Internet the Globalizer, and the Impossibility of the Impossibility of the Global Dialog
First Monday

Internet the Globalizer, and the Impossibility of the Impossibility of the Global Dialog by Drazen Pantic

Abstract
After the September 11 attacks, the Internet has taken on the role of the independent media in the global infotaiment space. The article explores this role and focuses on the dynamics of the clash between the concept of modernity and the fundamentalism in the framework of the globalization and necessity of trans-civilizational dialog.

Contents

Evil, Educated and Suicidal: from Prince of Persia to Doom
The Internet and Public Informational Space in the US and Around the World
Don't Believe Anybody ... Not Even Us (B92 motto)
Who Will Protect us from our Protectors?
An Open Society for All

 

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Evil, Educated and Suicidal: from Prince of Persia to Doom

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Thomas Friedman, one of the most energetic news writters on the politics of globalization, portrayed characters behind the September 11 terrorist attacks as evil, wealthy, intelligent, educated and suicidal [1]. We understand where their wealth comes from and where it is leading; we attribute their suicidal determination to centuries of fundamentalistic indoctrination.

Being educated and intelligent, Osama bin Ladin and his "folks" have studied the cultural and political effects of networked society in the context of their fundamentalist views. When we examine the origin and execution of these recent attacks, we can see that they may in fact have been conceived as a preemptive attack on the very value system that jeopardizes fundamentalism of any kind, in particular the Islamic fundamentalism itself. Not so long ago, led by a similar mindset of demolishing civilizationalsymbols of "infidels", the Talibans conducted a campaign to destroy ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, while actively practicing the Zen theory of conducting war operations.

Apparently, the terrorists who planned the September attacks carefully studied and came to understand the core dynamics that defines networked society: the Internet, the free flow of capital and the unrestricted worldwide mobility of people. The distributed pressure that the terrorists placed on all of these networks seeks to block the most basic function of free flow in the globalized society. Their intent is, in effect, a return by force of shock to the eleventh century.

That dichotomy in sensibility of Al Qaeda fanatical ideological fighters between the goals and mindset from the middle ages and use of twenty-first century tools places them next to characters, reduced in civilizational sensibility, from popular computer games: Prince of Persia - fighting mercilessly through multimedia medieval mazes to regain his father's land - or Doom, where gamers distributed globally through the Net shoot and kill everybody who believes in different values and might present obstacles in the future development of the game.

 

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The Internet and Public Informational Space in the US and Around the World

Earlier this year, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the personal computer, Bill Gates stated in a Sunday Times article that "More than 500m PCs are in use around the world, and another 140m will be sold in 2001 - far more than the number of television sets that will be bought this year" [2].

Computers and the Internet have penetrated widely - both horizontally (through all parts of the world) and vertically (through all the strata of society). Use of the most common Internet protocols, the Web and e-mail, has become a common, everyday practice for many worldwide. In light of that, it's no wonder that, after the 9/11 crisis broke out, the Internet became an instant focal point of public interest. Researchers, journalists, interested individuals, public advocates and protectors were trying to get as much instant, independent and unbiased information as possible about what had just happened - and perhaps more importantly, they looked to the Internet to understand the new direction history was taking.

The immediacy and vast quantity of information available on the Internet has created a profound change in the way people absorb and follow information about current events. Without ignoring the importance of television or radio networks, we can safely conclude that the Internet has made a significant difference in shaping public opinion - by offering unprecedented diversity and variety of views and arguments to the general public, particularly in the U.S.

The world's information pool now truly originates multitude of sources. It represents a broad array of political, social and geographical origins, and no single government or political power can stop its dissemination of alternative views. The reasons of national security might be able to control network media in U.S., even influence major international broadcasters, but in no way can prevent millions of Internet users from putting information immediately on the Internet, bouncing it back into the global infotaiment space.

The Internet has redefined the notion of local and global and together with still free, if not unmonitored, flow of information is certainly affecting American public views and therefore indirectly government response to the crisis. We foresee that this trend will continue: for example, a recent ABCNEWS poll finds that "nearly half of Americans now get news over the Internet" [3].

 

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Don't Believe Anybody ... Not Even Us (B92 motto)

Almost two years ago, during the March, 1999 Next5Minutes conference in Amsterdam, I presented what seems to have been an overly optimistic prediction in the form of an essay with a self-explanatory title "Everybody will be TV" [4]. The Internet's prospects to potentially surpass the popularity of television networks looked very good at the time. The prices of equipment for audio and video production were dropping fast, while portable computers and camcorders had advanced to the point where they weren't far behind the quality high-end professional equipment.

But things did not develop as fast they appeared to be during the peak of the Internet bubble. The fact that computer equipment has become more accessible to individuals and independent groups then ever before still does not mean that broadcast resources - bandwidth, server space and expertise - are available immediately to non-corporate entities. Finally and most importantly, due to the often questionable journalistic practices of online-only news outlets, the general public did not always embrace news that originated from the Internet as most trustworthy.

