Splinternet: The Opposite of Superconnected

Mary Chayko (2018), in Chapter 5 of Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, comments on globalization in technology use and network-building. She then defines the term “digital divide” to describe disparity among different groups using and accessing technology, and brings up the link between internet access and a country’s national income. Her discussion also highlights the relative success of many European countries, Singapore, the U.S., and Japan as competitive in the field of information technology. The chapter is titled “Global Impacts and Inequalities,” which asks us to consider the worldwide consequences of digital access issues and Internet governance.

America’s contribution to a global economy throughout history has often been de-emphasized by political administrations or citizens adopting attitudes of nationalism. Whether it was to grow the national economy or an attempt to build consumer trust in only American-made products, these actions greatly affected how the invention of the Internet and digital technologies would spread.

In 1933, the Buy American Act first solidified a focus on nationalism. As a result, some consumers stick to American cars and feel pride seeing Made in the USA on any product, big or small. As a nation, we create strategy to increase access and technology for Americans at home first, and as a second thought establish relationships with developing countries to increase their access. The attitude seen in many elements of American culture promotes access and economic benefit for Americans, but does not address issues of global digital access or commerce.

Besides national income and nationalist attitudes, an additional concern is raised in a 2019 Wall Street Journal article: The Rising Threat of Digital Nationalism. While select countries already dismantled the concept of a free world wide web by regulating their citizen’s content, this article describes the possibility of multiple, fragmented networks and closed “online borders.” Looking from the perspective of weaker countries, who do not yet have technological advantages, this situation could put them in a vulnerable position. If they were looking to become more competitive, they would need to choose which strong network of countries to join, which sounds way too close to a set-up for a world war. The full article is linked below: is this threat as worrisome as it sounds?

Posted on October 11, 2020, in Social Media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Liz,
    I understand why and what you worry about, living this digital era. At the same time, the threat of digital nationalism, as you mentioned, cannot be ignored; S. Korean people use Naver, and Chinese people use Baidu. However, when we look into the global community, people use Google and Facebook in many parts of the world. I believe this aspect of digitalization can prevent nationalism while it brings people from other countries together. On the other hand, I see how this unified type of digital activity might need unified control and security system in the future, which could threaten the whole freedom of members of the digital community around the world. We will see how this flow goes.

    Nice post!

  2. “Is this threat as worrisome as it sounds?”

    Yes. As you say in your post, there is already a struggle across the globe for people to access news and educational resources. I’m afraid that if countries/governments have their own individual slice of internet they rope off, that the flow of information will stop and stagnate. Even if major news networks or newspapers were censored, citizens would still have social media as a way to keep up with current events.

    This reminds me of an article I was reading about Sacheen Littlefeather and Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar protest. The FBI had put a news blackout on the occupation of Wounded Knee, so Brando and Sacheen spread the news to millions of viewers via the Oscar broadcast.

    My fear is that governments would be able to control the flow of information in order to oppress its citizens.

    Thanks for the great post, Liz!


  3. Worrisome. Terrifying. Potato. Potahto. All that potential for breaking down barriers via a world wide web, and humanity (politicians? other less recognizable powers that be?) is going to find a way to weaponize this new frontier. Who’s controlling the “story” of what the internet is and how it impacts our lives? I’m very much afraid that it is not the billions of people using it, although that is what we are supposed to believe. If we believe we have free and unlimited access to everything “out there,” we’re content to accept what’s in front of us. If we think the details that make it to our search results are being manipulated, we start thinking. I think you’re right. Nations that are able to effectively harness the power of the internet and the information flowing through it to their people will have an advantage. What that advantage is will depend on the endgame of those governments, but the repercussions will spill into the non-digital world.

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