Information Technology and Cultural Imperialism
At what point does information technology become not merely convenient, but
indispensable in societies? That is, can countries that have previously been
isolated geographically, culturally, and / or economically continue to do so by
“opting-out” of the very technologies that are pulling the world together now? Do
countries have a right to national isolation, if they choose it? Can they still retain
the values and traditions of their culture if they instead opt to modernize and
embrace information technologies? Or, will such a convergence of similar
technologies gradually force more similarities between societies, potentially
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S. territories. Needless to say, whether or not such
technological convergence is intentional or unintentional hardly matters. Either
way, it presents no shortage of serious questions and problems.
Of course, there are certain benefits associated with this convergence.
Diffusion / mass production of most any technology typically leads to lower
prices. Look at cell phones, for example. Just a decade ago, cell phones were tools
of the elite: doctors, lawyers, and similar upper-middle class professionals were
the only ones who could afford such cumbersome, expensive communication
technologies. Now, cell phones are tiny, cheap, and likely in the hands of more
teenagers than adults. Why did this happen? The technology itself became
successfully diffused in enough societies to the point where it was both pervasive
and transparent, leading to lower costs and an even more broadly installed user
base. Similarly, shared technologies can act as “connective tissue” for once-
disparate countries and cultures, allowing for significantly improved
communication, collaboration, and global participation on a range of levels.
Admittedly, while technological convergence is typically one-way, it
could be argued that convergence is not exclusively a West-to-East issue. Think
about the infusion of Japanese autos into the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.
Even if Hondas and Toyota were better made and got better mileage than the
unreliable Chrysler K cars and similarly unimpressive American autos available at
the time, many Americans were against buying foreign autos simply as a matter of
Of course, now the situation is very much different. My supposedly
American car was made in Canada, with parts from Mexico, while our neighbour’s
Honda was built in somewhere in the midwest. I admit that finding such East-to-
West examples of technological convergence is somewhat like finding Macintosh
computer users at COMDEX: they are indeed there, but you have to look for them.
Aside from the benefits associated with such technological convergence,
often times the harmful effects of convergence outweigh the more immediate
gains. That is, convergence associated with technological change is typically viral
in nature: once the genie of information technology is unleashed into a society, it
is often difficult to metaphorically put it back into the bottle. As such, the
introduction of new technologies into societies—a modernization of a society by
way of telecommunications equipment and/or an advanced information
architecture—is most often one from Western countries to Eastern countries. As
such, it becomes easy to equate modernization with Westernization, and,
subsequently, Americanization, which often represents an unacceptable influence
on the society where the technology is introduced. This, in turn, begets concerns
of cultural assimilation (Volti 269).
To illustrate this point, I suggest looking at...