and through our design, creation, and use of mediated communication technologies. Memes evolve through such a process of transmission and are, at the same time, an inherent part of the technologies created by humans for humans (adapted from Dawkins, 1976). Once a culture is touched by such memes, change is inevitable. Yet, a conscious decision to counteract that change is also within human reach. "The more germane possibility is that foreign memes will displace the original meme pool ... The evolution of memes is now probably much more critical than genetic evolution in determining our future" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993, p. 88).

2.3. Overtly-Computer-Based and Networked Technologies (Ocbant)

By this phrase and its short-hand acronym (Ocbants) I intend to separate all other forms of mediated communication interfaces--such as digital television, wireline and cellular telephones, pagers, facsimile machines, and the like--from what is by now considered the traditional (and most widespread) hardware system for Internet use: a wireline, telephone-networked microcomputer system with a keyboard, mouse, and screen as its input/output peripherals. Ocbants are the primary focus of this paper in the context of global networking. The reasons for making this distinction will become clear in the context of accessibility issues. I believe that many human-computer interface accessibility issues may resolve themselves with the advent of fully operational voice-based input/output systems that may once again validate oral literacy. Since the technology base for interpretation and "understanding" of voice interactions (as opposed to voice recognition and voice response systems currently available) is not on the near horizon, however, Ocbants are likely to dominate the infrastructure for the foreseeable future, especially for complex interactions. By introducing Ocbants as a category for consideration, I am at the same time limiting the scope of this paper away from "friendlier" synchronous and voice-based human to human technologically mediated global systems. Such systems include the traditional telephone as well as audio-visual systems such as radio and television that have the ability to engage non-text-literate populations around the globe.

2.4. Technoculture

I will use this term to refer to the culture shared by those inhabiting the ICT/cyberspace sphere of influence - regardless of the community's geopolitical and physical environment. In the context of this paper, I refer to the term more as a dominant, global "superculture" which is enforced as an additional layer on top of all other cultures rather than a subculture. While subcultures may be viewed as disenfranchised, disaffected, and unofficial (Gleder, 1997) a superculture, by contrast, is bound to be "franchised," affected, and official - the dominant view. We tend to have both manifestations in the context of cyberspace.

The May 2000 "ILOVEYOU" virus which propagated into 29 variations within a week and crippled millions of computer systems demonstrated both the subculture and the superculture manifestations of technoculture. The ideological closeness of the technological (but potentially disenfranchised) underground was apparent in the interviews conducted by the news media in the Philippines during this period. Despite the immense geographic separation between the relatively poor neighborhood in Manila from which the virus allegedly originated and the affluent high-technology neighborhoods of the U.S. where the greatest damage was done, members of the Manila technoculture envisioned themselves far closer to the victims than to the rest of Manila or the Philippines. Not only did the electronic infrastructure allow for this proximity, but also the mindset of this subculture pointed to the same belief system ("information wants to be free") as the American cyberculture movement (Associated Press, 2000).

On the other hand, the speed with which U.S. federal government agencies responded to the catastrophe shows a clear sign of the mainstream interest in controlling this technology for its own benefit and the protection of its mainstream citizenry (National Infrastructure, 2000). To provide a stark contrast to this dominant view, it was clear that the Philippines government was not quite ready to find an immediate solution to punish the alleged perpetrators of this multi-million dollar crime. Just the same, it is obvious that if other nations wish to remain in the pancapitalist arena, they will need to adjust to the superculture mandates now being developed by those who are setting the de facto sociocultural standards.


3. Embedded Values and Ocbant Memes

The ideological debate surrounding value-free technologies is long-standing and not likely to be resolved given that it is itself a manifestation of our diverse cultural backgrounds. This paper will, instead, focus on identifying certain consistent elements within ICTs that tend to favor one form of social interaction or outcome over other alternatives. Table 1 summarizes the major areas of social concern with regard to the accessibility of ICTs (and in some cases, more specifically, Ocbants), their technocultural manifestations, and their attendant values. One may argue that such values are likely to ride on the back of ICTs as memes that will be transmitted globally to all users. This is especially true in the case of Ocbants that require a higher degree of education and skill as well as more technological and financial resources. In some cases, a single issue may accommodate opposing values. Clearly, the breadth of such manifestations is attributable to the power and complexity of the technology and its incumbent human support system.

