Thursday, March 05, 2009

Digital Colonialism

Sylvia/m has a great post up on digital colonialism--not of the recent femisphere explosion type, but of a more insidious type.

See, I was annoyed this morning by this Columbia Journalism Review piece about the joys of "pro-am" journalism. Karthika's the resident expert on crowdsourcing and the like, but I think (as I wrote before) that there are a lot of problems with this model. One of them is what Sylvia focuses on in her piece--the slant of the blogosphere and new media in general toward middle-class, white US or Western interests. This is a question of access, but also of which voices are privileged.

Then in comments on Trend's wonderful breakdown of the coup in Chile and the overthrow of Allende, boz noted that the notion that many Americans on the left have that we (meaning the US government and the CIA, specifically) are responsible for the overthrow of so many governments in the world is a bit narrow and colonialist, itself.

And then Sylvia's piece about the blogosphere--feminists in particular, but the lessons apply to the left blogosphere in general--kind of summed up a lot of what I was thinking about.

It is not simply an international problem; it happens here in America as well. There are countless people without access to the internet, and who find themselves at the mercy of those who do have access to speak their truths to power. How often do the voices of feminism or the voices of Main Street, for example, reach the ears of the people behind the keyboards? Do people who write and use this medium for contributing to transformative change have an obligation to work for broader internet access and broader outreach?

There is also a broader presence of cyber-discovery, as seen in the recent hoaxes of finding new “tribes” or tracking “dead’ or “dying” languages using digital tools. There’s a distinct Western, anthropological gaze at work that reminds me personally of something out of the 19th century. How is the internet changing how we relate to each other geographically and politically, beyond the idea of having more people to date? How do we address these ways of relating?

I would say that we absolutely have an obligation to work for broader access and outreach. I want to see broadband as a right--and from what I can tell, Obama's FCC team agrees--but more than that, there needs to be a change in thought.

I've got so many thoughts rushing around in my head on this subject, so many tangentially related bits. That the U.S. left needs to get off its savior complex and start working in solidarity with local groups rather than trying to sweep in and fix things. That we here on the Internets need to open up far more than we already have to other voices in other places.

That the problem with journalism these days cannot be fixed by crowds of people spreading useless stories like "bittergate," and that no amount of crowdsourcing will replace having actual foreign bureaus with full-time staff who speak the language, know the country and the people, and can actually provide context to stories rather than parachuting into conflict zones.

I don't have answers, only questions here. But I think you should read Sylvia's piece.