MAIN EVENT. A Good Place to Get Started --- a.k.a "Table of Contents"
|DON'T READ ME FIRST! | THE PREVIOUS EVENT | THE NEXT EVENT | THE WRITERS/GUIDELINES ||
To read this article in Deutsch, Francaise, Italiano, Portuguese, Espanol, copy and paste the complete URL("http://www.generator21.net/mem14.html") and enter it in the box after you click through.
|Rod Amis's questions on France's contribution to the Internet brings about a larger question on the cultural bias of technology. A hidden debate going on everywhere around the world right now is about the latest round of trade negotiations and the America insistence on including culture into them. It is front page news in Europe, in Canada and, to a lesser degree, in South America. Buried deep inside the thinking pages of the leading newspapers in the USA, Americans ask why the rest of the world is concerned.
Americans are the least knowledgeable people in the World when it comes to foreign languages and cultures. This is a sorry fact but it can be explained, I think, by the very nature of modern America. Up to the mid 1800s, the United State was, more or less, a stable ethnic society, of Northern Occidental European immigrants, Protestant in Faith and English in tongue. There was not a questioning on the matter of which language, English or German, would be the main language of America. English was, de facto if not de jure, the language of the Republic.
The massive arrival of non-Northern Occidental Europeans could have brought a new wave of social discontent if the Great American Myth of "the Melting Pot" had not been invented.
Because of this Myth, a Polish Jew, a Sicilian, a Russian could, by the simple act of becoming "naturalized", be an American.
Officially that is.
Reality is always more complex than mythology.
The English language, American-style, thus acquired a status of its own, knowledge of American English became a litmus test of belonging to the new identity, retaining other languages was seen as a sign of refusal to be a real American.
The American identity is forged, more than in any other country, on a common integrating and assimilating language. While, even in Britain, regional language have survived, in the United States only the Spanish speaking population seems to have been able to have their language as a social and cultural tool of communication for more than four generations.
The Latino population of the United States seems to be able to do what the Franco-American were unable to do. I should know, the reason I was born in Quebec was that my American born grand-father, Joseph Durocher, fell in love with what today would be described as an "illegal". By the way, my maternal great-grand-father was also born in the USA.
America was thus built on the complete eradication of ancestral languages.
Obviously that was done more brutally in certain groups, one has to look to the history the Black American to understand how. Through the institution of slavery, African Americans had their entire languages, history, and roots completely obliterated.
To breakup with the past --- to become ahistorical --- is part and parcel of the American experience.
It is no wonder then that learning another language is tantamount to breaking with America for some people.
By the way, the same philosophy applies in Canada, more so for "New-Canadians" as the non-English-speaking or French-descent Canadians have been called for twenty generations.
We should then not be surprised if America's main contribution to the world was standardization and the implicit personalization of manufacturing products. Cars are the best example. You can build on the same platform from the same part bin and yet a Cadillac is not a Buick in the mind of the buyer. Even if feature for feature an astute buyer can purchase a Buick that is a Cadillac in all aspects, save the nameplate, there is still a substantial price differential.
"You can be different if you are alike" is in more ways than one the American motto.
|BUT WHY WOULD ANYONE *NOT* WANT TO BE LIKE US?
IF those countries are so great, why are all their people dying to come over here?.
"In the New World Order cultural differences will be rendered irrelevant."
dubya-dubya-dubya GetALife dot com
404 Not Found on This Server.
|This obviously applies to mainstream cultural industries, mostly the movie and television industry. In this case, the leader of all time was Disney, who back in the 30s was "localizing" its animated features.
If inside a Disney animation a piece of written material was seen, new cells were done in the major European languages. This is how I saw my first Disney film, for all intents and purposes a French film, with French songs (superbly dubbed) and French written in any written pieces shown on screen.
Still a Disney adaptation of a Grimm story is not a Grimm story adapted to the screen by Disney.
And this is where the problem begins. Can the USA understand that most countries on Earth have a different culture, different aspirations, a different view of society than it does?
I face this question daily because I live in Stanstead, Quebec.
The "So what?" is that Stanstead is your typical Eastern Township Quebec small town, trying to cope with a reversal of power from an Anglophone world to a French one, it is at once one the most beautiful places in North America and at the same time ugly as Hell. Next to it, are a couple of small towns, again with some incredible vistas and superb colonial houses.
Well the neighboring towns are called Beebe and Derby Line, and are located in Vermont. Our library is thrice an official monument, for Quebec, for Canada and for the USA. The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is a world reknowned treasure.
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is located smack in the middle of the border, with a line inside to prove it. The books are in Canada, as is the stage of the Opera House located above, yet the entry is in the United States. It is the only place, as far as I can tell, where you can go to the United States from Canada without reporting to Customs.
We have a street, Canusa, one side in Vermont, the other in Quebec, a couple of houses were the ground floor apartment is in Canada while the second floors are in the USA and vice-versa.
Then why is it that I call myself a Quebecois (most of my neighbors call themselves Canadians) and the Vermonters call themselves Americans?
Why is it that I, and most people I know, feel that they are in the USA when they are standing a few feet over there?
And, why is it that an American still feels like an American when standing near the books in Canada?