My argument on accessibility issues is that individuals within a culture may find a strong dissonance between their personal, cultural or subcultural, ethical, religious, or spiritual values and the underlying or inherent demands of these value-embedded technologies which may have originated from a different culture-base. The adoption rate, therefore, cannot be strictly based on predictions of lowered costs of the technology or its infrastructure or availability of technical training or literacy classes. Even if we were to overcome such physical and financial barriers, values inherent in the technology and demands made by its current human interface (in the case of Ocbants) will be the next obstacles to surface. In any case, to presume that every community will find comfort and bliss - that is, a reasonable cultural fit - within this technological base is highly questionable.

Table I. Accessibility and its manifestations and embedded values within ICTs.

Human aspects
of ICTs and/or
Ocbants[1]

Technocultural memes
and manifestations

Potential extremes or non-universal
attendant cultural values or attitudes

Behavioral

  • Fluidity of persona through potential for anonymity.
  • Guarantee of a "constant public, a need to stay in the public eye.
  • Reality and illusions of speed and infatuation with speed and infatuation with speed.
  • Myth of youth superiority.
  • Technology-as-toy vs technology-as-toil (socially and globally mandated state of bliss).
  • Myth of 'round the clock' work (in keeping with ICTs) as not just necessary but good.
  • Rewards risk-taking behavior and extroversion.
  • Encourages self-promotion, exhibitionism and/or voyeurism
  • Devalues:
    • sense of humility
    • sense of privacy
    • patience for slow events and people
    • elders and their wisdom.
  • Contributes to:
    • persistent anxiety
    • lack of control over life environment for many, while promoting more sense of control and peak experiences for some.
  • Variable physiological and emotional demands on human bodies, e.g. eye strain, failed motivation.

Social

  • Facilitates instant interaction and communication.
  • Abhors silence and "white space".
  • Facilitates buffering and filtering of people and ideas.
  • Facilitates anonymity.
  • Instant effects on equilibrium of social ties.
  • Value of noise and action over silence, clutter over 'visual space'.
  • Isolationism, illusion of independence.
  • Further shirking of personal responsibility for social actions.

Informational

  • Illusion that "All we need is on the Net".
  • Increased tolerance for superfluous 'junk' data and information.
  • Information bombardment (and overload).
  • Binary worldview.
  • Minimized sense of:
    • history
    • what is not representable digitally (sensations, emotions)
    • tolerance for information lag.
  • Cognitive dissonance on information availability vs information need.
  • High-tension life (contrary to some spiritual belief systems).
  • Devaluation of qualitative, subjective, 'fuzzy' or digitally non-representable information.

Emotional and sensory

  • Highly charged, overly enhanced representations (for dramatic effect).
  • Out of sight out of mind?
  • Myth of 'multimedia' on a single platform.
  • Devaluing of the non-represented senses and sensibilities for some humans:
    • physical (other than through a secondary medium)
    • absent (from the Net)
    • silent (on or off the Net)
    • spiritual (other than through a secondary medium).

Economic, regional, personal

  • Reinforcement of global status.
  • Reinforcement of socioeconomic status.
  • Materialism/consumerism.
  • Conservatism

Intellectual:

  • access to content
  • contributions to content
  • Need for text-based literacy, need for second language and skills training, higher education, further stratification of population.
  • Disenfranchisement of classes of non-participating citizens
  • Uneven availability and distribution of content.
  • Redefinition of concept(s) of education.
  • Elitism, technology may be 'inherently democratic' for those with no accessibility issues; for others, technological codification may decrease chances of participation.
  • Censorship through overt or covert exclusion.
  • Loss of self-esteem after a lifetime of achievement (devaluation of wisdom and the oral tradition, equating old with obsolete).
  • Self-censorship when values clash (humility vs self-promotion).
  • Outcome-based learning and remote learning validate technology over people as the primary source of information.

Political

  • Technocracy
  • Elitism, new class distinctions:
    • InforTech gurus (InTeGs)
    • InfoTech advocates (InTAs)
    • Outsiders (OUTAs!)

