I would like to return to the thread of discussion concerning the potential of the Internet to break down traditional cultural barriers. I am writing with the assumption that, as Olu Oguibe pointed out, readers of this list are aware of the history of the Internet, and that readers have thought about the ways in which cultures evolve and are sometimes lost through new developments in technology and commercial trading.
In the early days of the internet, when the audience and users were limited to a self defined community of adventuresome people who embraced new technology (and of course were part of the elite group of those with easy access to computers and the Internet) we felt the excitement of being part of a new community. We assumed that cultural shifts would naturally follow, and many of us hoped that an important result would be an ongoing open cross-cultural dialog.
Simultaneously, Electronic art, as a new medium, brought together people with diverse cultural backgrounds in an exchange based on the new language of technology. Initially, this resulted in a lively and apparently open culture. But now, as the powers of the existing economic forces take hold, the excitement is waning.
Today, the internet is rapidly becoming a showcase for established artistic practices and the commercial world for marketing.
This is disappointing for many of us. But currently, the marketing people know more about how to make the Internet work, and the rest of us are running behind, innocently thinking that the core community that began it all still has major influence.
To insure the place of alternative voices on the Internet, we need to actively work to construct new communities of independent artists, theorists, and curators. Constructing alternative exhibition spaces on the internet is difficult. My own experience with building a virtual community (New Jewish Media Artists, http://raven.dartmouth.edu/~njma) has been that it is more often solitary work with less gratifying return, but it still has been worth the effort. In the real world, the alternative arts movements of the past were social, and the burden of the work was lessened by the pleasure of the company.
On the other hand, the Internet offers the possibility to build more inclusive alternative communities. Geography is no longer a barrier, and with a little effort, we can use the Internet to promote cross-cultural dialogues. The potential is there, but we need to wake up and realize that unless we actively work for a structure of open dialogue and opportunity, it will not be there. This is one of the reasons why I personally am part of ISEA [http://www.isea.qc.ca]
Cynthia Beth Rubin