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Information and communication technologies have always been playing a crucially important role for society and human relationships at many levels. Today the notions of “Information Age” and “Information revolution” have become commonplace and stress that information has become more important than ever before from many perspectives, or, as Emery and Bates (2001, 94) put it, that “Information is the fiber that is reweaving the fabric of the societies, their transitional systems, and their relations to others, both in the regions and around the world.”
Especially the Internet with its rapid spread all over the world is about to become the biggest information and communication network in history. When Hanson (2008, 1) mentions that “...an array of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) is affecting not only the relations of nations in war and peace but also human activity at every level and, indeed, the nation-state system itself”, this perfectly holds for the Internet as a fast growing force in shaping not only personal relations and exchange, but consequently also the international political environment.
“At the blazing speed that information technology is developing, it is probable that it will change the way the world functions ... the invention of the Internet surpasses all limits and disentangles from the real world to create a new zone of the World Wide Web, controlled by variables and constants of an `information community’ where information is power.” (Tandon, 2004)
To underline the importance of opportunities provided by new information and communication channels in the IR field, the following chapters will discuss the ideas of Internet technology as globalising and homogenizing force confronted with the notion of “Glocalization”, which, in contrast, recognizes the re-emergence of local factors too. Furthermore, it analyses if the Internet and the control and exploitation of it is used as hegemonic means or if the provided freedom of exchange should rather be seen as sort of counter-hegemonic force. In addition, it will be shown how the Internet has become an extremely important tool for national and transnational activism and nongovernmental institutions, which are able to gain new global visibility, bypass authoritarian control and tie new connections with sympathetic groups or individuals.
Globalization or Glocalization?
As Kraidy (2001, 30 -32) summarizes, the concept of Globalization, which first appeared in the 1980s, has become a quite popular term which has been discussed and defined from various viewpoints. Definitions of Globalization include intensification of worldwide social relations linking distant localities stronger, decline of geographical constraints on cultural modalities and, as described by Robertson (1992, 8), “the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”. Using the concept of Globalization, according to Thomas Risse (2007, 133), it is often overseen that “Globalization processes entail a lot more than material and economic forces and equally include cultural phenomena and the spread of consensual knowledge as well as principles and norms.” The Internet as relatively broadly available instrument for communication and exchange, which reshaped the media environment dramatically, lifts the Globalization of communication to a new level creating common principles and rules.
Hanson (2008, 86 - 91) concludes her discussion about the homogenizing trend of communication technologies describing a movement in three directions: The first is a movement towards convergence since not only the Internet but all main communication branches use digital processing (e.g. digital telephony, online versions of newspapers) leading to easier interaction between the channels. Secondly, the fast development of mobile devices which can be used as fully functional computers may have some important implications for the spread of Internet availability, since it is much easier and cheaper to install cellular networks than landlines. The third main movement goes towards increased active participation in interactive exchange, i.e., a trend towards user generated content of various type broadcasted and shared easily through new platforms on the Internet. (Hanson 2008, 86 - 91)
“As the Internet becomes an everyday appliance and accessible from every point on the globe, more and more disparate geographical enclaves separated by distance and time will be linked into all sorts of Cyberrelationships. The ability of the technology to link diverse cultures, economies, and political systems into new Cyberrelationships that are uninhibited by conventional definitions of geographic territory and national sovereignty could create a true global village” (Ebo 2001, 1)
The expression global village is another notion that has become really commonsense and emphasises the diminishing role of geographical distance in communication and interaction. But it should kept in mind, that there is a really important concept contradicting the idea of the Internet as a purely and universally connecting and homogenizing force unifying the world and developing equal standards: The concept of Glocalization.
Not only Risse (2007, 135) notes that “people will continue to enact their local scripts and follow local norms of appropriate behaviour” and that “hybrid culture are likely to emerge which incorporate some global scripts into the local habits, while rejecting others” concluding that “Glocalized” cultures are likely to emerge. Also Kraidy (2001, 39) holds that this concept in fact is a suited and defensible framework that captures contemporary international developments:
“Glocalization, understood as a blending of global forces with local elements, adequately accounts for the complexity of global relations in the Information Age ... Glocalization is a conceptually viable and empirically defensible theoretical framework.”
He further strengthens his claim underlining that the concept of Glocalization recognises the decentralizing direction of economic developments, e.g. small companies using their advantage in local knowledge as competitive tactic. Moreover he mentions how new opportunities for interchanging, as through Internet, re-enforces the dialogue of groups which otherwise would not have the possibility to interact and cultivate their specific cultural characteristics, i.e. communities adapt global media and “instead of the destruction of local traditions, we see these traditions rearticulated within the globalizing force of modernity.” (Kraidy 2001, 38). This complex and dynamic pattern between the local and the global is also mentioned by Hanson (2008, 214) when she writes that “Satellite channels and the Internet are even preserving the cultures of dispersed ex-patriates, émigrés, and their children who are growing up in very different cultures”. Both describe the local-global interaction as “hybridization” concluding that it is a more appropriate term that captures the importance of local factors, actors and the resulting fragmentation better than the idea of the Internet as purely homogenizing realm creating common values only. Of course the debate about the concepts of Globalization and Glocalization is a far more complex and longer one and it is not the aim of this paper to discuss them in depth. The goal of this part is to show that the new more vital interaction created by Internet technology is not just reflecting the multitude of real life`s human relations, groupings and their shared characteristics on all social levels, but is making them even more dynamic and visible in a global context.
Hegemony or Counter-Hegemony?
As we have already mentioned in the first part, new ICTs and the spread of Internet and online interaction implies a hybridization, i.e. an adaption of global scripts into local or group-specific behaviours. This chapter discusses what this global scripts, values or ideas in the case of the Internet are, who defines them and if the Internet strengthens a cultural hegemon or if the provided freedom of interaction creates a counter-hegemonic opposite direction.