Technological

  • Language
  • Infrastructure
  • Content
  • Ergonomic and physiological
  • Acceptance of English as the de facto standard language of the Net, especially for infrastructure design and construction (see also Intellectual).
  • Regional variations assessed in hierarchies.
  • De facto dominance of Western media.
  • Universally increased stress-levels and work expectations (24/7).
  • Technocolonialism and electronic imperialism.
  • Self-identity of individuals tied to cultural and language identities of the dominant culture.
  • Imposition of competition where none may have existed before.
  • Technical and content dependence and interdependence with continued uneven balance of contributions.
  • Normative shifts toward acceptance of longer work hours, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


4. Discussion

Throughout the 1990s the general assumption made by technoptimists was the infrastructure uniformity with which the Internet was blessed, giving all comers equal opportunities to reach everyone else on the network worldwide. This underlying assumption about the very "nature" of the Internet and the World Wide Web automatically led many to speculate that the network's inherent "democratic ways" will ultimately wipe out hierarchies of control and eliminate other physical and social barriers (see, for variations, Griffiths, 1999; Pal and Alexander, 1998; Negroponte, 1995). Not everyone agreed with this illusion (variations represented in Davis, 1995; Kling, 1996; Stoll, 1996). The most recent dissemination of the results of a joint project among IBM, Compaq, and AltaVista, however, shows a very different physical picture of the current Net structure which shatters the myth of total connectivity and more closely mirrors the realities imposed by humanity and reinforces the many inherent objections raised by the technocautious faction of the world's population (Broder, 2000).

In light of these new findings, referred to as the "Bow Tie Theory" of the structure of the Net, social scientists can more readily imagine the accessibility disparities which pre-existed our networked lives. There are those who are at the core of any social network (regardless of whether it is mediated or face-to-face) and those in the peripheries who may be producers or consumers of innovations or potentially both, without having to link to the entire network or to its core. This evident model, based on two separate crawls through a sampling of 1.5 billion links on the Web in 1999 (Broder, 2000), simply reinforces the long-established model of social and political networks as well as diffusion of innovation theories.

To the extent that all humans share a set of basic values, any overlay of technology will magnify, modify, minimize, or reflect those values. The question is which ones are inherently embedded in the technology and how easy might it be to overcome those that are in conflict with our preexisting values or attitudes that we wish to preserve. The point here is not to argue that certain values are better or worse than others - though such arguments may be valid topics of discussion. Nor am I attempting to make my own value judgments about certain individuals who have their own predispositions or tendencies toward blind pessimism or optimism regarding progress, change, and new communication technologies. Instead, the aim here is to present the argument that a universal tendency for the majority of the human race is to obtain and sustain a state of happiness and equilibrium in their day to day lives. Such a state of equilibrium, though moderated by culture, will be unique to the individual and not necessarily governed by social mandates from competing cultures and subcultures.

Given the pre-existing diversity of aptitudes, attitudes, and values in each individual, it would seem that modes of expression and contribution must remain equally diverse. This would be especially true when innovation is superimposed on already-well-established patterns of behavior, be they based on inherited traits or culturally adopted behaviors (Bates and Martin, 2000). To that end, I concur with the statement that "Optimal experience is related to the subjective perception of environmental challenges: each individual will selectively pursue the activities that best meet his or her own intrinsic motivation and spontaneous interest" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993, p. 196). When we begin to base an entire culture on a single technological platform, we are bound to create constraints on some subset of the population. When such a platform is installed cross-culturally and globally, dissent and dissonance become inevitable.

Not all humans are endowed with the same aptitudes or affinities. This is universally and most clearly apparent in its somewhat exaggerated state among those who show very early signs of "giftedness" in pursuit of a given talent. As Hamer and Copeland (1998, p.126) remark, however, "Predisposition is not predestination". Just the same, if the predisposition is a socially viable one, and if it is nurtured appropriately, it is more likely to lead to a state of happiness for the individual. In turn, such an individual is more likely to be a prolific contributor to her or his supportive environment. Again, such results are evident all around us as well as having been methodically studied and reported upon (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, 1993, 1990).

Admittedly, the very innovators of new technologies are, in all likelihood, experiencing the ultimate "flow" in their daily lives as they explore heretofore unexplored terrain. It is this very "flow" that produces in them a "blind spot" making it difficult to recognize the need for cultural diversity in others. A popular American expression is "If I can do it, anyone can!" This cultural myth is created by the "blind spot" in flow and forms the foundation for global miscommunication and misunderstanding. Some blind spot examples follow.

