[iDC] Decoding Digital Outcasts: Reflection 2

John Sobol soboltalk at gmail.com
Sat Sep 3 18:50:08 UTC 2011


as provocative as my last post was it does not seem to have caused this list
- or anyone's computer - to erupt in flames, so I will take the liberty of
responding once again, this time to your 2nd reflection. I suspect that this
one may not escape as unscarred. Still, truth will out, as they say. Or at
least I hope it will. So...

Literate culture, especially as practiced within academia, engages in
discourse only with itself. One result is that discourses that are not
validated by literate epistemology are ignored or downgraded. This happens
despite the belief by post-modernist professors that they are doing the
opposite, i.e. accommodating difference. Whereas in fact what literate
culture has always done is exclude non-literate ways of knowing, not least
when it is critically theorizing them right out of existence. And this
explains how it is possible that you can say things like "It is assumed that
there are only a few kinds of digitalities that exist in the world. " and
"Because everybody seems to be using the same kind of platforms and gadgets
across the world, we presume that they must be doing the same kind of
things." Whereas both these statements appear to me to be profoundly and
obviously untrue. Certainly, of the thousands of conversations I have had
about the web with street kids, CEOs, mayors, my mom, my kids, my
neighbours, my clients, journalists, business consultants, community
activists, authors, musicians, programmers and more over the past 15 years,
not ONE of them has ever said anything remotely like this. On the contrary,
the widespread opinion has been that there are a great many ways of being
digital and that there are so many new possibilities and gadgets and tools
that the range of possible behaviours online is overwhelmingly open-ended
and constantly evolving.

In my opinion, the only place these statements are 'true' is in the academic
literate discourses you use as your reference point (for vocabulary,
authority, validation, financing, etc.), where the extreme normalizing
pressures of the hyperliterate academic epistemology have reduced all of
this diversity to the narrow portrait you have offered, which is a strawman
that can then be carefully deposed by advancing the Digital Outcast persona
to achieve incremental theoretical results that change absolutely nothing in
the real world. And this is not being done maliciously, I know that. Any
more than this commentary of mine is malicious. On the contrary, we both
have the best of intentions I am sure. Nonetheless, battling this strawman
is in my opinion ineffective and unproductive.

You say "However, the digital outcast refuses to be accounted by either of
these positions. It is neither a success story of somebody who has
actualised the transformative potentials of technology, nor is it somebody
who just needs to be included in the narrative of technologised

But again, have *you* "actualized the transformative potential of
technology?" Have I? Has my mom? I don't think these words mean anything
definitive at all. This sort of language founders very quickly on the rocks
of practice.


Your discussion about the politics of media in India, obviously much more
informed than any analysis of mine could be, is very much of interest to me.
In my new book I write about the current relevance of Gandhi's* *practical*
*philosophy of a sustainable relationship-based ethical village economy
independent of top-down colonial imperatives (*swadeshi) *in terms of its
power to inform the development of a sustainable and ethical global village
economy today. I believe that the points you are making about the past
usefulness of broadcast media to support Indian state authority and the
emerging usefulness of digital networks to create peer-to-peer social
alternatives is both very accurate and very directly supports my contention
that the true colonizer has been literate culture, of which monological
electronic media like books, radio and TV are all a part, and that the
Indian challenge today is to resist the further predatory depradations of
literate culture while building productive alliances between oral and
digital natives in pursuit of an independent and sustainable future.

Please forgive me if my comments are seen as aggressive or disrespectful.
They are not meant to be. But I believe that there is too much at stake
today to spend our time debating literate minutiae. The world is dying
before our very eyes and there is a lot of work to be done if we are to save
it - and ourselves along the way. What matters, in my opinion, is building
practical bridges between oral and digital dialogical cultures that share
common values. For what it's worth, that is what my book is about.

