Tuesday, April 8, 2008

money and savvy

In “Return to Babel: Emergent diversity, digital resources, and local knowledge,” Boast, Bravo and Srinivasan make a surprisingly presumptuous statement: “Unlike most other broadcast media – film, television, radio, newspapers, publication – the technical and economic limitations of production and distribution do not apply to any significant degree on the Web” (9). It is true that with internet access and basic computer literacy (neither of which should be taken for granted, especially when concerned with traditionally marginalized communities) one can do a great deal on the Web. However, the new media projects discussed in this and some of the other articles are more ambitious. In the same article, the authors note that easy-to-use approaches like tagging, RSS and blogs may not fit the needs of many communities (8). And “Tribal Peace,” the project discussed by Srinivasan in “Indigenous, ethnic and cultural articulations of new media,” was made possible by “a massive technology grant from Hewlett-Packard that provided up to 5 million dollars’ worth of digital network infrastructure, earmarked for wireless internet towers, computers, projectors, video cameras and so on” (508). This seems like a significant technical and economic limitation to me.

I realize that high research costs do not necessarily indicate that a technology or methodology will not be economical. My point is that if Srinivasan and others expect marginalized communities to create media that are sufficiently innovative and comprehensive to describe the community in a unique way, then questions of technical literacy and economic resources need to be taken seriously. It would seem to me that many of the communities with the most to gain from a newly empowered voice are crucially unable to develop, use and distribute new media as discussed. That is, overcoming the requisite technical and economic limitations would amount to meeting their greatest challenges in the first place.

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