New Network Theory – Parallel Sessions – ‘The Global and the Local’

On: July 1, 2007
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About Tijmen Schep
Tijmen Schep (1981) is a Dutch theorist on new media and digital culture, focussing on wireless media and public space. This theorizing is brought to life in the foundation which promotes wireless media art by creating wireless festivals, events and installations.


The trouble with science is that it wants to find the truth that is valid in all cases. These speakers, it can be argued, believe that idea is not only useless, but damaging. Context is king: every culture has it’s own interpretative framework, it’s own focus points. These should be respected. In short: it’s the “culture variable” that is missing from current network theory. With video

For example: Ramesh Srinivasan, assistant professor at the UCLA, asks “How [can] meta-data harmonize with a local community’s own discursive system”. He creates digital communications and history-recording systems that are tailor-made to a specific community. He designs large scale digital collections that are accessible to multiple groups, and that can grow along with what are issues for these people. It allows them to interweave different ontologies. In the system that he designs all groups’ members get a voice in the description of artifacts.

the ontology made by the indian tribes

He first asked the subjects about their specific ontology of important issues (above). The image below shows the interface of a system he created to be used by 19 different Soony Indian tribes to describe these issues.

The interface for the tribalpeace program

This is an aspect Nicholas Negroponte, for instance, should take into account. How will his 100 dollar laptops fit into the local cultural structures?

  • VIDEO 1: Ramesh on diverse ontologies and the design of systems around these diverse and ever changing ontologies.
  • VIDEO 2: Ramesh continues his talk about the incommensurability of ontologies.

Ramesh’s homepage
Indian tribes project:

Jana Nikulsjka

Next up was Jana Nikulsjka, a Macedonian and proud of it.Jana criticized the discourse in which the Internet is seen as a universal technology, available to all. If we look at the actual distribution of Internet access, we find a digital divide. Looking at the total number of connections for example we find China as the leader in total amount of connections, followed by Europe and the USA. Trailing behind a vast gap are Africa and other underdeveloped countries.Once again we find a cultural specific way of the use of communications media: the Macedonians, according to Jana, love to share. Whether this is because they are lovely people, or just because they are poor, I wasn’t too sure about. But the fact remained that in Macedonia you can find 15 households sharing a single ADSL Internet connection.Macedonia was also presented as “Googlized” society. Even though overall Internet penetration is low, using Google as a source of information seems to be the norm.

  • Video 1: Jana on the digital divide, and “the global and the local”.

Deborah Wheeler

Last up was political scientist Deborah Wheeler.Deborah’s presentation dealt with the dissemination of the Internet in Egypt and Jordan. While the number of private Internet connections there is low, most people do have access to the Internet through the use of Internet cafes. For instance, an interesting observation was that the unemployed still managed to spend 40 hours a week online because at these cafes they could surf all night for the price of one hour during the day. Who needs sleep when you can have the Internet?Her research consisted of a questionnaire in which she explored the extent to which the Internet was used. In what language did they surf the net? How many SMS do they send? Do they read the newspapers? Have they ever made a friend online? Did they meet them offline? Most actually had.The conclusion was that we should re-evaluate the idea that these people don’t have access to the Internet. This is an especially relevant, almost tactical conclusion considering Deborah teaches at a military school.The question underlying this research is that of the relationship between information and democracy. Does access to information create informed citizens, and does that lead to a desire for democracy? It’s a question Deborah said she had mixed feelings about. So far her research has shown that people use the Internet to fight boredom more than they do oppressive governments. Indeed, this was one of the points David Garcia made in his presentation earlier: access to information does not lead to freedom.

  • VIDEO 1: Deborah on the lack of a culture variable in current network theory.
  • VIDEO 2: Deborah wonders if enough angry bloggers will ever topple a government. She also explains how the US military has learned that “culture matters”.

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