Remote Areas and Internet Cafés

By Sarah Bibeau

When I first read the instruction of this last blog post, I immediately thought of Internet accessibility and media literacy. For us in university, having access to computers and a reliable Internet connection seems to be taken for granted. Indeed, as part of the curriculum, students are expected to interact amongst each other on the web as part of their participation grade (as it is the case in this class), which is great because it enables us to foster web based community; we are all participating in the creation of this space, where it is possible to freely exchange ideas and thoughts relevant to the class. Today, students are also expected to hand their assignments either by email or via other platforms such as Moodle or PBWorks. That is to say, computers and Internet accessibility is something taken for granted in a school environment, especially at the university level, where computers and any other electronic devices is easily accessible on the campus.

However, it is not the case everywhere; for instance, in Northern Canada, First People have been experiencing issues of accessibility since the beginning of the TV broadcasting. I think that this could be related to Lefebvre’s question about who are the ones creating the maps; Internet accessibility involves aspects of ownership, the physical delivery network itself, and the actual overlay of the web; who are the ones deciding to install/provide Internet for remote communities or such and such areas? Who is/are the main provider(s) and who decides to set up the tariffs? These are all questions that we must keep in mind when talking about the Internet because although being very inclusive – since you can be who you are or be who you want to be, and create special bonds with people online –  the Internet is also highly exclusive. Specific bodies are excluded from such spaces because of their geographic position, for economic reasons, and also by means of literacy; for instance, some elderly people don’t know how to use the Internet.

At the international level, in countries such as China and Ghana, there exists Internet cafés where the Internet represents different things for its users and also helps to bring a community together. In the case of Ghana, people over there don’t all have an Internet connection at home; instead, they gather in Internet cafés in order to access a computer and create bonds with foreign contacts via Yahoo or MSM Messenger. I believe that creating online communities also depends on the space you occupy offline. In Ghana, many Internet users are trying to get in touch with the “external world” by playing some games on eBay that they made up in their web based community in Ghana; the first one who receives something by mail from eBay wins. Some of them also create fake profiles in order to get in touch with people in North America: “sometimes when you mention your name and you mention Ghana they just say ‘fuck you” (Burrell 61). I think that this kind of behavior from North American Internet users reinforces the divide between the Western world and Africa, the divide between “us” and “the others”. I also think that it would be possible to relate to Debord’s concept of détournement. Indeed, through MSN Messenger, Yahoo, and eBay, people in Ghana have played with the unwritten rules of the Internet and have created games which challenged the way people usually use such platforms, and also fostered their own web community.

Finally, in China, the Internet cafés are used as private spaces by youth who are trying to escape authority figures (parents, teachers, government). It is possible to relate to this idea of public/private space since this café is supposed to be a public space where anyone could meet, but their Internet use is highly regulated by the government who monitors what they are doing on the computer and interrupts them (via online messages) when it is not considered appropriate. These internet Cafés in China serve as social places for being online, of course, but they are also really important in trying to escape (part of) the authority; so, I think it also has something to do with phenomenology, where being in a particular space is related to one’s sensorial and lived experience.

Sources:

Fengshu Liu. (2009). It is not merely about life on the screen: urban Chinese youth and the Internet café. Journal of Youth Studies 12(2): 167-184.

Guy  Debord. (1959) ‘Détournement as Negation and Prelude’, Bureau of Public Secrets.

Jenna Burrell (2012). Invisible Users: Youth in Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.

Roth, Lorna. “Canadian First People’s Mediascapes: Reframing a Snapshot with Three Corners” in Mediascapes; New Patterns in Canadian Communication. Ed. Leslie Regan Shade. 4th Edition. (Nelson: University of Toronto, 2010), 364-389. Print.

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