Culture and Reflexive Qualities of the Internet
To what extent do we write the culture in which we live? In the past we were reliant upon the print culture to define our sense of self, our affiliation with community and to compartmentalize our knowledge. Sherry Turkle (1995) and others have argued that “ electronic communication corresponds to a postmodern sense of self” and it may also connect with “ a postmodern definition of affiliation and community” (Bolter, 2001, p. 203). We are constantly exploiting the world of the Internet and as Bolter describes hypertext to be “ like a book an author has attacked with a pair of scissors and cut up into convenient verbal sizes.” Beyond this we must recognize that hypertext can actually enrich a writers work as hypertext is non hierarchical in nature. It can link other relevant findings and areas of interest and it will in fact enhance the content and also blur the lines between author and authority. It is questionable whether an individual can gain from generating their own associations especially if they are young and or inexperienced or digital immigrants to hypertext. Researchers, Smith et al (2000) have warned that hypertext spaces can be dominated by popular culture. In theory, we can view hypertext as a medium that allows active participants chances to network and make choices based on their experiences but we have to consider the highly specialized mind boggling technology that is at the foundation of hypertext and that puts a knowledgeable few in power over the majority of individuals. Bolter (2001) writes that the once esoteric concept of hypertext technology has become cultural knowledge. To some this is cultural knowledge but to many world citizens they are not sharing in this culture of hypertext. As Rhinegold points out, technology is not universally available. The global hypertext system is limited to North America, Europe, Israel and the developed countries of the Far East (Bolter, p. 205). Even if one is technologically literate the ‘world wide web’ is chaotic and individuals are free to create and add to websites. There is no way that any individual can access everything they need as it is disorganized and millions and millions of pages. Even the information stored in a large research library is beyond the scale of individual reason. Dobson and Willinsky (2009) state that “ the growing global dimensions of people’s participation in digital literacy… suggest efforts to increase opportunities for access remain a worthwhile human rights goal, much as access to literacy itself has always represented.” I think that we must be careful in considering digital literacy while many of the world’s population is classified as ultra poor and having access to computers is way beyond meeting the basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy. In fact, I see this goal as widening the gap between the knowledgeable and the less privileged. It is indeed a challenge that needs considerable attention and care but we need to focus our attention firstly on oral and written cultures and how they access information. The leading players of the WWW need to take responsibility, as they are the ‘knowledgeable few’ that have power over the masses. Perhaps in time, considering the rate that technology is spreading worldwide, those individuals who are presently unable to engage in the world of hypertext will be able to share their thoughts and reflections.
Some may agree with Bolter that we write to express, to discover and to share who we are, and in a postmodern age our written identity is similar to hypertext, dynamic, flexible and contingent (Bolter, p.190). The Internet reflects the multiplicity of our society and allows us to distort and remediate our culture. As global citizens we should use the Internet to explore new personas and take on different cultural experiences. As Bolter notes, we use the Internet and its communication environments “to facilitate a culture of temporary allegiances and changing cultural positions” (Bolter, p.203). Is the Internet causing us to lose our culture as “small pieces loosely joined” or is it allowing us to better understand parts of a greater whole? We define ourselves in many ways and the culture associated with ‘hypertext’ is a fundamental part of the freedom we get to do this.
Please comment and share your thoughts J
Bolter, J. (2001). Writing space: computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, Ltd.
Smith, Claire and Ward, Graeme K. (2000). Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World. Vancouver: UBC Press