New media practices in China, South Korea, Japan, India, Ghana and Brazil
These past few days I have had the pleasure of revisiting the now defunct site Futures of Learning as part of an ongoing study of new media and cultural change from 1980 to 2010 (provisional dates). There I have found a wonderful set of literature reviews of new media and cultural practices in China, South Korea, India, Brazil, Japan and Ghana. Together, these reviews put paid to any notion of the peoples of the world marching in unison towards a common digital future. Instead of cultural convergence, what these reviews suggest is unique national trajectories shaped by distinctive political cultures, technological developments and historical contingencies. Here are just a few quotes from the site to give a sense of its richness:
[1990s, Internet in Japan]. The early history of Japan’s Internet adoption followed the US model in many ways. Beginning with early experiments in university and research settings on one hand, and geek-centered BBSs on the other, Japan eventually developed a commercial Internet in the mid nineties. Despite this early history, the Internet was slow to be taken up by the general population, lagging behind countries such as the US, many European countries, Australia, Singapore, and Korea (Aizu 1998, Gottlieb and McLelland 2003). During the nineties, outside of the geek core, Internet use was largely restricted to surfing home pages and exchanging email (Tsuji 1997).
[1990s, Internet in Brazil]. In contrast to the United States where it often feels as if the possibilities of civic engagement and public participation are only beginning to be imagined, one of the unique features of the Brazilian internet is the extent to which it realized the possibilities of the internet for activism. Much of this framing can be attributed to the role of AlterNex, one of Brazil’s first internet providers. Created by an NGO and one of the key centers for research on contemporary social and political issues in Brazil (IBASE), AlterNex began exploring ways to link NGOs in Brazil with their international counterparts. To this end, AlterNex also played a fundamental role in hosting the proceedings and networking local and transnational activists involved in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the 1993 Human Rights Conference in Vienna, a Population and Development Conference hosted in Cairo in 1994 and other key events (Albernaz 2002, McCann 2008).
[Mid-1990s games in Brazil]. By the mid- 1990s, Brazilians had customized various consoles so that they could accept Nintendo games that came from Japan and the United States (Nintendo’s two largest markets). This continued with the release of the Playstation. According to Spanner (2005), “This completely turned the tables on the way Brazilians perceived their game playing experience as compared with the rest of the world. The software was already there, available in vast and diverse quantities, and would play in almost any console bought, so the buyer’s quandary came in the form of deciding exactly which NES or Atari compatible clone offered the features they wanted. Software wasn’t a concern; it was the hardware that mattered.” While gamers may view Brazil as a gamer’s paradise, the persistence of piracy has discouraged companies such as Sony to sell games in Brazil.
[Mid-1990s IT in India]. The rise of the Indian technology industry, which was facilitated by the government’s deregulation of the telecom industry from the mid 1990s onwards and generated US $64 billion in annual revenues in 2008 (5.5 percent of the national GDP (http://www.nasscom.org/upload/Annual_Report07-08.pdf), has contributed to India’s global economic success.
[Late 1990s in Japan: pioneering mobile Internet]. Ever since rapid adoption of the mobile Internet in the late nineties, Japanese mobile phone (keitai) use has been the object of international attention. Although other countries have led in terms of wireless technology development, mobile phone adoption rates, and certain usage patterns, Japan is considered by many to define the future of mobile phone use (Fitzpatrick 2007). As mentioned in the introductory post, Japan’s information ecology is unique in that most people access the Internet primarily via keitai rather than through PCs. This was a trend that was established in the early years of the mobile Internet in Japan, and continues to persist to this day even as more Japanese adopt broadband access via PCs (shivya 2008). [Background]: Japan’s heavy reliance on mobile media needs to be located within a longer historical trajectory. Unlike most other national contexts, certain Japanese populations, specifically young women, have been using mobile communications media for up to fifteen years, representing a uniquely long-term and stabilized pattern of engagement with these media forms.
[South Korea post-1997 economic crisis]. To understand [South] Korea’s unique position in global new media landscape, it is vital to consider that, as in most developing countries, rapid technological development has been one of the most urgent collective goals in Korea. Since the 1980s, Korean society, by state intervention, has embarked on an accelerated process of ‘technological modernization’ and ‘informatzation,’ which has been expected to change the fate of the economy, national military power, and social well being in the face of global flows. Considering this social significance, ICT and digital media culture is highly valorized in Korean society. In other words, public discourse surrounding new media practices tends to highlight the economic value of ICT. In particular, after the economic crisis in 1997, this techno-nationalistic discourse has acquired a stronger voice and underlined overall cultural efforts to implement innovative new media services based on ICT. While nation-wide broadband network set the key foundation, game and mobile phone industries have crystallized this paradigm by not only creating the new revenue of national economy but also affecting everyday cultural practices in Korea, particularly those of young people. In this context, it is not surprising to find the sheer opulence of literatures on technological innovations, business models, and policymaking in addition to conventional media effects studies and quantitative communication studies.
[2000s, new media in Brazil]. With the most internet users, cable TV subscribers and cell phones in Latin America, even an initial foray into Brazil’s new media landscape reveals how important national policies have become in the lives of Brazilians. What some supporters and critics have termed a leftist, techno-utopian approach to national development, the Brazilian government deregulated its telecommunications sector and encourages full competition in all areas. It also continues to be at the forefront of debates surrounding copyright and intellectual property in realms ranging from music and pharmaceuticals to the taxation on imported goods and proprietary software (McCann 2008). Under the leadership of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil has been particularly receptive to a range of ‘edge’ practices, such as Open Source, Creative Commons and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. A testament to the country’s bold approach to the ownership and use of culture, media and technology, Brazil was first country in the world to require open source products from the research institutes and organizations who received government funding for the purposes of software development (Benson 2005, McCann 2008).
[Internet in India, 2000s]. Of particular importance in the Indian youth context is the use of new media technologies as a bridge between traditional and modern forms of social networking, such as can be found in dating and marriage sites. Adams and Ghose (2003) discuss the creation and use of ‘matrimonial sites’ wherein parents and (now) individuals themselves place want ads describing their particular attributes and desires for a marriage partner. While in North American contexts, sites like http://www.match.com and other dating websites make the transactional nature of relationships more apparent, sites like http://www.shaadi.com and others have extended and (in some cases) made easier the practices associated with arranged marriages in India. By allowing young people to place their own ads, such social networking sites are enabling them to navigate the tension between arranged and love marriages, providing a sense of choice for Indian youth operating within the constraints of Indian values surrounding education, status, caste, religion and complexion (Sharma 2008).
[Early 2000s, Internet in Ghana]. Notwithstanding the low access levels, media reports point to bustling business for internet café owners – evidenced in headlines such as “the cybercafe craze” (Daily Graphic, 2003). Access points range from small microentrepreneurial outfits with a handful of computers using dialup connections, to large enterprises equipped with up to 100 computers and high-speed internet access. The majority is located in the capital city, Accra, attracting anywhere from 10 to 1500 patrons a day (Daily Graphic, 2003). While there are several tales, and some research, illustrating the application (or projects attempting application) of the internet to business and community development, indications are that for a significant proportion of users, the internet represents an “escape” mechanism (Slater & Kwami, 2005) both literally and metaphorically. This deduction is based mainly on observations of internet café users in Accra; there does not appear to be much research or even journalistic commentary, on the character of internet use at work or in the home by those who have such access.