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Webchat 4: Indie and the Internet: Who’s left behind?

with 17 comments

The internet creates unique opportunities for those who have never had the chance to find an audience before. But what about those on the wrong side of the digital divide? In a truly global culture, is the internet the great bringer of hope, or just another reinforcer of exclusion?

This is a debate – pure and simple.

We will not approve comments from new users until the day so as to save debate for the day itself, and to give the hosts time to formulate initial responses.


Written by danholloway

November 24, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Posted in webchat

17 Responses

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  1. Okay, I guess I’ll be the first person to weigh in here. I have lived with this question for over a decade, not just as an artist, but as an activist.

    A decade ago, the internet was very exclusive. Only those who could afford a computer & and internet connection were admitted. While this is still the case, there have been great inroads (at least in the US) to making internet linked computers available in libraries.

    Worldwide, I think it is still exclusive. And will continue to be so long as this service is provided through a market capitalist system.

    Other issues I have noted as an activist are, what size audience are you actually reaching? Many activist lists I have been on gave participants the feeling they were reaching a large audience, when there were maybe only a dozen people involved. Are we just fooling ourselves in this regard.

    Perhaps most importantly for activism (perhaps also for independent artists striving to reach an audience): does our activism — or art — have real meaning if it only exists in a virtual world. We need to bring it off the internet and into our neighborhoods.

    In this respect, the internet can be a powerful tool in connecting and correlating a handful of people around the globe who then bring their art and/or activism to the community where they live.


    November 30, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    • PD, it’s great to meet another activist on this subject – I’m expecting 2 more, Charles Dickey and Guy Gonzalez, to come over tomorrow.

      “We need to bring it off the internet and into our neighborhoods.” – I agree with you but also wonder if we acn’t go a stage further. You’re right of course because primarily what art does is help build communities – it can bring worth and aspiration and hope as well as a sense of history and future, and to that extent it is an essential part in the life of any community – which is where I’d take issue with those who say it’s more important to spend the money on health & education. Yes, BUT that overlooks the incredible role culture can play in a community’s wellbeing.

      Wheer I’d like to see if one can move on from your position is in looking at where and how communities are formed. Are they only geographic? Is it valid for people within the poorest communities, when they are internet-empowered, to seek to become part of new communities of benefit to them but not necessarily their geographical neighbours? Are we in danger, by talking of taking art off the internet and onto the street, of perpetuating an old and unhelpful model of community? That’s a question not a statement.


      November 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

      • I agree with all of this. But if we are talking about a poor community where there is suffering, hunger or oppression, then they have immediate geographical needs that must be addressed.


        November 30, 2009 at 8:09 pm

        • a) you can check how many hits your site is getting and that will give you rough numbers of visitors – it should say how many pages they’ve visited and stuff too.

          b)information for the poor with geographical needs can be immensly useful especially when combined with education programmes – some of these run via internet run via solar cells etc…

          The trick is to make the tech not something worth stealing by flooding the area with it.

          However this does basically rely on the countries not being at war – a war zone is something quiet different from a poverity stricken area. And an oppressive regime is something else again. You need different strategies to deal with them.


          December 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm

  2. Isn’t there a limit to how far you can democratize the internet, or anything?

    I mean, would a slum kid in Rio really be thinking about his art, if he/she had any, and how to get it online?

    I wonder how much we put our own minds into those that are worse off than us…

    The artists or musicians or poets in developing countries..would they really be so different to the ones in developed countries? That’s a genuine question, btw, and probably one we can’t answer, unless someone has stats or there are any slum poets here?

    Also, which level of poverty do you imagine when you think of these slum kids?

    There are poor areas in HK, not third world poor, but still quite low, and i’ve heard a lot of those estates have internet connections. Then there is Ethiopia, where only 0.5% of the population have a computer…or maybe access to a computer, i’m not sure…but that brings us back to many are wannabe writers/artists anyway?


    Ordinary Joe

    December 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    • That’s what I’m saying. Art is important, but not when you are starving to death or completely destitute. Basic needs have to be met first.

      I think art does have a lot of potential for helping those of us in the first world to understand these injustices and focus upon ending them. But to do so, art will have to create a movement with a loud enough voice to rival the commercial media. Otherwise we will be drowned out.


      December 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm

      • Oppression breads art – at one of the last poetry evening I went to there was an asylum seeker who’s life was at risk because he and his ‘writing circle’ had been caught putting their poems on line – to get them out there becuase they could not speak them openly.

        He comes from an oppressive regime.

        He is one of the few surviors of his writing group.


