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The explosion of the Internet is an unprecedented event in human history that has totally transformed the means by which we communicate and share ideas. As a broadcast, information dissemination, and collaborative medium, the Internet has redefined our perception of time and space and has opened the doors to the possibilities of a geographically dispersed, global intellect. The benefits of the Internet are apparent, especially in education and economic growth. Now that use of the Internet has passed the early adopter’s phase, altruists have taken to making the assumed benefits of the Internet available to the less fortunate. Public and private initiatives around the world are working to provide all citizens of all nations with access to the global infosphere. In the United States., federal monies are set aside to develop community technology centers, train K-12 teachers in effective use of technology, and provide discounted rates to telecommunications technologies in schools, libraries, and rural health care providers. In the international arena, the move is now on to wire tribal communities and provide them with access to the "wonders of the Internet." These programs usually have an explicit goal—to bring the benefits of the Internet to the less fortunate so that they will not be left behind, according to First World definitions of progress.

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In , Bruce Sterling ruminates on how across the world today, small, local languages are dying out at an alarming rate. These mass extinctions are primarily a post-industrial phenomenon: the cultural equivalent of the mass extinctions that are simultaneously occurring in nature at a global level. It is his assertion that we are losing something that is extremely difficult to quantify but nonetheless of great importance to our future. When a language dies, the world also loses a vital aspect of the memory of the people who lived that language. The UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages says that better than half of the 94 languages on the European continent are endangered. Each of these languages carries with it a unique worldview—a gestalt of the reality of the people who speak it, their perspective on life that is truly irreplaceable. English is the great, globalized language that is primarily responsible for steamrollering all the other languages ().

In a time when the United Nations Development Programme issues its annual Human Development Report in 1999 that says "Global inequalities in income and living standards have reached grotesque proportions," it is clear that Taker cultures are exploiting the Earth’s resources for their benefit at the expense of Leaver societies. According to this report, the richest nations of the world have only 20 percent of the population, but 86 percent of the income, 91 percent of its Internet users, and 74 percent of its telephone users. The 20 percent living in the poorest countries, such as Ethiopia and Laos, have about 1 percent of each. The largest Taker country, the U.S., has more computers than the rest of the world combined—and while a PC costs approximately one month's wages for an average U.S. citizen, the same computer takes eight years' income from an average resident of Bangladesh ().


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To provide a global perspective, this book describes approaches from three major regions of the world - North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific - and highlights several countries from each region.

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In the guise of "progress," developing nations and tribal cultures are dying out as broadcast telecommunications saturate the airwaves with what is primarily a Western worldview. There is now an increasing urgency to capture the essence of these cultures and get their information online. The typical top-down approach in the United States of giving technology to new users and telling them how to use it is causing less dominant cultures to be consumed by U.S. perspectives on technology use. We are providing the technology and homogenized content but are not making a concerted effort to get the cultural views of others online so that the entire Internet community can benefit from access to a more diverse world perspective.

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Whether you agree that access to technology in developing nations is detrimental to the maintenance of their cultural heritage, the reality in the world today is that a predominantly Western approach to the use of technology is subverting these cultures at an accelerating rate. A new form of cultural imperialism is emerging as tribal communities become wired to the Internet, gain access to satellite television, and begin using global positioning systems to enhance agricultural productivity. Many Westerners who favor the preservation of traditional, indigenous cultures tend to take a negative view of this phenomenon. Yet, if there is money to be made in the process, it is inevitable that some multinational corporation will find a way to bridge the divide that separates first and third tier cultures for the purpose of opening new markets for their high-tech wares. On the other hand, it seems a bit patronizing and paternalistic for those of us accustomed to the widespread use of technology in our everyday lives to conclude that traditional cultures are too inexperienced to cope with the negative influences that technology is certain to have on their cultural character. The authors of this paper are not advocating the annihilation of indigenous cultures but are attempting to adopt a realist perspective towards the problem of cultural assimilation. Given that the adoption of First World telecommunications technologies by tribal communities is an unavoidable fact in today’s modern world, the authors seek ways to ameliorate the negative influences that these technologies may have on the unique aspects of indigenous cultures. Encouraging tribal cultures to participate in the development of Internet content and new interface designs can only reduce that impact. Our goal is to set aside the First World "Taker" approach and initiate a dialogue with Third World "Leaver" communities based on mutual trust, respect, and a sincere desire to imbue humankind’s digital archive with multiple perspectives.

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We are in the unique position of being able to acknowledge and perhaps rectify (before it is too late) the impending tragedy of the commons as it relates to Internet participation. Garrett Hardin's classic essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons," develops the thesis that it is to an individual's advantage to exploit a common resource as thoroughly as possible, and that the implementation of this strategy by many individuals leads to exhaustion of the resource. "Freedom in a commons," says the essay, "brings ruin to all" (). The current Taker users of the Internet, sharing its network as a common resource, are exploiting it for personal gain, which may result in it losing its value for all users. As content on the Internet becomes redundant and focused towards a particular group, i.e. Takers, we are in danger of undermining the Internet’s effectiveness as a communications tool. Instead of encouraging the global perspective on issues affecting both Leavers and Takers, the Internet is quickly becoming a mass marketing device for companies in Taker cultures with little or no utilitarian value for Leaver societies. As the Xerox study indicates, only a small percentage of Internet sites receive a majority of the hits. As such, the Internet may soon suffer the consequences of the tragedy of the commons as Takers extract only the information they want without contributing in some manner to the sustainment and value of the overall system. A concerted effort to include Leavers is necessary if the Internet is to live up to its potential for bridging dichotomous world perspectives.