Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Global Internet

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 25, 1998

Posted to HotWired 25 June 98

Contrary to Alex Wong's apparent belief, there are creative and innovative communities outside the United States. It would not be a stretch, for example, to imagine Microsoft in Vancouver (which, btw, is a city equal in size, beauty and culture to Seattle). Or perhaps Microsoft may want to move to Ottawa, where it can be across the street from Corel and down the road from Mitel and a number of other technology firms.

But that misses the main point, which is this: because instant global communications are now (almost) possible, creative communities can spring up anywhere on the planet. And I think that we will be seeing some in the most unlikely of places. For example, e-commerce (and e-gambling) sites seem to be landing on a small Carribbean island. Finland, for years well known for its work in logic and mathematics, already plays a lead role in net development. And Israel is quietly building a technology industry, led by the far-thinkers who developed ICQ.

That said, it is nice to see Katz get it right in his column. Just as Americans are a minority on the planet, so also will they be a minority on the internet. And while Americans behind their white picket fences can ignore the rest of the world as they putter about their communities, they will not be able to ignore the world when they log on to the internet. This means they are going to come face to face with people and cultures who think differently from themselves. And unlike life in a melting-pot culture, they are not going to be able to convince those others to change.

But this is a good thing. Yes, there will be tensions - I can easily imagine moral conservatives, for example, lobbying for an American firewall, to prevent obscene materials from flowing into teens' bedrooms of middle America. There will be tensions on the technological front, as well, as Americans come face to face with the realization that many nations are equal to, or ahead of them, technologically. But these tensions are a natural consequence of greater interaction, and through time, interaction will come to be valued more highly than hegemony.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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