        December 1, 2009 at 7:45 pm

  3. In reply to PD,

    I often wonder how many people actually visit the year zero site…we can see the hits, but is it just the same few people?

    We need to get something in their hands, not on screen. The internet is a deceptive tool perhaps…you can get seen, but it’s really fucking hard to get remembered.

    Better to do a magazine instead and get it out there.


    Ordinary Joe

    December 1, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    • That’s always a concern in doing things on the internet. It has a tendency to seem like you are reach a large worldwide audience. Unfortunately, it is more often the case that you are reaching the dozen or so people who already agree with you.

      Yet, if those dozen or so people are scattered around the world, they can seed your ideas in their communities. In this way you can use the internet to correlate your actions to make a big worldwide movement. But you then need to act in the real world.


      December 1, 2009 at 2:02 pm

      • I agree in theory, but how many people take the writing they like online into the real world?

        If someone reads your stuff, I think it generally ends there. They don’t tell their friends because they’ve got more important things to think about, and they know they’d have to explain everything anyway as their friends won’t have heard of us…

        so, real world action is the key. If my magazine is picked up by someone then they don’t have to tell their friends, they can just give them the mag.

        So the internet can be used secondarily…first, print, leave a link to the site in the mag…then see if they come.


        Ordinary Joe

        December 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm

        • I have tended to go for internet first and people re-post what they like – on their own blogs, community blogs, twitter, facebook etc…

          This means I get more traffic to the site and more readers – the only thing I have to be careful about is if I have a period of not adding new material numbers drop and I have to go and nudge everyone.

          We are starting to get to the point where they can put your stuff on e-readers etc… by subscriptions etc… though last I checked this was hobbled in the UK market things may have changed though.

          I personally rarely look at mags so am unlikely to follow a link from one. However – handing out business cards does have an effect I find.

          Not that I obsessively look at the traffic going to my sites or anything – honest 😉


          December 1, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  4. On the activism front, I’m involved with the Peace Communities network on ning which is a very concrete project brought to the internet by a man named T, who works with the freeschool in Olympia, Washington. I say concrete, because the intention of that site is to not only connect people via the internet, but to bring those virtual connections into the real world. T is a veteran organizer and has had some success implementing this difficult vision; last summer, he used the Peace Communities site, as well as other outlets, to promote and organize a conference on sustainability in West Virginia.

    My point is that the internet can be used as a tool to organize the kinds of real-world events that truly matter and create connections. Social networking, I believe, has revolutionary potential for changing the power dynamics inherent in the world; it can be a real democratizing force. Of course there are limits. Access to the internet is a privilege accessible to citizens of developed countries and is not readily available in Ethiopa.

    My approach is to start where I am. I am not in Ethiopa, nor am I Ethiopan. I am a white male of European descent living on the margins of America. If I were a privileged liberal politician of great social standing and with access to lucrative finances, I could organize some kind of altruistic and western-centric aid package to the poor folk of Ethiopa, but I’m not and I can’t. This doesn’t mean that I don’t give a damn about what’s happening there, but I must recognize what I can do and where I can affect change. Part of this is also recognizing how my decisions and practices as a human being may affect others in countries like Ethiopa. Primarily, I think what citizens of westernized and developed countries can do if they truly want to help those poor brown people out there are fairly basic:

    1. Question and challenge societal structures that create and perpetuate conditions of ignorance, global poverty, exploitation, and exclusivity.
    2. Reject the Euro-centric model that is official history.
    3. Educate yourself. Educate yourself. Educate yourself.
    4. Center yourself in self-knowledge and actualize. Pursue your passions with utter disrespect and disregard for conventions. If you are acting from your true human center, your actions and desires will tend to promote justice, peace, and cooperation. Whatever work any of us do in this spirit helps our pathetic post-modern situation immensely. Don’t underestimate the value of doing what you love; it not only supports your well-being, it has a positive impact on the world.


    December 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm

  5. Excellent comments all around.

    Oli, it isn’t a question just of Ethiopia (although I’m not saying the third world’s irrelevant). I live in Silicon Valley, and even here there are huge portions of the population that don’t have internet access or a home computer. I know, because I do public outreach for a government agency and get hit all the time with complaints that we are relying too much on our website to get out information, at the expense of underprivileged populations. It’s not always a question of infrastructure, but it’s cost prohibitive (PC + modem + monthly broadband is hard to swing when you’re on food stamps). And by the way, freaking San Jose is not Oakland or Richmond or LA or NY – so I’m sure other “developed” cities, even in the belly of the beast USA here, have the same problem.