At the 1995 annual INet conference where the "heads of state" of cyberia gather each year, I noticed a modest sign suggesting the formation of a "social impact committee." This being their fifth conference, I was pleased to see the beginnings of a concern for this aspect of cyberspace and was anxious to join. My hopes were dashed quickly by finding that no "directions" were provided for joining. Simply a name - not even an e-mail address was provided. (Perhaps I was wrong; perhaps there is a gatekeeper to cybertopia!) After some sleuthing I discovered that unlike most previous technological groups I had joined, the founder of this social impact group was only concerned with how current society was going to impact HIS new-found and as-yet "lawless" territory and not the reverse!

Though he was unwilling to admit that his main concern was to protect the right of adults to access pornography on the network, he was hard put to come up with any other examples of how "society" was infringing on his rights in cyberspace. The last thing on his mind was the effect of the network on our existing society. Not long after, coincidentally, Steve Talbott (1996, p.1) stated the following: "For all the talk of 'Net culture,' the single most striking thing about the Net is its ability to corrode culture. A medium that treats censorship as a malfunction is also a medium that makes it impossible to sustain the distinctions of value upon which all culture is built."

A final example: In the early 1980s when the personal computing revolution was capturing the elite's imagination I used to invite Nicholas Ashford to come and speak to my senior-level students in the field of computer information systems. Professor Ashford has many advanced academic degrees and headed the Center for Technology Policy (later the Center for Technology Policy and Industrial Development) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yet, he refused to wear a digital watch (it seemed to disrupt the continuity of time which, by nature, he perceived as "analog") and he shuddered at the thought of what personal computers had done to the competence of his staff. He called it "The Illusion of Excellence;" a preoccupation with the "look and feel" of a finished document rather than the substance of thoughtful research. I was amazed, even then, for the survival of such thoughts at MIT - poised as it was on the threshold of ushering in a new age through its Media Lab. When he spoke of the unnatural speed of the computer in comparison to a human's need for time to formulate cogent thoughts, I wondered who was putting pressure on him to respond at computer-speeds.

By the 1990s, Ashford (1995) had resolved these dilemmas to his own satisfaction. He wears a digital watch with an analog face so that he has the convenience of a calendar on his wrist without having to convert a digital signal back into analog for telling time. He continues to write his outlines and ideas longhand before sitting down at his portable computer. He has cautiously chosen among the many communication options at his disposal at a deliberate pace. He has tested the waters of cyberspace and is deliberating the outcome.

All of the above individuals are clearly within their rights to interpret the opportunity of a new medium into what makes sense in their personal lives. Though Western culture tends to polarize, dichotomize, and compartmentalize public issues in the process of open debates, there are those who take a more moderate stance and are not afraid of introducing some shades of gray into the future (Gordo-Lopez, 1999; Kling, 1996). The remainder of this discussion will follow the general categories identified in Table 1 above and offer further elaboration on some of the items noted. Given the self-explanatory nature of many of the categories and comments that appear in the above table, and in the interest of saving some space, the following elaboration will only focus on the less obvious or more contradictory items.

4.1. Personal and Behavioral

"Nurture-based" or "nature-based" may be irrelevant to the discussion when demands on the human body overwhelm its sense of control and choice in finding and pursuing a healthy, balanced life. Though it is unlikely that scientists will find specific genes for various personality characteristics any time soon - if they exist at all - very few parents will dispute the obvious fact that children tend to be born not as blank slates, but with certain predispositions. Technoculture asserts that new generations of the human race will automatically take to ICTs and have no sense of repulsion, anxiety, or fear associated with them because they will have grown up with these technologies. I cannot help but wonder why we still have so many shy or bashful adults who shun public fora even though they obviously grew up with other human beings and should, therefore, not show any anxieties or concerns around what they have known all their lives! If we leave new ICTs entirely out of the picture, we will find numerous examples of naturally occurring phenomena that are still a matter of concern to many adults - from things as small and seemingly insignificant as insects to more obvious elements such as heights or large bodies of water. Some of these matters have been categorized in the context of risk-taking affinities that are clearly not uniform among all humans (Hamer, 1998).

