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Sustainable internet penetration of rural areas

Reframing the global challenge of the digital divide through fruitful local metaphors (Part #1)

Prepared for discussion in relation to the preoccupations of the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, 2003)

Technological uptake implications of cultural metaphors
Fundamental interface issue
Feminist perspective
Metaphoric components
Hindu culture as a case study
Cultural reframing
"Safe sex" for rural areas?
The Arrow and the Pattern -- Progeny?

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The challenge of the digital divide has been repeatedly articulated by various parties:

  • technology and telecommunication corporations anxious to profit from new markets
  • governments of developing countries that perceive such penetration as a key to access to knowledge through which their economic situation may be improved
  • bodies that see the internet as a means of ensuring the participation of isolated communities and peoples in world society
  • bodies that view internet access as a means of reconfiguring social relations in village communities to empower the disempowered
  • intergovernmental agencies that perceive the above strategies as a means of breaking the poverty cycle, notably following the failure of previous development strategies
  • technical enthusiasts intrigued by the challenge

The challenge is the focus of the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, 2003) which is effectively a follow-up to the World Bank's conference on Global Knowledge: Information Technology for Development (Toronto, 1997)

The following considerations are the background to the discussion that follows:

  • the fact that a high proportion of internet traffic is sex-related, notably including pornography
  • the fact that the major players framing and promoting the internet penetration agenda operate out of metaphorical frameworks that have traditionally exhibited no sensitivity whatsoever to the markets they target in the pursuit of profit
  • the fact that rural areas, notably in developing countries, have a long track record of being systematically destabilized by seductive urban attractors, especially those from industrialized countries (Coca Cola, etc)
  • the fact that western Judeo-Christian prudishness and hypocrisy, relating to provision and use of internet services, sustains an extensive pattern of denial regarding marketing behaviours that may be usefully compared to the indifference of arms manufacturers to the destruction of lives which their products may cause
  • the fact that "internet highway" penetration patterns have been prefigured by road highway penetration into rural areas in developing countries, as a key to their development -- with the unforeseen consequence of the associated explosion of AIDS along those routes, illustrated by reference to African highways as "AIDS highways"

The concern in what follows is to determine whether local cultures in developing countries may have means, through the use of alternative metaphoric frameworks, of reframing the sexual dimensions of such penetration -- from what amounts to unilateral "rape" to what might be interpreted as a form of mutually appreciated, fruitful "love-making". It raises the question of whether global marketing penetration, notably promoted with western mindsets, should be explored in the light of Freudian insights -- and how local cultures might beneficially respond using the cultural strengths they may have in rural areas. Associated with this dyanmic is also the question of what memtic material gets transferred through such penetration and to what end.

This exploration is inspired by the case of Hindu culture, which has cultivated a fruitful relationship to polarity and sexuality, exemplified by the philosophy and discipline of tantra, and extensively articulated in temple iconography. The question is whether such cultures have unforeseen resources to handle sexual proclivities, transforming and redirecting such energy in more fruitful ways than envisaged within the western marketing model. Alternatively will they be especially enhanced, as explored in an extensive article India's love affair with hi-tech flirting by Sultan Shahin ( Asia Times Online, 8 November 2002):

The short messaging service (SMS) used by mobile telephones is creating a revolution in India, and among other things, it has revived the country's famed Kama Sutra spirit of sexual freedom, long-suppressed by the intrusion of prudish values into the country. Indeed, within a few years of its introduction as a value-added service for mobile phone users, SMS has in many circles come to stand for "some more sex". Indian scholars are now studying strange new subjects such as "textual intercourse", "hi-tech flirting", "electronic aphrodisiac", "Viagra with buttons and a ring tone" and so on. [more]

so on. [more]

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