What are we are missing out on?

Tonight’s presentation on Ethiopic language and its inclusion in Unicode presented an important element about the global digital divide because it asks the question: how can, even with access to information communication technologies and internet access, someone utilize technology if it is not available in their native language? In short, they can’t. This is an important element to consider in regard to technology and the reality of, to borrow from Laura DeNardis’s description, its architecture. As the group described in their literature related to their case study, the architecture of something has the power to include and exclude. The analogy we have used in class in class is that of bridges that are built low enough to prevent busses driving under them. In the case of Ethiopia, technology was created in a way that excludes the nation’s 90 languages because American companies created the technology in English with a western cultural perspective. Further, their commercial interests drive their actions, and there is no financial incentive to include languages in which there is no commercial demand.

Therefore, not only are these groups of people excluded from the benefits of technology, we are also denied the benefit of their knowledge. As the group noted, we “feel” like we are so much more connected, but cannot assume that the majority of the information is in English and unless everyone is able to put information in the digital realm, we are missing out. After this presentation, I cannot help but to believe that we are indeed missing out. Tonight we discussed Ethiopic, but what other languages are we missing out on? I also liked the question at the end of the presentation asking the question- what would the computer look like if it was created in a different culture. I agree that it would be different. Since the U.S. is such an individualistic culture, I cannot help but to believe that technology might be more communal if it was created in a different culture, and perhaps this communal nature would have enabled technology to be created with other languages and cultures in mind.

An Evaluation of Internet Policies and Power

“In today’s world, information is power, and policies on the flow of information shape economic, developmental, and societal outcomes” (Group 1).


Group 1 made an excellent presentation of the immense amount of power in the hands of those that control the internet, as well as how that power shapes the rest of world.  Internet censorship is one of the ways governments are able to control the internet through available content in addition to laws that control individual speech and expression.

Russia is one government that chooses to enact censorship on a grandiose scale.  In 2012, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media enacted the Blacklist Law which allowed the Russian government to censor websites that contain content deemed unsuitable for minors or containing extremist ideologies against the government.  Under these laws, if one page of a website is deemed unsuitable, the rest of the website is also eligible to be blacklisted.  If one blog post is deemed inappropriate, it’s likely the entire blog will be shutdown.  The websites that have been blacklisted are listed on the Roskomnadzor website.  According to Group 1’s presentation and RT, in 2014, “Facebook, Gmail and Twitter were warned by the Russian Government.”

Coincidentally, I recently attended a Freedom House forum on internet freedoms.  During that forum I heard two women – one from Azerbaijan and one from Pakistan – expel stories of their countries and their immense fear and lack of hope when it comes to freedom on the web.  The girl from Azerbaijan told a story of a prominent blogger that went to renew his identity card and was subsequently told he had been using a fake ID card, had his ID seized by the government, and now he is unable to leave the country.  This was all because of statements he made online.  The girl from Pakistan explained that four women had been stoned this year merely for owning cell phones.

Report: Internet Freedom Declines Worldwide

These stories are tragic and illuminating into the power of the internet, censorship and culture. “There is an inevitable conflict between two distinct social values. The question is how do societies value those competing rights. Technology didn’t create the tension but just revealed it in a dramatic way” (Elliot Schrage, Facebook Vice President of Communication and Public Policy).  Group 1 did a great job illuminating a number of areas where internet has the potential to empower or imprison.

Optional Blog: Gastrodiplomacy – Delicious and Informative

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation on Thai gastrodiplomacy, both in terms of the food and the actual presentation. I thought that the group worked seamlessly and incorporated treats as an incentive to get us to participate. The powerpoint was simple and effective, and the content was engaging. The culinary diplomacy program that the Thai government is implementing was interesting to me because it is a nice way for both the restaurant owners to stay connected to their culture and for new Thai eaters to become better acquainted with what the food should taste like. The Thai program is interesting too because it provides categories of authenticity and can be used as a tool for customers to assess the food they are consuming.

Their program reminded me of the Italian version in which pizza restaurants can apply to be a member of the Neopolitan Pizza association and receive  D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) certification, which specifies methods of preparation and ingredients for traditional Neapolitan Pizza. Two Amy’s, on Wisconsin, is a member of this Association and as such, has been recognized by the Italian government. I think that programs like the Thai and Italian certification are a fun way to engage foodies with diplomacy. The Thai program, more so than the Italian one, requires certain products to be from Thailand and therefore raises imports to the Untied States for certain goods. I think this component makes the program more effective in terms of continuing a connection between the Thai restaurants and Thailand. I do not think the Italian version has any such requirements or classifications but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.

The Thai program was interesting and exposed me to a new viewpoint when thinking about Thai food. The group posed a series of questions related to the amount of money people spend on Thai food related to that of a “developed” country like France, and while I would not spend as much money on Thai food as I would on French food, I may be more likely to check out a Thai restaurant that has been categorized as “authentic”.