Can Cultural Diversity Survive the Internet?

IFSR Newsletter 1999 Vol. 18 No. 2 July
Stephen Sokoloff continues the discussion concerning the effects of Internet technology on our society, following an article on the effects on higher level education (G. Chroust:: New Reading, New Learning, New Teaching – Will the University System Change? IFSR Newsletter vol. 18 (1999), no. 1, pp. 2-3.
Stephen Sokoloff
Stefan Fechter Weg 1/49
A-4020 Linz, Austria
Tel. and Fax: ++43 (732) 792657
Traditional cultural systems, like species of plants and animals, originate and thrive under conditions of isolation. They are generally self-centered and exclusive. Their participants, united by common knowledge, experience, beliefs and behavioral responses, are often suspicious of, if not hostile to, outside influences.
Enlightened individuals plead for an attitude of receptivity towards foreign ethnic groups, but unfortunately such open-mindedness often has long-term negative effects. It seems to inevitably lead to a depletion of humanity’s reserves of cultural information. Dialects and local tongues die out as the range of everyday commercial, personal and intellectual interactions widens, and people increasingly adopt national and international languages. The strength of adherents’ devotion to their own faiths is often reduced as they come to appreciate the value of other religions. Ancient rituals and customs fall into oblivion as people become less willing to spend time and energy practicing them, and traditional wisdom is then soon forgotten. This same pattern is repeated in innumerable other areas, such as food, clothing, and architectural styles; an increase in cross-cultural communication is coupled with a diminution of the exchangeable information. As a result the world is becoming more uniform, more boring, and losing the wealth of “flavors”, the richness conferred by diversity.
Saving moribund cultures will certainly prove infinitely more difficult than conserving endangered species of organisms, since we cannot simply place human beings in reserves and compel them to pursue modes of life with which they have ceased to identify. One approach is to just let matters take their course and hope that a variety of new forms of expression emerge to replace those that vanish, but expecting this to happen seems overly optimistic. Therefore we should consider active measures. Local populations might tend to remain more intact if satisfactory employment opportunities for their members were made available in their own communities. Groups could then be encouraged to maintain their traditions, not out of a feeling of superiority but in order to share them with the rest of humanity. It is, however, questionable whether this sort of inducement would prove as motivating as xenophobia and feelings of cultural superiority.
Being at a loss to say precisely what, if anything, we should do, or to propose a complete program, I would like to ask for your advice and opinions. The IFSR Newsletter provides us with an excellent forum for an exchange of ideas on this problem, and of course you should feel free to write, fax or phone me as well.

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