As long as America was dealing with material goods, that it could produce better and cheaper than other countries it didn't matter if it was a Buick or a Cadillac. As long as America was dealing with only one part of the cultural industry, some of us "foreign intellectuals" could yell bloody murder but the mass of people would still flock to see an American movie.
But less of we Canadians would stoop to watch an American television program (except in English Canada), less again would buy an American music CD, fewer still would read an American magazine and only a minority would read an American book, even in translation.
But since movies were, and are still, bringing huge sums of foreign exchange in the USA, the American cultural providers did not foresee any problems.
They should have.
Commerce is an integral part of culture and culture is commerce. You do not buy goods the same way in French Quebec that you do in English Quebec and certainly not the same way in Japan or a remote African village. In all cases, the approach of the buyer and sellers differs with degrees of magnitude. And you do not sell culture the same way in France as in the USA.
|I know I have taken a (highly) circuituous route to this conclusion, but here it is: This cultural battleground is where the American Internet will face its greatest challenge.
It is easy to say (as Rod Amis has) that the French government is too protectionist of its culture and that the French people nonetheless want full and immediate access to the latest Bruce Willis movie. Yet I have never seen a demonstration in the street of Paris about this how many American films will be offered. The unacceptable for an American is acceptable and reasonable for a Frenchman. Most Americans cannot understand the laws regulating commerce in Germany, strict opening hours and price fixing that would baffle most Americans are seen as the German way of doing things by Germans. In Vermont, road signs are illegal; this would be a strange custom for a South American.
And there is the modern Great Myth of America: the Internet is a free space.
Sorry, even I, who lives next door, and knows a couple of things about America, cannot understand the concept.
The Internet may be a Free space for Americans --- free of regulations, free of censorship, the virtual land of liberty and all that jazz --- BUT it is NOT free in any form for the rest of the world.
Americans may think that the Internet is an unstoppable Juggernaut, that the "movement" has gathered so much momentum that is now on a motion of its own, but this is the myth.
The Reality is that as long as the Internet was a toy, a sort of unruly university campus (to set matters straight, I have had an email address for almost 12 years) where all sorts of behavior was accepted since it affected only a minority, the Myth of Freedom was an acceptable way of dealing with the inherent problems of such a medium. When the problems replicated those that are associated with adolescent behaviors we could say, "Well, this is a frontier."
You can have a Marxist M.B.A. student, you cannot have a Marxist M.B.A. employee. You can have a college boy womanizer, but you expect him to live like a monk when he graduates and joins your business.
So as long as the Internet did not, in most ways, worry the local bourgeoisie --- your local vendor of stereo equipment in Bogota, the wine store in Buenos Aires, the scrap yard in Abidjan --- all was doing well. You could scream free, free, free as long as you wanted and people would applaud. Not anymore
Hello! Reality check: The infrastructure of the Internet is a subset of the communication infrastructure of the American Army, was, is and will remain so.
The disengagement of the military from the Internet is, at best, the most marvelous public relations coup of the century. It only comes below the Great Highway robbery of the Interstate, Eisenhower's gift to corporate and military America.
Even though the American Interstate highway system is not in the hands of the military that does not mean they have no right to use it, and no right to requisition it for their exclusive use.
And let us not speak of the Autobahn. Same with the railroads in Canada and the USA, the canals in Europe or the Granddaddy of it all, the Roman road system.
Communications infrastructures over the ages have been done at the request of the strategic interest of a nation and the most important of these is the protection of its territory, the prerogative of the military.
If you, as an American, can believe for a moment that all nations on Earth are going to give you the physical power to control their communications technology, you are in for a rude awakening.
America's refusal to see other cultures, inside and out, is the main impediment to the growth and international spread of the Internet.
It is not a question of localization this time, of translating a web site in another language. It is a question of cultural differentiation of a larger degree. Of how other cultures deal with all aspects of their lives.
Culture is mostly about transactions.
Transactions are about understanding the needs of both sellers and buyers (givers or getters) and having a fair exchange. I will pay more for a play on Broadway than a local summer stock presenting the same production. This a transaction. Transaction is also understanding your society. Anybody who has lived in a ghetto where business transactions are done by non-residents will first patronize first those who care and respect them, paying a premium to do so. In other words, a poor person will pay more to be respected even if it costs more to do so. This is cultural, it goes against all business logic --- especially American logic.
TAKE THE RISK OF INVOLVEMENT.
The World's Magazine: generator21.net
Event # 191: Miserable Destiny
This Pull-down Menu will hyperjump you to all our great features. Try it!
JOIN THE G21 MAILING LIST. Get updates on new features. Take part in our Readership polls, shape the future of The World's Magazine. It's easy! E-mail The World's Magazine with the "Subject" line: SUBSCRIBE.
LAST WEEK's EDITION
For Deep Background visit the G21-Barnes & Noble Shop
Holiday Ideas Needed? Try the new G21/E-NEWS GIFT CENTER
OR get great books at the G21 BARNES & NOBLE SEARCH ENGINE
You can watch history...
or make 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
MEMOIR TWELVE: See You/See Me by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR THIRTEEN: High Tech Europe Ten by ROD AMIS
THE NEXT MEMOIR
© 1999, GENERATOR 21.E-mail your comments. We always like to hear from you. Send your snide remarks to email@example.com.