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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October - 4 December, 1998

[as of December 1st 1998 the forum has been prolonged - ... open-ended]


Subject:Hopes and Impediments - Response to Harald Friedl
Date:Sun, 08 Nov 1998 15:54
Author:Olu Oguibe  [ooguibe@undp.org]
Reply To:forum1@hkw.kbx.de


I am not sure Herr Friedl quite got the point of my comment on the fragility of the internet as a repository of information. This may explain his failure to advance any ideas that contradict that observation. Rather ironically, he in fact supports my arguments by acknowledging that digital information is less reliable or long-lasting than print because it disintegrates or deteriorates, as research has confirmed. Isn't that what we mean by fragility?

Anyone who is truly familiar with the internet is already very familiar with the brief history that Friedl treats us to about the US military and all, and of the fact that the virtual world of the internet may not be very different from reality itself, a point that I already made in my opening statement for the forum, also. Those are not new items of knowledge. Now, the fact that the inherent fallibility of the internet is "normal" does not in itself serve good reason to abandon the search for remedies that make siginificant items of cultural information readily accessible. Arguing otherwise is like arguing that because illness is normal, therefore we should not seek cures or pursue ideas for prevention, or even marvel at the inscrutability of certain diseases.

Would I agree with Herr Friedl that the disappearance of server-based information is like the censorial banning or burning of a book? No, sir, the differences are glarring, and those differences are clearly outlined in my contribution. One is a stealth act that often does not involve or occasion any publicity at all; the other is a very public aberration, and so, although the two may achieve same goals, one is more easily detectable and thus protestible than the other. The suggestion that we treat the vulnerability of important web-based information with apathy because someone must have downloaded it, to my mind, reeks of a rather poor understanding of the internet user. Despite all the recent programs and algorithms that enable multiple-page downloads, I do not as yet know many people who would download entire, multi-page sites on the spur. I cannot imagine that anyone would have downloaded the full 357 pages that until recently, made up my own personal website. That is not the psychology of the surfer. In stead, the internet user is an itinerant and impatient consumer who may at best download a few pages, but often prefers to print out a page or two for reading on the way home from work, which she often consigns to the bin afterwards. The internet user is like an urban dweller who eats out: she does not carry the restaurant home with her. In other words, despite experience which teaches the opposite, the average internet user still has an innate confidence in the perenniality of web-based information--in the thought that when she returns to it next next week or next month, the site would still be there, available, unaltered or at worst, updated, like a favorite restaurant. This confidence--and the fact that most internet users are also conscious of the memory capacity of their own pcs--discourages them from downloading whole sites unless they have the express intent to build a mirror. Why would anyone ordinarily download a hundred-page web-site into their laptop?

Herr Friedl may of course call our attention to the fact that such information is cached upon repeat-access, anyway, and therefore resides in the computer whether the surfer knows it or not. But that, of course, does not remedy the situation or dismiss the need to make conscious efforts to save important bodies of information because, for one, most internet users do not even know the path to their browser cache archive, and those who do routinely empty the cache to save space. Quite a handful of programs exist on the market today to help them do just that: clear out the cache and free up needed memory.

Contrary to Friedl's suggestion, I would rather imagine that many of the participants on this forum are fairly knowledgeable about the nature and workings of the internet, and so, do not speak out of total ignorance. I for one was among the first web designers to win an award from no less than Nestcape itself, and as a dedicated student of new information technologies, I think I understand the internet. On the strength of that understanding, I still contend that we pay attention to safeguarding important information--especially cultural information, but any information that at all that we consider beneficial to the wider public--by offering mirrors, rescuing information from servers under threat or in distress, circulating|exchanging information, encouraging downloads, creating print versions that have greater longevity, et cetera. There may be copyright matters to consider, and true, those who create information have a right to withhold it, too. All of that can be dealt with appropriately. Neither fact is good reason, in my thinking, for any to suggest that we face away, and instead sign up for Professor Friedl's course on the similarities between the internet and the "real" world.


Olu Oguibe
http://www.arts.usf.edu/~ooguibe



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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. 12 October - 4 December, 1998

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