Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
 The Electronic Colonization of the Pacific, by Spennemann, Birckhead, Green, and Atkinson

Ownership of Knowledge

In a traditional economy of knowledge, specific stories, clan oral histories, ritual performances, songs, and so forth are owned by particular individuals who control the access to and their contexts of performance. Some of this material lies in the domain of the secret and the sacred. However, one could foresee a situation where such control is lost and such material is distributed widely via new technologies, thereby debasing a once powerful performance medium. Thus, in such communities, the free and open access to knowledge grounded in a North American ideology of rugged individualism could become a cause of considerable conflict and be seen as a real source of outside, "imperialistic" threat to cultural tradition and to a way of life.

Indeed, the new World Wide Web built-in ideology of freedom of access and decision-making on the part of the autonomous self, could be quite menacing to a traditional community's social economy of knowledge and its access. It could threaten established lines of authority and communication by totally undermining and destabilizing the position of elders and other custodians of community values. [ []Monberg observes how technology can shift collective and individual identities. ] One can easily envisage a situation in which a young person with access to the Internet would be free to completely transcend the traditional regimes of knowledge and access anything thing in the world, no matter how inappropriate by community standards. This could include locally inappropriate information and explicit images of the sexually taboo, a variety of cosmopolitan cultural information at variance with local religious and ethical norms. Moreover, since young children can access information inappropriate to their social age and status, a situations may be arise where knowledge is undermined, hierarchies are disrupted, and other types of role reversals are created.

This type of conflict can wreak considerable havoc with local meaning and belief structures, often exacerbating conflict between old and young, and between male and female. Many young people may find themselves in a cultural no-persons land where traditional meanings and authority structures have been severely undermined but not yet replaced by any viable alternative. Subjected to the jumble of free floating messages and contradictory meanings from the West via computer-mediated forms of communication, many young people experience a sense of anomie and alienation, sometimes leading to suicide, crime, or other anti-social behaviors.

In the end, the impact of these processes is that local knowledges are destabilized and de-legitimized. Valid knowledge comes to be equated with that which originates outside in the distant metropolitan centers of power and control (see Hobart 1993). --


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