Thursday, June 13, 2013

Touring and digital humanities

What does it mean to be a fully entitled citizen in a digital polity? The cybersphere is a vast (multi-)space with zillion of global corridors constantly diversifying and ramifying – and yet, at the same time also constantly subjected to the games of governance. How else could one account for its etymological roots in κυβερνώ (=to govern)? One may also stress that, despite any programmatic statements to digital equality or pluralism, not everybody truly entertains equal communicative entitlements. Access does not necessarily grant a voice, and voices can be distorted to conform to specific interests. Content might be managed by centres of governance, such as corporations and governments, to everyone’s best interests and with the best intentions but the message might still fall through the cracks of everyday communication or be erased by collective anger or mere indifference.

But if there is no easy way to explore issues pertaining to definitions of universal fairness, then the very idea of globally shared goods is also not as easily defined as one might initially assume. Choosing to share ideas, images and visions with strangers in a global digital polity – for example, choosing the path of ‘creative commons’ – promotes new conceptions of rights and duties all parties ought to observe. A similar philosophical discussion that stays true to humanities and social sciences is attributed to Julien: he stresses that a distinction needs to be made between what is ‘universal’, what is ‘uniform’ and the ‘common’ (Julien 2008: 213)  – and that these  differentiations have real life consequences and implications. The universal does not alter its premises wherever it is studied in the universe, whereas the uniform has universal impact just because of a skilfully engineered ease of access (Cronin, 2013: 138).  Contrariwise, what we understand as ‘common’ is fons or source – what is potentially shareable because of its global intelligibility – rather than fundus – the sediment once everything else has been removed or diluted in the cup of globalisation.

Such conception of commonality remains sine qua non in the production of hybrid digital cultures through interactivity. Cronin (ibid.) follows up Julien’s argument in the following way: ‘As becomes all too apparent when you travel abroad, being similar to someone […] does not mean that you necessarily have everything in common with them. This construed nature of the common, which is conflated and processual, must be at the core of any digital humanism if the latter is not to be indiscriminate, ‘massive’ and manipulatory in its effects’.   

Should we then consider electronic reproductions of the resources generated in a different culture as an act that harms native communicative capabilities and this culture’s symbolic capital? Or is their global dissemination a liberating choice for native cultures with limited resources to do this sharing themselves? In the budding trade of digital tourism, where exotic images and customs are turned into de facto commodities for the global ‘tourist gaze’, sharing itself becomes a point of contention. The reintroduction of ‘governance’ as a gateway to tourist pedagogy literally guides (άγειν, ágein) the student-child (παίς, paìs) to learn about other cultural ways and styles through digital tools (websites trading on and introducing visited cultures). But to whose interest does this happen?

Cronin, M. (2013) Translation in the Digital Age. London: Routledge.

Julien, F. (2008) De l’Universel, de l’Uniforme, du Commun et du Dialogue entre les cultures. Paris: Fayard.