A sense of humility, however, is more likely to be a learned behavior; one which is hard to represent in mass mediated formats that depend on self-promotion and glamorization to sustain interest. This fundamental value is hard to preserve in any setting that is inherently public. Be it a personal preference or one valued by an entire community or culture, preserving a cluster of traits including humility, privacy, silence, patience, and deliberation becomes a high-maintenance project in the age of new ICTs (Etzioni, 1999; Postman, 1992; Shenk, 1999).

4.2. Social

Discussions of the effects of ICTs are generally taking place within the fora populated by scholars and technologists fully immersed in the media of which they speak. Few focus on those outside of their domain unless their goal is to bring these individuals into the fold by providing better access. Access, then, is defined within the disciplinary or interdisciplinary context of their immediate lives. This tends to automatically leave out the value systems unrepresented or underrepresented in their domain.

Social manifestations of behavioral elements identified in the previous section should naturally lead to adoption of mechanisms that preserve such cultural values. Yet, the complexity of social systems and competing needs will ultimately drive out weaker signals. In the most obvious case, noise will annihilate silence. This, however, does not speak to the necessity for access to silence in our lives; nor automatically make anyone shout out that because silence is naturally weaker than noise that we must pursue the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest to eliminate all silence. This analogy will suffice for social consideration as it can be applied to all the absent voices and silent elements in this discourse.

4.3. Informational

Access to information has, of course, been the most widely discussed topic of the information age with thousands of readily available resources at the reader's disposal. What is generally in public focus is the obvious lack of access to the wealth of information on the Internet for those who are unable to partake of its vast mines of data and information. What may suffice in this context is to expand the discussion by reiterating that ICTs contain or facilitate just a select subset of human knowledge. This is not to discount the extremely vast, powerful, and unprecedented nature of what can be accessed, but to keep in mind that we have begun to limit our definition of information to what can be represented in a digital format on the Net. We extract the digitally representable subset of information, potentially siphoning knowledge from wisdom in the process. The inadequacy of the tools we have at our disposal forces us to look under the street lamp of ICTs for what we may have lost in the darkness of our yearnings for a future generation around the bend.

What is more, the nature of representation of such information continues to be vastly influenced by the medium itself. The development of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and its influence on news reporting is but one recent case in a long array of such media dictating the message, leading the media industry to rethink the viability of headlines and soundbites through an even more constrained interface.

4.4. Emotional and Sensory

As noted in the preceding section, much vital information today is lost through symbolic annihilation; by their mere absence from public discourse through our technological media of choice. In addition to the passive elimination of what cannot be represented through ICTs, there is a far more active element that has masqueraded as a parallel and equally viable point of access for our multi-sensory perceptions. Multi-media representations, though clearly engaging more than one of our senses, fall far short of satisfying some human need to experience sensory and emotional perceptions through multiple channels rather than the single platform of Ocbants. Adding gloves or even bodysuits may create realistic enough illusions for some, but may not necessarily provide the same value for those who have experienced living a fuller life through their bodies in direct contact with natural surroundings. Many years ago Sherry Turkle (1984) described a conversation with a computer programmer who had nonchalantly said "Of course I can program love. Just describe it to me and I will write the code." In those days, Professor Turkle's (1999) question was "Is simulation of love, love?" Her answer, today, seems to be a resounding "yes" for those who believe in the make-believe world of ICTs.

4.5. Economic

In reviewing The Lexus and the olive tree, Business Week's Christopher Farrell (2000) calls Friedman (2000) a card-carrying global optimist. He could have been even more descriptive by calling Friedman a full-blooded card-carrying globally optimistic American in that his views most clearly represent a particularly poignant mainstream view of the place of the United States in the global sphere. Not just in the context of the economy, but of what can be considered right for this planet's future.

There is no doubt about the fact that the computerization of the financial world unified and strengthened the sense of this community long before the dot.com revolution. There is also no question that the World Wide Web has fostered a global marketplace in which every trader has the option to trade. In fact, we may be more accurate in describing the World Wide Web as the World Wide Bazaar. Still, the concept of the prosumer (equal parts consumer and producer) is very much a first-world creation that overlooks the economic disparities among our 6 billion population base worldwide. Even within the first world, there are those who are willing to observe that the only common ground we may have found through the purchase of each other's trademarks is just that: a commercial tie. "At best, the link is tenuous; at worst, it's false. It lets us believe that we are connected when the distance, in fact, is much farther than anyone cares to admit" (Kotlowitz, 1999,72). Mills (1999) makes a similar observation but on a global scale: "Those who have the means shop the global marketplace, those who don't, stock it" (202).

