Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Internet and Monoculture

Internet Access

As access to the internet rapidly spreads across the planet (Cuba just added its first high-speed connection; even the remotest islands want in – with one notable exception mentioned below; and even the deepest regions of the Brazilian Amazon are getting hooked up), one obvious side-effect is access to cultures and social norms which differ from your own.

American and Western culture have long been dominant in this arena with the good, the bad, and well, rock n’ roll, distributed globally courtesy of a powerful mass media machine, intent on driving sales in markets, whether emerged, emerging, or submerged.

This has been a mixed blessing for aforesaid markets. Democracy, jazz and the blues, personal computers? Pretty good all round. McDonald’s, Grand Theft Auto, and reality TV? Hmm.

There are a lot of people on both sides of this equation who are more than a little uncomfortable with these cultural exports. (See China’s Great Firewall, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and the entire country of North Korea.)

(Then there is North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants have just decided that, nope, sorry, we’re not having anything to do with you. Period. End of discussion. And any more attempt at discussion will result in lots and lots of arrows fired at your helicopters, boats, etc….)

But the connections continue nonetheless and what is actually happening is not the feared monoculturization of the planet. Yes, there are definitely some not-so-great examples out there. But there is also a burgeoning mixture of culture that is producing some remarkable, for lack of a better word, “super-culture” where two cultures mix and produce something completely different:

  • Music, as the universal language, is at the edge of this wave, and this is nowhere more apparent in the blockbuster Youtube hit, Gangnam Style which although borrowing from Western tropes, has a definitely Korean stamp; a few other interesting and less well-known  include heavy metal in Baghdad; Mongolian rap music; and a young South African falling in love with Italian opera;
  • Languages are being preserved as well but changed, and even taken up by people not originally of the culture; and the English language is adding words at an unprecedented rate including many borrowed from other languages. (Whenever someone in the U.S. complains about immigrants not speaking English, I always want to ask what the English words are for “taco,” “sushi,” and “falafel.”)
  • Manga comics, Bollywood, African smart phone apps, and Carnival in Rio, and I’m sure you can name even more examples — all are contributing to a vibrant myriad of changing and mixing cultures that shows every sign of further diversifying, fusing, and then changing again. And definitely not slowing down even despite some massive and occasionally effective efforts to control the process. (See Ai Weiwei.)

So I’m not worried about one dominant monoculture — it seems we’re all smarter and more creative than that. And I’m looking forward to whatever cultural fusion I could never have imagined will show up next. Which reminds me I have to go try to track down that Swedish/African fusion band I heard recently….

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. This is not to say that we aren’t losing some cultures, traditions, and languages. This has always happened and will continue. (Some of those traditions, such as slavery, can’t be discarded fast enough.) But we have also never been so capable of “saving” some elements of these disappearing cultures by using modern technology and there are hundreds of anthropologists involved in exactly that.

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