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

Traditional Communications in the Age of the "Infobahn"

There is a conventional notion that technology is somehow "autonomous from society and value neutral, since it is seen as neither good nor bad in itself..." The implicit theory here is that "science and technology induce progress autonomously--a belief represented by the metaphor of 'the arrow of progress'" (Escobar l994, p. 211-212). [ []Chander outlines the stances toward technological determism. ] This conventional view of the "technological imperative" contrasts sharply with an emerging view within anthropology and related disciplines that "any technology represents a cultural invention, in the sense that it brings forth a world, it emerges out of particular cultural conditions and in turn helps to create new ones." (Escobar l994, p. 211).

While we cannot address all of the relevant issues here, the question of knowledge, its nature, construction, transmission, distribution, political economy of etc., are all crucial issues with respect to minority and indigenous peoples. With respect to alleged value neutrality, we need to reflect on two contrasting ontologies of knowledge. One is the post-industrialized Western's world's notion of universal access to knowledge by all individuals. This also implies a particular construction of the individual self as a primary actor who has freedom to know all that he or she is physically capable of knowing. From the time of childhood in the West (North), a sense of the autonomous individual who is free to choose and to act is strongly engrained (Bader & Nyce 1993, p. 66). Such a construction of self and personhood is consistent with the world of hypermedia with its implicit ideology of free and open access to information.

The above pattern contrasts sharply with more traditional societies which take a communal or corporate view of social life and do not adhere to the West's ideal of extreme individualism. Rather, adherence to group values and norms which contribute to the greater communal good is the preferred behavioral ideal. In most traditional communities, this implies a restriction on knowledge, on what an individual or category of people may or may not have access to. Such restrictions are usually demarcated along lines of age and stage of the life or ritual cycle, spiritual development or ritual specialist, gender, clan or family grouping, social and political status, and so forth. Questions of taboo, avoidance relationships, spirit-mediated communications, specialized and restricted language codes all come into the equation as well.

Related to this is the question of --ownership of knowledge.

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