Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Infrastructure for Transcending Borders

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 8, 2008

This week Kevin Barron (Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara) and I continued our exchanges on the nature of the infrastructure of the Internet and on the Internet as the emergent infrastructure of the processes that drive the world.  Our current tack is to give urgency to issues critical to ensuring the future adequacy of the infrastructure of the Net by identifying and examining pressing world and regional issues that depend in part on the Net-as-infrastructure for their resolution.

Near to the top of our list is the current and potential role of the Internet in transcending geopolitical and cultural barriers, not least those engendered by the artificial national boundaries stamped on the world map in the post-imperial, post-colonial era.  In academic circles outside of the United States, nationalism studies and the studies of nations vs. regions, as well as of submerged peoples, are now flourishing.  Cultural conflicts, by the way, includes religious ones, the timeliness of which need not be addressed.

The critical role of cross-border communication was underscored this week in the New Yorker Magazine’s excellent summing-up of the issues facing America and the world in their analytic and passionate endorsement of US presidential candidate Barrack Obama.  To quoite the article:

The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture, and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern Presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making, and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less—and likely more—overseas.

I would add that the next president also has an obligation to surround himself with staff who can accurately articulate, analyze, and communicate events, trends, and moods outside of the US.  The US journalistic establishment has a similar obligations, i.e. to report rather than echo policy or entertain as increasingly has become its want.  Similarly, the Internet (read: the Web and Blogospher) should encourage exchange rather than jingoism or holding forth.  Every small step helps.  A step in the direction of exposing the US to the concerns and emotions of the rest of world is provided by intitiatives as modest as Words Without Borders.  I also regularly read Qantara, an initiative funded by the German government. Words Without Borders, by the way, came to my attention through a mailing from Idlewild Books, a new small bookstore in lower Manhattan specialized in travel books and travel literature.  As native New Yorkers will recognize, the store bears the original name of New York’s international airport prior to its redubbing as  JFK in memory of the late president.  The essential role of small bookstores in the intellectual and economic infrastructures of cities will be the subject of a future post at this site.

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