But, after the 9/11 events, when mainstream TV and radio media began channeling more and more propagandistic information [5], audiences turned to the independent media of the globalized world - the Internet - for alternative news and information. Numerous Web sites, chat rooms and streamed clips (often presenting content not available on TV networks) and the millions of visitors those sites receive, clearly demonstrate the overwhelming demand for and the power of independent, uncensored news and information. Moreover, the level of engagement and participation suggests that many strongly hope for the possibility of new kinds of people-to-people civilizational dialogue through "international civil society" on the Internet.

And this might be only the beginning. Even professional broadcasters are now using chat rooms, Web sites and even low-quality video images received through Internet-based video-conferencing phones from places where journalists, or satellite equipment are not welcomed. The Internet savvy population of the globe has taken the informational matrix into their own hands - at least for right now. Millions of e-mails, Web sites and net-casts immediately undermine the power of propaganda from any source side or any media, including the Internet itself. How long this will last and how far it might go?

 

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Who Will Protect us from our Protectors?

Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's famous quote that "the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it" has been proven many times over. The Internet has successfully resisted challenges of all its potential censors ... up to now. Numerous attempts to encapsulate and censor content on the Internet have more or less failed.

One not absolutely unexpected consequence of recent events is that the politicians are now arguing for tighter control of the historically free flow of information on the Internet. Various theories and rumors have circulated of how terrorists have been using the Internet to communicate among themselves and organize the attacks.

Examples of less than liberal legislative reactions are numerous. Even without legislation, some very visible instances of the closing of the Internet access to public documents took place: for example some U.S. judges and agencies blocked online access to public records [6].

The results of this campaign are dubious and uncertain. No one can really estimate how much those measures, if and when in place, will be effective in preventing and intercepting terrorists attacks. The immense volume of Internet traffc makes it almost impossible to effectively monitor traffic, even on the most elementary level of e-mail messages. Further, even if electronic surveillance manages to capture and register important information, the final action still has to be performed not in the space of ideas or bytes, but in the real physical - "meat " - space. Backslashing on the free flow of information is in no way substitute for sloppy airport security.

But, even if the most pedantic security is carried out at airports, post offices, and elsewhere, we still will not be able eliminate the innumerable uncertainties of life in the networked society. On the other side, the tight control imposed on the flow of information on the Internet would jeopardize the basic postulates of the globalized world, one major component of which was free, immediate and unintercepted communication.

 

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An Open Society for All

The Internet and satellite broadcast networks have made many around the world more aware of global geo-political configurations then ever before in human history. News are immediately available globally, in spite of continuous efforts of many regimes to temper them. The openness of informational space energizes local tendencies towards more open and democratic societies everywhere throughout the world. But, often the commercial and short-range political interests of the developed world do not support open and democratic movements in some developing countries.

This situation creates an enormous tension between open informational space and semi-tyrannic local governments. Given the fact that open informational space clearly exposes - very often - double standards in the foreign policies of some developed states, the clash of local tendencies versus global political interests creates just one effect: a rash of extremism. Energy for political change that cannot be expressed locally ultimately transforms into anger and hatred against foreign supporters of what is locally perceived as unjust and corrupt. So when it is impossible for a given society to become more open, the populace tends to rally around leaders that offer easy political solutions, such as a regression back into the mythological history ... be it jihad now, or some other myth in the future. End of article

 

About the Author

Drazen Pantic, a native of Belgrade, is the founder of OpenNet, the Internet department of Radio B92 in Belgrade and Serbia's first Internet service provider (see Pantic's previous article in First Monday, "Internet in Serbia: From Dark Side of the Moon to the Internet Revolution").

For the the use of new media technologies to counter political repression in the former Yugoslavia, Pantic was rewarded by the Pioneer Award of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1999. He has established numerous public Internet access centers, taught, lectured and published widely on use of the Internet to support independent media and free expression. Pantic serves as the Co-Director of digital arts gallery Location One in New York and is a Fellow of the Center for War, Peace and News Media of New York University where he is running the "Media Technology Democracy" program.
E-mail: drazen@opennet.org

 

Notes

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/wtccrash/story/0,1300,558267,00.html, accessed 8 January 2002.

2. http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/, accessed 8 January 2002.

3. http://abcnews.go.com/, accessed 8 January 2002.

4. http://www.dds.nl/, accessed 8 January 2002.

5. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5864-2001Nov10.html and http://www.poynter.org/medianews/memos.htm#casualties, accessed 8 January 2002.

6. http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=15143, accessed 8 January 2002.


Editorial history

Paper received 9 December 2001; accepted 27 December 2001.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Internet the Globalizer, and the Impossibility of the Impossibility of the Global Dialog by Drazen Pantic
First Monday, volume 7, number 1 (January 2002),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_1/pantic/index.html





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