4.6. Intellectual

Intellectual access to the net goes deeper into the heart of culture than any other area. It is not simply a matter of physical or financial access, or even a matter of English as the dominant language, or intelligence, or ability to learn. Yet it involves all of the above elements and more. Learning English may not be a barrier (it is my second language, so I know well). Choosing to communicate in this language is an entirely different matter. An analogy may be helpful here. Not all great musicians know how to read music, nor do they all choose without prejudice among the many instruments available to them. Few are adept at playing multiple instruments, though they may technically know how each one operates to produce certain sounds and effects. Yet, as intellectuals, we tend to discount these preferences when it comes to other forms of communication.

There is general consensus among linguists and technologists that English is a language well-suited to describing the tangible. The unambiguous nature of its lexicon has helped create much-needed consensus and global sharing of its benefits in technical fields. No one who has flown across national boundaries even once will ever object to the standardization of flight data and information around the English language. Nevertheless, many who have flown will probably agree that there is more to their life than just flying. Yet, a tool that is perfectly suited to one function may be wholly inappropriate to others. If we chose to use the Net for only one type of interchange (such as the sharing of trade or technology) it is unlikely that we would have these deeper levels of objection to the embeddedness of cultural values in the very foundations of this infrastructure. However, once again, we find that our creations are touted as "general purpose" tools, presumably suitable for any form of communication.

The analytical pairing of the real and the ideal, of course, take us to an entirely different intellectual plain, presenting the paradox of using the very tools in question to pose questions about the tools. In this regard Lunenfeld (1999) describes Heim's (1999) bemused look at "Naive realists and networked idealists" who post antitechnology messages on the Web.

4.7. Political

As with "informational," this section has been left intentionally small given the wide scope of coverage readily available in the interplay between politics and technology. The predominant technoculture meme will continue to spawn technocracies, be they modeled after the American system or that of Singapore. This meme is disseminated even faster and more widely in its popularized manifestations in fiction and science fiction. Just as one of our business students at a private business college in Massachusetts once chastised us for having failed to provide him earlier in his educational career with the Machiavellian model of management, it is safe to assume that technopolitical memes will find their own path to the mainstream without much need for encouragement.[2]

4.8. Technological

Importing any technology with its language and attendant values -- and therefore, culture -- reduces or potentially destroys existing self-identities.
Increasingly, we are hearing technocautious voices that tend to acknowledge the reality of the planet's future but offer a calmer alternative. In a manifesto prefaced with "A philosophy for the rest of us," Shenk (1999) offers a Web-based voice on "technorealism." Heim (2000, p. 45) provides support and balance in a similar voice by placing human beings at the center of technology. He states, "Virtual realism meets destiny without being blind to the losses of progress. It strives to enrich the unfolding future from a personal standpoint by referring to moments when we have been at our best. It explores the need to ground ourselves in the earth, not naively, but in a way that draws on the growing knowledge we are obtaining from a global garden of human practices, from the body energy cultivation of Taoism and yoga to the new green therapy that insists on our spending time outdoors."


5. Conclusion

"It is culture that forms us; without culture there would be no identity at all." (Sarup, 1996, p. 183)

No doubt, the actual structure and makeup of the digital environment does not preclude participation by any group of humans or impede their desires in a universal sense. As in real life, it is the very requirement for the act of participation that favors the "active." Yet the activity is no longer taking place "elsewhere," but is being imposed, or superimposed, on everyone's life. It is this incongruity that some might find disrupting or distasteful. It is the illusion (or is it real?) that we no longer have time to deliberate and to contemplate. It is the preferential treatment that American culture bestows upon the proactive extroverts; thereby devaluing those who are by nature private or reactive individuals. Yet it is this particular cultural value that forms the very basis of cyberspace.

In The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age, Grossman (1995) attempts to temper his enthusiasm for the new communication technologies with some skepticism about potential dangers of populist rule through artificial reality and real-time (spontaneous) decision-making by the masses. Although he acknowledges the necessity for establishing new procedures and policies that would protect individual rights and the unpopular minorities from "majoritarian impulses," he overlooks an entire segment of the population that is by no means a minority: those whose biological, cultural, or behavioral upbringing precludes them from embracing the exhibitionist, impatient mentality of the other half of the human race (see Rushkoff, 1994, for a description of many of the founders of the cybercommunity movement - such as those who created The Well).

