New Media, Space and Marginality: Control and Regulation of Cybercafe Use in Small and Medium Towns in Asia
TT SREEKUMAR1 & MILAGROS RIVERA-SÁNCHEZ2
1MICA-The School of Ideas, Ahmedabad, India
2University of Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa
This paper is about how cybercafés in small and medium Asian towns highlight new aspects of modernity. Especially in the context of Asian modernity, the introduction of ICT-shaped social spaces in the form of cybercafés leads to multiple conflicting rhetoric of empowerment and progress on the one hand, and risk and moral degeneration on the other. Through an ethnographic study carried out in twelve small or medium towns in six Asian countries, the research explores how new media technologies influence the contexts of reimagining Asia’s encounter with modernity. The paper is based on a study drawing from secondary materials and primary information gathered through extensive field work in six developing countries in Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia, and India and Bangladesh in South Asia. In this paper we set out to argue that the continuities, ruptures and innovations that constitute the Asian modernity, as well as their social impacts, are mirrored in the discourses surrounding the various technologies that embody this modernity, negotiating a new phase in its mediation and legitimization in Asia. In particular, new media technologies and social media are involved in multiple discourses of risk, opportunity and adaptation. In the case of the cybercafés in Asia, we argue that the situated nature of technological access gives rise to new dimensions of adaptation at individual and collective levels. Discourses emanating from representatives of civil society, State and various other stakeholders converge on cybercafés, and their attention on this particular space emerges as an indication of its complexity as a zone of mediated access to the worlds—both desired and undesired—that computers make possible. The complexity of defining an essential set of Asian values and a regionally unique trajectory of modernity notwithstanding, cybercafé users in small towns across the six countries studied faced similar pressures and options that motivated the calibration of access to multiple worlds. Global technologies are shaped by local realities as civil society stakeholders struggle to redefine boundaries of morality, safety and privacy, balancing these against necessity and opportunity.