transnational literate lives in digital times: chapter 1.3

digital literacies, technological diffusion, and globalization
Gail E. Hawisher, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Patrick W. Berry

Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times Transnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital TimesTransnational Literate Lives in Digital Times

Coauthors on Facebook and elsewhere

CHAPTER 1: Global Ecologies and the Modern Internet

"Population mobility is a…hallmark of globalization theories. Travel, displacement, and 'border crossing' are often cited as indicative aspects of globalization, with population movements across national borders in search of work and improved quality of life."

—Carmen Luke and Allan Luke, 2000, p. 284

Although many of the world’s wealthier countries had already been connected to a precursor network, NSFNET, the modern Internet of the 1990s increased the speed of global communication development: By 1988, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States all were connected to the Internet; by 1989, the same was true of Australia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom; and by 1990, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Greece, India, Ireland, South Korea, Spain, and Switzerland were connected (Zakon, 2010).

By the end of the first year of the global Internet’s operation, Croatia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Poland, Singapore, Tunisia, Taiwan, and South Africa (Zakon, 2010) had joined the nations linked by computer networks to the rest of the world. During the first decade of Internet expansion, communication networks expanded rapidly and on an increasingly global scale. The World Bank came online in 1992, the United Nations in 1993, Japan’s Prime Minister and New Zealand’s Information Technology Minister in 1994, and the Vatican in 1995. In 1996, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, PLO Leader Yasser Arafat, and Philippines President Fidel Ramos conducted a three-way interactive chat session online. By the end of the decade, Internet access was available in Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh (where Shafinaz was born) and Palestine had become registered domains (Zakon, 2010).

By 1986—101 years after the last spike was driven for the cross-Canada railroad (Zakon, 2010)—China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and New Zealand had been connected through videotext or teletext, and Japan’s nationwide fiber optic system was nearing completion (Carlson, 2009). By 1987, the first e-mail message from China had been sent (Zakon, 2010), and that year, in the United States, the first Freenet came online in Cleveland, Ohio. By 1988, when Tessa, the youngest of the participants, was born, Internet Relay Chat (IRC)—an example of synchronous CMC—had been invented and the first Internet worm had been loosed on the world (Carlson, 2009). In just two years, from 1986 to 1988, the number of personal computers in the world increased by 35,638,216, or 92.8% ("Personal computers by country," n.d.), although these computers remained distributed largely along existing axes of national wealth and development.

Mobile phone networks, which were to prove significant in the literate practices of all 13 participants in this study, were also expanding by the early 1990s, albeit at a slower rate of growth. This expansion, too, followed the patterned distribution along the lines of national wealth, capital, and development. Moreover, it paralleled that of other communication technologies: fixed telephone systems, computer access, early Internet use.

Such developments were contemporaneous with—and linked to—significant world events that, in hindsight, lent velocity to the complexly articulated set of cultural formations now recognized as globalization. By 1989, the Berlin Wall had fallen, contributing to the end of the Cold War, and by 1992, the United States, Canada, and Mexico had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In addition, transportation and communication costs continued a downward trend worldwide, and multinational companies had increased their foreign investments, extending the flow of global capitalism; journalists were beginning to trace concerns about shifting global patterns of employment. And if telecommunication innovation heightened the effects of globalization, the increasingly powerful forces of globalization also shaped the telecommunication sector.

As a publication of the ITU (2002) explained:

"Globalization has affected the telecommunication sector in three ways. First, global operations. Many major telecommunication operators have holdings in operators in other nations. It is increasingly rare to find a country that does not have a strategic foreign investor. Second, regional and multilateral agreements. Governments have increasingly chosen to enshrine their market liberalizing moves in treaty-level commitments, notably in the context of the WTO’s basic telecommunications agreement. Third, new global services. These include mobile cellular roaming, global satellite systems, calling cards and others that allow customers to continue to use a service while away from their home country. Future third-generation (3G) mobile services have been designed from the start to be global, rather than national, in scope" (p. 4).

As the world neared the end of the millennium, both mobile phone networks and the Internet continued to expand on a global basis at an unprecedented rate—a fact not lost on the participants in the study. And while such growth continued to favor many of the wealthy industrialized countries, cell phone networks, the advent of prepaid calling cards, and mobile phone plans had begun to link populations in other countries as well. The ITU (2002) described this explosive growth of cell phone use as follows:

"With just short of one billion subscribers at the end of 2001, mobile is poised to take over from fixed-lines in the early part of 2002 as the network with the most users…. It may be hard to believe, but less than one per cent of the world’s inhabitants had access to a mobile phone in 1991 and only one third of countries had a cellular network. By the end of 2001, over 90 per cent of countries had a mobile network, almost one in every six of the world’s inhabitants had a mobile phone and almost 100 countries had more mobile than fixed telephone subscribers" (p. 8).

John Seely Brown and Richard Adler (2008) explained the rapid technological changes this way:

"The world has become increasingly ‘flat,’ as Tom Friedman has shown. Thanks to massive improvements in communications and transportation, virtually any place on earth can be connected to markets anywhere else on earth and can become globally competitive. But at the same time that the world has become flatter, it has also become ‘spikier’: the places that are globally competitive are those that have robust local ecosystems of resources supporting innovation and productiveness. A key part of any such ecosystem is a well-educated workforce with the requisite competitive skills. And in a rapidly changing world, these ecosystems must not only supply this workforce but also provide support for continuous learning and for the ongoing creation of new ideas and skills" (p. 16).

In part because SMS, or "texting" as it is often called, proved inexpensive and accessible, people in a range of countries—South Korea, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Finland—were among the most likely to have used text messaging in 2001.

SMS continued to grow in popularity; by 2004, after coauthor Yu-Kyung had already left Seoul, South Korea, to return to the United States for graduate school, there were more than 1.752 billion cellphone subscribers in the world, "up from approximately 91 million in 1995, and 1.158 billion in 2002" (Goggin, 2006, p.1).

Although wealthy countries continued to lead the way in many areas of technology use, the diffusion of digital communication technologies was also having a global impact. As an ESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2007) report noted, globalization and ICTs continue to be closely linked and often go "hand in hand" in the movement across national boundaries (p. 3). ICTs have, in significant ways, enabled globalization, just as globalization has been a driving force in the expansion of ICTs. As ESCAP (2007) explained, "At the same time, globalization has fueled the demand for ICT. As new markets open up, buyers and sellers have turned to ICT for new financial instruments and services and faster and cheaper ways to facilitate cross-border transactions" (p. 3). And, we would add, cross-border educational opportunities have increased as well.

These linked cultural formations—technological innovations, the expansion of global computer networks, lower costs and greater efficiencies, the expanded reach of global capitalism—continued to exert pressure during the first decade of the new century: both locally, in the lives of this study's coauthors, and worldwide.

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