The Idea of the Internet Homogenizing Culture

The issue concerning whether the Internet plays a pivotal role in globalization is a highly contentious and debatable topic. Globalization, often defined as “the integration of economic capital markets and culture throughout the world” is seen as a concept that has both negative as well as positive benefits. The rate of growth in the globalization of nations and geographical regions is seen to be heavily assisted by the speed of information knowledge that the Internet provides.

However, although in theory, the sharing of knowledge is supposed to be beneficial towards the development of humanity, the Internet also provides a pathway to homogenizing culture and creating an unequal playing field for developing nations. This argument can be seen in case studies of Asian nations, especially in Thailand. Hence, the use of the Internet and the growth of businesses on the Internet have increased, the question raised is that although technology has advanced communication and knowledge, has this benefit affected people living in developing countries, or has the gap between the rich and the poor widened?

The Internet is a unique form of media. It has the power to reach many but this is affected by factors such as financial status, technological skill, knowledge, and the desire for the medium. The Internet is not necessarily appropriate or possible for everyone to have, and in a country like Thailand, it can be seen that the less fortunate have been marginalized, especially the uneducated and those from rural areas. For example, seventy percent of Thailand’s Internet users are concentrated in The Bangkok Metropolitan Area (Hongladaron, 2003) and only four to five percent of Rural Thailand has access to the Internet.

In a few of his articles, the scholar Hongladaron has also discussed the marginalization of rural Thai citizens. Hongladaron states the benefits of the Internet but then confirms from his research that because these benefits are only accessible by the wealthy, hence, due to the poor being marginalized, the Internet can be considered to be a discriminatory form of medium. However, Hongladaron also argues that the Internet does not homogenize cultures. He states that “the relation between computer-mediated communication technologies and local cultures is characterized neither by a homogenizing effect, not by an erecting of barriers separating one culture from another.” (Hongladaron, 1998).

Hongladaron concluded the Internet homogenizing culture, but only to a limited extent. With limited information being available on the ways that Thai people interact on the Internet, or view the Internet as a medium, it’s hard to conclude whether the overall effect of the Internet is homogenizing. However, it can be clearly stated that the Internet does marginalize those who are unable to use this medium.

As the usage of the Internet becomes more popular, the debate of homogenizing culture is fiercely debated. Some academics argue that because the Internet benefits the rich and the educated, those who can use the Internet usually have a level of mental capability, thus, the homogenizing of culture is only applicable to a limited extent. For example, the Bengali tribes in Bangladesh practice sustainable living and do not value the knowledge that is presented on the Internet. They view the Internet as a very negative form of communication, as personal contact is not made. Members of the Bengali tribe live by the Hindu religion and everyone in the tribe has a certain role.

Thus, the tribe as a whole is self-sufficient and members do not feel the need to adopt the values and the ‘teachings’ of the Internet. Furthermore, indigenous Tibetans are another example where the knowledge of the Internet does not reach the people. Due to their belief in the Buddhist teaching of Livelihood, they believe in living in harmony with their surrounding land. Members of these indigenous communities do not believe in the Internet as they would argue that the computer is a want and not a need. Hence, in considering the issue of whether the Internet is a tool for the homogenization of culture, although some would say ‘yes’ due to developing Asian nations becoming westernized due to propaganda on the Internet, others would argue that only Asian communities that have already been westernized use the Internet. These academics would argue that some Asian communities, especially those in indigenous tribal communities, would not use the Internet because of their cultural paradigm, hence the Internet community is already focused on just one group of culture with one group of people sharing a common belief: ‘that the Internet is a useful tool’.

Finally, it is not disputed that the Internet is a place of ‘information sharing’ and this sharing of knowledge could lead to certain ideologies being more prominent and change the thoughts and practices of other cultures. However, many would argue that although this is inevitable on the Internet, the Internet cannot control the lifestyle of a person’s life and beliefs, thus the Internet can only present another person’s discourse, but cannot force a person’s ideology to change.