Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Intimacy and obduracy

Man, I can't stand the word "glocal" and its derivatives, but danah's post on why Web2.0 matters raises some interesting points.

"On an economic level, globalization has both positive and negative implications. But on a personal level, no one actually wants to live in a global village. You can't actually be emotionally connected to everyone in the world. While the global village provides innumerable resources and the possibility to connect to anyone, people narrow their attention to only focus on the things that matter. What matters is conceptually 'local.' In business, the local part of glocalization mostly refers to geography. Yet, the critical 'local' in digital glocalization concerns culture and social networks. You care about the people that are like you and the cultural elements that resonate with you."

For a Ubicomp 2003 workshop, I described this sense of the local as intimate or close and I stretched Maffesoli's ideas about tribes (similar to danah's communities of interest) to pull out the political and ethical issues that are part of "the processes of bringing near and making present a variety of people, objects and ideas." My recent refinements of these early ideas will be presented in a conference paper next month on mobile computing as virtually everywhere (or global) and actually somewhere (or local), precisely in an attempt to bring politics a little closer to emerging technologies.

"Rather than conceptualizing the world in geographical terms, it is now necessary to use a networked model, to understand the interrelations between people and culture, to think about localizing in terms of social structures not in terms of location...It is not simply about global->local or 1->many; it is about a constantly shifting, multi-directional complex flow of information with the information evolving as it flows. It is about new network structures that emerge out of global and local structures."

The network model is a fine place to start--folks like Castells and Latour are definitely on to something--but I think the concept of flow more successfully gets us away from discussions of nodes and other stable representations like individuals and collectives, and forces us to focus on dynamics and difference. danah switches back and forth between network and flow models, but they are not the same and not necessarily compatible.

"But the goal should not be universal collectives but rather locally constituted ones whereby one participates in many different local contexts. This is critical because the individual and the collective do not exist without each other; they are co-constructed and defined by their interplay...We need to break out of the global village model, the universal 'truth' approach to information access. We need to situate information access in glocalized culture...Glocalized information access does not mean separate but equal. Instead, globally accessible information needs to be organized in a local context where meaning is made."

I appreciate her call to abandon universal truths when it comes to information access, but as Andrew puts it in his comments on danah's post, technology that "accomodates culture" is a tricky thing - especially when technology is always already cultural. When she talks about the "complex tango" of information flow, she conjures acts of leading and following, and even in her characterisation of "the unknown dance" of "technologists, designers, social scientists and politicos" she elicits only discrete pieces interconnected. With these metaphors our relationships emerge as both graceful and stumbling, but always structured. And if the primary lesson of structure is obduracy, then what are we up against and how do we ready ourselves?


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