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See You/See Me

by Rod Amis

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Only recently have I begun to touch on the topic of how our cultural differences might be more significant than most World Wide Web (WWW) celebrants and evangelists would have us believe. After all, if we must be prepared to gird our servers against politically-motivated, often government-sponsored Internet terrorism --- as last week's MEMOIR suggested --- then maybe the WWW is not the Great Equalizer some of us would claim it to be.

Sure, you can't tell if I'm a typing dog, male or female, or even American by reading this particular page. But anyone doing a 'Net search on my name in one of the popular search engines and then going to Andover News Network, MethodFive, or NRV8 could soon easily put together a profile. It would probably read: "African-American, residence - Baltimore, leftist, iconoclastic, opinionated, middle-aged, etc., etc...." You could get a list of most of my past employers and all the cities I've lived in during the last decade. You could find out about my family. Frankly, it would not be hard at all for anyone with a little technical savvy to learn most of the details of my life right here on the Internet. I'm vulnerable.

So that whole "nobody knows about you or can judge you" on the Internet argument doesn't hold as much water as some would have us believe.

Which circles back to the larger question: Will cultural differences --- politics, our personal prejudices, the need to regulate content for whatever reason --- ultimately determine just how "World Wide" the Web actually becomes over the next decade?

How acceptable is the current, USA-dominated nature of the Web for someone, say, in Pakistan, or China, or Tanzania? Is the WWW a tolerable place for someone who is devotely Islamic, for example?

ENGLISH IS THE LINGUA FRANCA OF THE WEB. WHO IS BEING EXCLUDED?


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What is the nature of "security" and "defence" on the Internet?
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"We must accept the fact that the future of the Web is all about money. How can it be any different when money is also the future of the world?"
The 800-pound gorillas have already won. Even crackers like banana juice.


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ABOUT US


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dubya-dubya-dubya HipperThanThou dot com


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Memoirs graphic.
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This brings up an issue I've tried to address in my IT Manager's Journal columns lately. What happens when the Web is not dominated by the United States and its cultural perspectives? Will it, for example, continue to be so commercially oriented? (The opposite side of this question is: Will American corporate interests allow any further de-commercialization of the WWW? After all, if we accept Ben Wattenberg's argument that United States culture has established itself as the "universal culture," why should this country not dominate the WWW as it dominates international economies. Think about the liberalization philosophy of the IMF and World Bank within this context.)

WIRED magazine reported in October of this year, using statistics provided by StatMarket that 58% of Web traffic originates in the United States, number two is Japan with 12.48% of Web traffic. Number three, Germany, accounts for a meagre 4.24%. Number four, the U.K., accounts for 2.6%. But these numbers are expected to change radically over the next five years as China's infrastructural upgrade for Web access is completed and the European telephony environment is rationalized.

The open question, of course, is whether Europeans or Chinese will then embrace the WWW if its character remains the same as it is today.

There may just be a perception in the rest of the world that Americans are so Net-happy because we don't "have lives." As Jennifer Blue's article in this edition of G21 suggests, many Americans may already have been rendered "lifeless" by television and the Internet is just an extension of the zombification of this nation.

This notion of non-US societies, at least in some part, having more of a non-technology-based "life" cuts to the core of this question. Is it a true assessment? As mentioned in one of the my columns elsewhere, the view of American society outside of the United States is not all "the Gold Mountain." On the contrary, this quote --- provided tongue-in-cheek --- from the Online Europe discussion list sums up another view:

"The citizens of the US, famously the stupidest people in the industrialized world, can hardly find the place they call 'Yerp' on a map, and only 1 in 6 has a passport anyway, so they're not coming here anytime soon. The vast bulk of the US is populated with aggressively anti-intellectual, racist, xenophobic, isolationist religious zealots..."
Sadly, there's enough truth in this joking statement to give us pause.
These concerns are presented as a starting point for members of the MOIA discussion list and readers of the G21 to present their own conclusions. But I won't fudge here and conceal my sentiments. (Like I've ever been veiled in my thoughts!)

I am an unabashed advocate of this medium becoming truly global in its reach, resources and influence. My biggest quibble with the WWW as it exists today is that people like Negroponte and Rossetto have celebrated its internationality prematurely. I have not found a single metric that gives evidence that this an international medium yet. It is dominated by essentially American, essentially Libertarian, essentially white, male, Western interests as I write this essay.

Would that the Web would become truly world-wide. Would that it was accessible to a larger number of people, even people speaking the "small languages" like Serbian, Greek and Tagalog. I am among those who dream that day will come.

But that day is NOT today.

Not unsurprisingly the second largest number of Web sites on the WWW are in Japanese. Yet many US-produced Web sites (this one included) don't have a means of translating their content into Japanese. G21 has used the Alta Vista interface to translate our articles for nearly three years now. We accept that the service demonstrates a European-bias, reflective of the bias of our own culture. Most US-based sites don't even bother to go that far....

This issue of the how the cultural determinant will affect the future growth of this medium is one that those of us intimately involved with the WWW need to discuss more seriously.

Let's accept the challenge to talk about it and involve ourselves in how this development takes place.



TAKE THE RISK OF INVOLVEMENT.

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THERE IS A FUTURE.
WE ARE WRITING IT.




I AM A GLOBAL CITIZEN. SO ARE YOU.






MEMOIR ONE: The Pinnacle, by FELICITY USSHER

MEMOIR TWO: Age of Exploitation, by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR THREE: Is Microsoft Bothering You, too? by RON DIENER

MEMOIR FOUR: The Name of The Rose by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR FIVE: War on The Web by ADAM J. SMITH

MEMOIR SIX: G21 Interviews ICANN's ESTHER DYSON

MEMOIR SEVEN: The Chamber of E-Commerce by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR EIGHT: G21 Interviews GEORGE OLSEN of THE WEB STANDARDS PROJECT

MEMOIR NINE: Reprint - On Globalization by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR TEN: A Global Discussion by ROD AMIS

MEMOIR ELEVEN: Global Discussion - Part 2 by ROD AMIS

The NEXT MEMOIR




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