The myth of the "melting pot" has now been expanded to include the concept of "unity through technology." Because it is obvious that a representative from every imaginable sector of humanity that can be distinguished through physical differences is already online, we are quick to forget that not all differences are visible in nature. The very concept of cosmopolitanism can have tremendous appeal to some (Hill, 2000), while it may not serve the emotional needs of others who have led happy, albeit sheltered and "provincial" lives, in isolated communities. Though a culture of consumerism may appeal to some (Rosenblatt, 1999), it has brought others closer to an understanding of how obvious disparities can become across the producer-consumer divide (Kotlowitz, 1999).

As the explorer's voice within us might confirm, the winning mentality of the risk takers is most effective when tempered by a climate of calm and reflection. Yet, the makers and shapers of cyberspace continue their quest at a frenzied pace, having established an infrastructure for a culture that craves constant change (after all, how else can you replicate the analog fluidity of day to day life and capture it in realistic digital "frames"?). The very structure of the computer-based network, and especially the World Wide Web, lends itself to an individual's desires for exhibitionism and voyeurism. The more of yourself you must reveal to an unknown and unseen world, the more you might wonder about the other psyches you meet online. You become familiar with the fluidity of personas displayed in cybercommunities and begin to reevaluate your past judgment on first impressions, on the validity of an e-mail address, on the real-life existence of some of the people you have only "met" online.


6. Epilogue

Cyberspace, we are told, is a confirmed discovery. Many paths have already been laid, and the cartographers are fast at work, doing their best to keep us oriented. Technoptimists are eager to point out that in this new space we are all equal since we can leave our bodies with their physical differences behind. Unfortunately, no one insisted that we leave our psychological baggage by the door - to come unencumbered from our past. And no one seems to be pointing out that it was our brain, the container of our imagination as well as our prejudices and our values that we had to take with us to build the foundation to this new home. How can we call it "new" mental territory when the inhabitants are as old as the human race, moving in directly from their own vantage points in the "real" world? How is it a new space when the inhabitants never left home? If our physical bodies must depend on the physical community surrounding us, should not our loyalties and obligations remain, to some extent, closer to our physical neighbors and communities?

When we discuss the traits of cybercommunities, we often hear and see the analogies to the "New World" or the "Old West" where no license or waiting period was needed, and the only entrance requirement was to be the first to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, this is one metaphor that, if taken seriously, can have dire consequences. For not only is the new "land" non-existent, but also we have not just taken a select few adventurers to an uninhabited space, but have invaded an already-settled civilization with its immense diversity - both in terms of peoples and cultures. This is not a war against a few dispensable people who happen to be in the way of progress, but an entire way of life on earth, with a range of diversity that the majority may like to preserve.

A more reasonable analogy might be to the ancient conquerors of Asia, empires toppling empires, and masses of civilized peoples being subjected to the whims of a new monarchy. Even then, with a few hundred years less experience than we have today, the new rulers were aware of the need to appease their new subjects by adopting many of the old traditions and customs. New churches were built upon the foundations of old temples. Languages were partially or totally preserved. Old holidays were observed in a new guise but not strictly abandoned. A more methodical and contemporary global study about the causes of conflict has revealed the same truths: people are aroused and disgruntled when someone tampers with their basic values. Do we have a lesson to learn from such knowledge?

In this make-believe world, you are no longer bound by being just one person. The schizophrenia that might have been diagnosed as a personality disorder in the twentieth century might simply be an advantage in cyberculture. The impact of cybercommunities on culture will thus be felt from an intrapersonal level through the entire spectrum of interpersonal, organizational, and social relationships to its global consequences. The challenge of building an inclusive cybercommunity is at least as complex as its real-life counterpart, and at most a preoccupation that will keep the fireside story tellers occupied for several more generations. For they have yet to discover fire online.


Endnotes

[1] Ocbants: see definitions section, Overtly-Computer-Based and Networked Technologies.


[2] For enlightening discussions of the ethics of technology, power, and politics from several cultural perspectives, see Barbour (1993), Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV (1999), Illich (1973), Postman (1992) and Mander (1991).

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