|Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin
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Insights into the Debate:
September - December, 1999 - Part 2
In an article from the Los Angeles Times often quoted in 1999, the web was said to be on a course of continual and tremendous growth, however, the users have increasingly been concentrating on a few top sites instead of exploring new ones. Gerhard Haupt ) asked if this were really the case, or if there are simply proportional shifts due to the growing number of users. What chances do cultural websites still have at all, now and in the future, to catch the attention of a broader audience that doesn't put any effort into looking for them
Ami Isseroff gave reasons why the L.A. Times' ascertainment is accurate which included, among others: huge sums spent on advertisement and the use of the most modern technology with which smaller operators cannot compete; technical limitations and profit-oriented politics of search engines; changes in user types and interests. He gave concrete suggestions how to increase the number of visitors. Chris Drew felt that the only effective way for a smaller website to make a place for itself in an expanding Internet is to create a community and keep its interests alive.
By way of emphasizing the importance of effective web marketing, for cultural websites as well, Gerhard Haupt mentioned a few points from the study by Steve Lawrence and C. Lee Giles (NEC Research Institute) »Accessibility and Distribution of Information on the Web«, published on July 8th 1999 in the magazine »Nature«, the basis of the L.A. Times article. It verified, among other things, that the 11 largest search engines only included around 42% of the 800 million webpages on the web at that particular time.
There had already been several proposals for collective projects with Forum participants (see: Evaluation, 1998, suggestions for new projects). This time Heidi J. Figueroa Sarriera prompted a collective webpage on »the possibilities, practical strategies, problems and theoretical aspects of the use of the Internet in the cultural field«. During the ensuing communication (also concerning the difficulties of such an undertaking) it was agreed upon to create a collective link list. However, in view of the fact that only a few participants sent in links proposals, Gerhard Haupt wrote: »But maybe the exchange emerging from this point is in itself more important than the actual result.«
[see also Isseroff and Hewison]
What had been referred to in the past was finally confirmed: the actual collective project is the Forum itself. This includes the numerous references to other projects as well as links and book tips that were sent in during the continual information exchange. For the most part, they deal with concrete examples for the Internet's use in art and cultural contexts. Their presentation is often brought together with comments on the thematic context of the discussion in which they are mentioned.
Such postings from the time from September to December are summarized on a special list
Once again, the problem of limited net access in many parts of the world was brought up for discussion. This time, however, more examples were given for fostering Internet usage.
Partha Pratim Sarker sent the article »When a modem costs more than a cow« by Shahidul Alam from Bangladesh. Based on a short look back at the use of technology and language as instruments of power in his country, Alam describes how the Drik initiative, instigated in 1994, has successfully built up networks and new information structures. Other participants mentioned possibilities to use the Internet even in countries with underdeveloped telephone infrastructures.
[see Isseroff, Schmidt, Sheffield]
Two months later, Tom Vincent reported on an initiative that sends used hospital equipment to poorer countries, and asked about similar ones for computer and Internet access. Additionally he mentioned links to free providers in Europe and to an initiative in Great Britain that passes along the industry's scrapped computers to schools.
Josette Balsa recommended not applying for corporate sponsorship as an individual but rather in the name of a group, preferably of an institution or association. In answer to Cristina Jadick Cristina Jadick, who asked if computers couldn't be placed in public spaces like telephones, Susan Marquez and Anjali Arora gave examples from California and India.
Kim Machan wanted to know if others shared her expectation that the Internet in Asia would become as ubiquitous as the television. Susan Marquez answered »let's hope that the internet can replace television«. Especially her statement, »Television has proven disastrous in so many ways. Internet television can only help the next generation to avoid the one-sidedness of viewing television«, brought about vehement protest.
Ami Isseroff warned against: »estimat[ing] that people's nature, interests and esthetics are better than are indicated by television, and the hope that this would be evident if only they turned to an interactive environment like Internet.« And furthermore: »It is a 20th century superstition par excellence that technical improvements will change the content of our lives for the better. ... Salvation will not come through better gadgets.«
Olu Oguibe did not agree with television's condemnation and by way of objection named diverse negative aspects of the Internet. Other participants were concerned with how much television reflects life's reality or if it only serves commercial interests, and how this is increasingly to be expected from Internet offerings as well. [see, among others, Isseroff and d'Alpoim].
Within the context of this topic, the danger of the homogenization of global culture and the WWW was once again referred to [see Isseroff]. Tim Bigelow reminded us that the Internet was and still is connected with pluralistic, multicultural expectations. Just as biological diversity is protected, there are individuals and organizations who defend cultural diversity. »Their efforts should be encouraged.«
Susan Marquez took the view that via the connection between television and Internet one could at least scrutinize the credibility of the information sent, Isseroff contradicted her energetically once more. Marquez suggested considering if one couldn't apply the merchandising principle for products connected with certain TV series to the art field, as in »infotainment« programs connected with arts and culture.
Even in places where good Internet access exists, the medium is only used by relatively few artists. Chris Drew guesses that in the USA around 90% of artists, or more, are not yet online. He outlined what his initiative ART-ACT is doing to change this situation. Anjali Arora added that in India, too, there are many artists with apprehensions toward the Internet and went into detail on that. However, Drew qualified his statement sometime later by citing the disadvantages of the computer compared with »handmade« art and termed it an elitist instrument for art. The Internet's usefulness for artists lies mainly in the ability to make their art known to others.
Raul Ferrera-Balanquet sent a long posting on problems that artists in Mexico and Latin America who want to use the Internet see themselves confronted with. Christy Sheffield Sanford found parallels to the situations of many artists mainly in southern USA.
Peter Toy questioned the metaphor of the Internet as an »artificial mind of which we are 'all' a part of«. Many would not belong because the means, knowledge and technological requirements were missing and would increasingly see this as a disadvantage. Before that, Toy had held the view that art on the net is »an institution of self gratification« and net artists were not concerned enough with human rights and »global ethics«. Tom Vincent offered him several examples of politically active net.art. He wrote, basically the same content is found in art on the net as is found elsewhere.
The subject was brought up time and again: whether and to what extent on the Internet active cultural practitioners address the reality outside the net and with it the significance of the unconnected, and whether and to what extent they deal with it responsibly. Within this context, Pat Binder brought to our attention the essay by Olu Oguibe (member of our mailing list) »Connectivity, and the Fate of the Unconnected«, published on 6 December, 1999 in the German online magazine Telepolis. In it, Oguibe discusses, among other things, the problem that the unconnected are left out of the net discussions which have to do with their living conditions. »As a result the network often breeds representation within itself, on behalf of such polities. By default it readily locates or fabricates voices within who assume the authority to speak for the Other since, quite often, parties and individuals are not in short supply who would ride on the event to appoint and delegate themselves as representatives of the absent.«
Ami Isseroff referred to this when he wrote that "we" would have to learn to question publically our own opinion and to support reflection and communication, »rather than promote ourselves and 'causes'.«
Two months beforehand, Gerhard Haupt had already raised the question: to what extent does the cultural diaspora - living in places with better Internet access - have the right to act as representative and speaker on the net for a whole cultural group?
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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. 1998 / 2000
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