Colloque "Prospective de l'Internet", Institut Jules-Destrée, 4 mars 2005 - Conference "Foresight of the Internet", The Destree Institute, Namur, 4 March 2005

Cultural Diversity in the Information Society

Sergei Stafeev
Centre of Community Networking and Information Policy Studies (CCNS),
St. Petersburg, Russia


Table ronde 1 Round Table

Table ronde 2 Round Table

Table ronde 3 Round Table


What do Cultural Diversity problems mean in the context of Information Society?

The characteristic paradox in the description of Information Society is associated with the fact that conventional statements often replace their sense by the opposite one (it reminds the Orwell's  description of Newlang (from  “1984”).

E.g.: yes, “the content is rapidly commercialized” …and becomes free. Yes, “the English dominates”, but the less it will stay the English itself the more it will dominate et al.

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Preface: Diversity of the modern (info) society: Virtual vs Real ?

For a lot of people both in the developed and developing countries the modern (info)society inverts the relationship between the imaginary and the real with positivity and value invested in media and commodity spectacles while everyday life becomes ever more uniform, banal, and degraded.

The hours of television watching continue to grow, the amount of advertising continues to increase, and computers are producing a new technoimaginary, often shaped by capitalist values, thus the colonization of leisure and society by media culture.

Unfortunately, those who are most exploited and oppressed by the social order can afford little more than the "free" entertainment provided by media culture, especially television. As an escape from social misery, or distraction from the cares and woes of everyday existence, people turn to media culture to produce some meaning and value in their lives.

At the same time (unlike Orwell's telescreens) all the modern means of information delivery can be turned off according the recipient’s free will (and here lies the crucial question about to what extent modern mass-media have learned to manipulate our wishes).

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Media and computer technologies are among the most advanced forces of production which are creating a new global information society which may well strengthen capitalist relations of production and hegemony, but also contain potential for democratizing, humanizing, and transforming existing inequities in the domain of class, race, and gender. Like most technologies, they can be used as instruments of domination or liberation, and can empower working people, or they can be used by capital as powerful instruments of domination.

Using the Marxist terminology it is possible to say that in the Information Society the most part of information becomes not only the message containing the concrete contents but also the economic category (the good) with concrete market value. The already formed information market is as a whole oriented towards receiving benefits.

Let’s analyze briefly (in the frames/context of the information society concept) two basic negative trends often characterizing the modern state of global information production.

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Commercialization of content and imposition of monoculture, based on commercial aims     

Indeed, the new technologies are part of the creation of a new capitalist global order in which media and computer technologies are the very vanguard and instrument of globalization, intending to bring corporate information and entertainment to the entire planet.

On the other hand, the paradox of information society is that it promotes borderless communication and media technologies in the name of common cultural space, while at the same time defending national and regional boundaries in the name of diversity.

Communication and media infrastructures cannot in themselves be either determinants or mediators of common economic and cultural spaces, they are just one of many social and technological determinants which vary from society to society and culture to culture. The infrastructure may be global but its applications and impacts can only be determined by the local human condition. The local and regional determinants include unemployment, poverty, exclusion and inequality. This is in addition to culture, language, and social and economic factors.

Moreover, the development of Internet, of information medium which on principle allows to propagate the non-commercial information around the world practically without any payment, is a giant positive factor (in potential) for information diversity.

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Dominance of English in global mass-media and loss of linguistic diversity

The growing world-wide production of information is raising the fundamental question of access to information content. Two aspects can facilitate this process: information in the public domain and use of own languages.

In 1898, when Otto von Bismarck was an old man, a journalist asked him what he took to be the decisive factor in modern history. He answered: “The fact that the North Americans speak English”. In retrospect, he was spot on the mark about the political and economic developments of the XX century, and up to now he seems to have been prescient about the development of the technologies that will shape the next one.

For instance, the Internet was basically an American development, and it naturally spread most rapidly among the other countries of the English-speaking world. Right now, for example, the English-speaking world roughly as a whole accounts for over 80 perсent of top-level Internet hosts and generates almost 80 percent of Internet traffic. No doubt, that, thanks to new information technologies, English will become the native language of majority of the world by some time in the new century. Already now for many people in different countries the following statement becomes an idiom: “If you want to earn good money – study English”.

At the same time, for majority of people, using English due to the economic reasons, this language to the less and less extent remains the language in a traditional way. Being more and more simplified and adapted it is transformed to a professional and social tool, while more complex communicative tasks are solved with the help of native language.

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We should critically re-concise the traditional arguments  (mostly negative) of cultural diversity in the modern (Information) Society, which inherits the similar problems of the Industrial Society. Probably it will be more correct to speak about “information diversity in the Information Society”?

The changing relationship between society and technology affect our social roles as individuals, as members of our local communities, and as social actors in global information society.

Proliferation of new communications technologies may help erode existing inequalities and divisions -- though they may well intensify class domination and gender, race, and class inequality and subordination.

We need a new vision of information society which seeks social cohesion by promoting a culture of shared communication, values and knowledge, seeking coherence through valorisation of diversity.

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Further reading:

Drucker, P., Post-industrial Society, Berlin, 1999

Gill, K.S. (ed.), Information Society, Springer, London, 1996

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Prospective de l'Internet - Foresight of the Internet
Colloque international -Namur, 04.03.2005 - International Conference

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Colloque "Prospective de l'Internet", Institut Jules-Destrée, 4 mars 2005 - Conference "Foresight of the Internet", The Destree Institute, Namur, 4 March 2005