Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Remote Obsolescence

Professor Chun stated that the primary question of the week was: “does global new media make everything the same, or does it (can it) foster difference?” This directly relates to (among everything else,) this question about the validity of Ramesh’s notions of technology as an opportunity for cultures to self-represent in the face of concerns like that presented by Alice’s question to Ramesh on Skype, which I paraphrase and expand to the following:
In an effort to combat an impositional outside appraisal and designation of a culture through the format of cooperative, participatory archiving process, is there a potentially out of place, subjective privileging of westernized standards of archival history and documentary records? Can it not be seen as technological imperialism? I know Ramesh responded by saying that technology transcended Western culture and has the potential to empower all users equally, but continually neglected is the fact that it costs money to own a computer and maintain an internet connection and have hard drives and servers and networks. That said, I am aware of much philanthropic work devoted to wiring the masses.

On a recent stop in a hippy-dippy restaurant in some unofficial town/artist-collective amongst Native American reservations in the desert of New Mexico, my grandpa (a playwright, actor, director, and producer) thought of starting a touring production so as to bring the theater to these small, likely interested communities (cultural imperialism?) In search of contact information he asked for a phone number, stating “I don’t suppose you folks get much email access around these parts,” to which the friendly waitress replied, “we get free broadband wi-fi all over,” thankyouverymuch.

Is this the mark of the homogenization of even the most obscure, untouched subcultures and geographically removed groups? Well, no. They can access the breaking news about starlet car wrecks as I can, but they’re still in the realm of the US. And how drastically do you think these previously un-wired folks’ exposure to commercialization and ads exploded? Whether this is beneficial or not, it’s fitting because they live within the territory of a capitalist system, (though I suppose I don’t officially know how Reservations operate within/apart from the US government.) All of these arguments and dialogues going on are directly relevant to people within our technological arm's reach, but how about those even more disconnected from our present condition.

There still exist cultures that occupy territories too treacherous to suit access by plane, car, or even helicopter, and must be accessed by foot. They speak languages acknowledged as existent by only a few linguistic experts (and bible translators.) They may somehow know who Rambo is, but they don’t know a thing about Eliot Spitzer, UGG boots or iPhones, and are arguably extremely far from adopting personal computers as a replacement for oral history. And to the extent that oral history can be considered a primary media for these cultures, it's hard to imagine it becoming obsolete.

Maybe it’s better that way? Global immediacy (access to media, etc.) may hold the potential for sameness, but probably doesn’t necessitate it. It can foster difference, too, but probably no better than it already exists.

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