    Sure, there’s limitations to how much you can do as an individual to help those less fortunate than you, and I’m not saying we should all start sleeping in pee-soaked cardboard boxes to deal with our middle class guilt (love your book, by the way) – but I do feel grateful to have the opportunity to share my writing with people from around the world via the internet, and I do think I should try to help others have that same chance, even if it’s just kicking over a few bucks to charity when I can, or volunteering an hour here or there, every little bit helps.

    And yes, there are other things that underprivileged kids need more than internet access, like clothing and food and health care, and it’s important to give to those causes, too. But I’d be cautious of using those more basic needs as an excuse to ignore all others – that’s exactly the argument that’s being used right now in California to cut music and art funding from “under-performing” (read: “poor”) schools.

    Anyways, stepping off my soapbox, I do, however, really agree with you and PD about the limitations of only promoting art online and the importance of getting it out into the community. It is so much easier to pass off a physical object to your friends, like a book or CD. I’ve been experimenting with printing zine-style half-sized b&W photocopies of my short stories and putting them in places that have racks/tables for flyers and pamphlets, like art galleries, head shops, indie cafes, etc. I think what you do with your magazine is fantastic. But at the same time, I don’t live in HK, and the only way I’ve been able to read it is online.

    I do think we as independent artists need to do more to promote each other’s work – and not just to ourselves, like some incestuous closed loop ouroboros. We need to tell our friends, actual living breathing people who read books and listen to music.

    Moxie Mezcal

    December 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm

  6. Yeah, i wasn’t trying to save Ethiopia, i was just curious about what Ethiopians would do if they did have the internet.

    I mean, if the place was more developed then it’d start to imitate the model of other developed countries, no doubt. Which means most of the population ignoring artists/writers…

    anyway, just spec really…places like the US have problems too, as does HK, one of the richest cities in the world, with a huge wealth divide…no one gives a shit about art here…

    I think i’ve gone off point…

    Moxie – you read the mag? I can send you a copy if you want.

    And yeah, we need to get real people involved, not avatars. But we should also, probably, accept that the number of people who want to know is decreasing all the time…

    that sounds too negative…i believe we can get people interested, but not huge numbers…and i’m ok with that because as soon as you “make it” then it all goes downhill…better to be constantly struggling and doubting, i think…

    Ordinary Joe

    December 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  7. let’s not overestimate artists’ or writers’ ability to change the world, seriously. using twitter to document the violent iranian crackdown on students, for example, is what technology is useful for in underprivileged societies. we’re comparing apples and cheeseburgers here if we think that bridging the digital divide with experimental, non-linear fiction is going to enlighten people who think that blindly following a autocrat will get them into heaven.

    as charles said, education is the fundamental unit of measure because then at least one has an option to use tools like the internet or not. so literacy training to provide the tools to cultivate a love of reading and an appreciation of art is where the digital divide can start fixing. everything else we do is just icing on a cake made from dirt.


    jenn topper

    December 1, 2009 at 6:38 pm

  8. Ok again haven’t yet read the other comments but basically – the internet is a chance for global information sharing – the quality of said info is another question.

    People have for quiet awhile now been working through charities and out reach projects to make sure that it is accessible to a)kids in poorer income families in this country and b) communities in poorer countries hence the £100 laptop project (I know they ran into some conflict internally recently but not sure what).

    And even when places set up things to baracade their citizens from the whole internet there are those who can find ways around it.

    And even the older gens are now starting to get to grips with the internet – the amount of times I have to reset the screens to larger sizes for 80 yr old women is startling (and also why CSS and the innards of how your website is important – with valid CSS and HTML etc… it can be viewed by everyone – not knowing or bothering can make your site unaccessable).


    December 1, 2009 at 7:33 pm

  9. Having read the rest – people its a long struggle and I think the farming and stuff like that accessible on the internet is more important in poor countries and expression of self in totalitarian states and citizen journalism in war zones.

    I have been both directly and indirectly involved with projects taking tech out to the third world so it is happening.

    Often schools and things (here at least) are involved in this.

    There is a lot of S*** in the world and you can’t shovel it all up in one go. But people do need to think about this kinds of questions to stop it becoming just another form of exclusion.

    I’m going to run away now before I start going politcal.

    Plus there are different levels of poverty – if you are so hungry you can no longer stand up – internet is not that helpful. If you are hungry and mulnutritioned enough that you will live but age badly and get like oesteoperosis at 45 and look 80 then the internet may well save your children becuase you have been able to learn from a global pool, becuase you managed to improve the basic literacy the aid helpers gave you… and so on and so forth.


    December 1, 2009 at 8:13 pm

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