John Sobol

On Sat, Sep 3, 2011 at 12:52 PM, Nishant Shah <itsnishant at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear All,
> Thank you very much for the responses and questions that have already come
> my way – some on the list and some over personal email. They help me frame
> my own thoughts better and I hope that this second set of reflections will
> elaborate on some of the key things at stake in this effort at charting the
> shift from the Digital Native to a Digital Outcast. I have already replied
> in some detail to a few of the questions around those and I am getting my
> way through the other responses, but I want to now take the time to add to
> my own understanding of these terms and more specifically, focus on what
> labour I am making those terms perform and to what effect. I also know that
> these reflections come back-to-back and presume a linearity of thought,
> which might not necessarily be fruitful. Please feel free to juggle through
> the reflections (and add tangents, if you will) and jump into the
> conversation as desired.
> So to get back to the notion of the Digital Outcast. I had proposed earlier
> that the Digital Outcast was helpful to us, within the “Digital Natives with
> a Cause?” project because it escaped some of the dead-lock debates in the
> field that revolve around age, access and infrastructure. However, the
> Digital Outcast is not ‘outside’ of the scope of ‘Digital Natives’. The
> intention was not to produce a new category that would discount the digital
> native as an irrelevant category. Instead, I am using the ‘Digital Outcast’
> as a way of opening up who can become and claim to be a digital native. Like
> in the earlier reflection, I want to posit a couple of inflections that
> Digital Outcasts allow us, to account for a wider range of digital natives
> than have been included in a majority of the discourse.
> I want to begin by looking at a ‘construction’ argument. Digital natives
> are constructed. They are not born digital, they become so. We didn’t have
> digital natives with the emergence of digital technologies. We have at least
> two generations of people who had learned to be ‘native’ to the digital
> cultures before the term got currency. Why then, did it become necessary, at
> the turn of the millennium to coin this particular phrase? In his response
> to my earlier reflection, John Sobol has very succinctly asked, “If we have
> digital cultures, why shouldn’t there be people who are native to it?” and
> this is where I want to locate this ‘construction’ argument.
> The digital cultures that we assume that these natives are digital to, are
> often taken for granted. It is assumed that there are only a few kinds of
> digitalities that exist in the world. This gets compounded by a series of
> impulses: Because everybody seems to be using the same kind of platforms and
> gadgets across the world, we presume that they must be doing the same kind
> of things. Because the digital technologies seem so pervasive and outside of
> everyday regulation (false perception, as almost everybody on the list will
> agree), we also start imagining that the virtual realities are disconnected
> from the physical contexts. Because there are a few hyper-visible stories of
> digital superstars or villains, we believe that the rest are in similar
> conditions of being saviours or criminals. These kinds of presumptions
> actually form a prescriptive model of who a digital native is, what kind of
> practices should a person perform to be a digital native, and where these
> people are located.
> In the process, it imitates a classic state-citizen structure where
> parameters of belonging are clearly defined and it is only through those
> parameters that people are allowed to be citizens or belong to the state.
> The digitally disempowered or those who are recognised as not being ‘digital
> natives’ are recognised as the constituencies that need to be included in
> this digital fold, thus granting them access and empowerment. However, the
> digital outcast refuses to be accounted by either of these positions. It is
> neither a success story of somebody who has actualised the transformative
> potentials of technology, nor is it somebody who just needs to be included
> in the narrative of technologised development. The Digital Outcast offers a
> way of reading against the grain, to people who exist in ironies,
> hybridities, in hyphenated existences where they have been accounted for but
> not given the resources required to actually engage with and strategically
> deploy the technologies which they have been given an inclusive access to.
> This ability of the digital outcast to be inside and outside, is why I
> retain the formulation  - again, to posit it, not as a replacement
> category, but as a kind of digital native who can offer critical
> self-reflexivity about the politics of inclusion which is beyond mere
> inclusion by access.
> The second inflection is to do more with the specific project I am
> currently involved with, that seeks to look at how imaginations of Social
> Justice in India are informed by the emergence of digital and internet
> technologies. I shall be presenting in greater detail on this at Mobility
> Shifts, but I want to flag a few questions here which might be of interest
> to think more about the Digital Outcast. I shall locate this specifically
> within the Indian context and history (they are the legacies I am the most
> familiar with) but I hope that there are resonances with other locations and
> temporalities.
> There has been a very clear correlation between the technological
> apparatuses of governance and ideas of Social Justice. In India, for
> example, Cinema, Radio, Television and the Telephone have all been used as
> metaphors and networks through which justice, redress and rights were served
> to the citizen on the behalf of the State. The broadcast model of governance
> that seeks to constantly improve the message of the State (ideology,
> benefits, subsidies et al) to the most remotely located Citizen, through a
> medium that can transmit the message with minimal distortion and in a manner
> that makes the State accessible to the citizen (and the citizen visible to
> the State) has marked the second half of the 20th Century. This model also
> frames politics as an articulation for justice, rights or redress from the
> State through different mechanisms and apparatuses. Which means that our
> modes of articulating any politics has the State at the centre of our
> imagination and is the only arbitrator and dispenser of Justice.
> With the P2P protocol of the digital technologies and the emergence of New
> Social Rights (Right to information, right to knowledge, right to access
> etc.), there is a new way in which rights are imagined. More interestingly,
> the State is not imagined at the centre of these rights. The citizens’
> abilities to bypass the state, in communicating with each other, and
> mobilising resources (money, people, ideas) in order to demand their own
> rights with a sense of entitlement that does not address the State at all,
> gives us a new way thinking about rights and justice. The Digital Native,
> which is still ensconced in a State-centred narrative of protection,
> prevention and cure, easily gets subsumed under the older model. However,
> the Digital Outcast offers a different way of reading the
> State-Technology-Citizen structure. Because the digital outcast has been
> produced (through a grammar of infrastructure and access) but not been
> accounted for (because of a functional view of technology),  the
> imaginations of justice, equity, discrimination and rights that it offers is
> often different from our earlier conceptions in the analogue world.
> I shall stop here, more as a teaser than an answer, to lead to my final
> reflection tomorrow. However, I would really appreciate questions,
> suggestions comments, completely unrelated tangents and discussions that
> this reflection hopefully opens up as I continue expanding on and exploring
> the Digital Native – Digital Outcast relationships.
> Warmly
> Nishant
> --
> Nishant Shah
> Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society,( www.cis-india.org )
> Asia Awards Fellow, 2008-09
> # 00-91-9740074884
> http://www.facebook.com/nishant.shah
> http://cis-india.academia.edu/NishantShah
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