Sunday, July 17, 2005

27] Megatrends over Cybernating Malaysia

A child writing Sanskrit

Megatrends over Cybernating Malaysia
By Azly Rahman

In our race towards “progress”, we continue to model our national economic development strategies based upon ones proposed by theories and practitioners such as Walt Rostow, Milton Friedman, Lester Thurow, and many a World Bank and IMF strategist.

We set up International Advisory Panels to teach us how to develop linearly and in a certain progression. Because our economists are generally those trained in the Classical and Neo-Classical traditions, we institutionalize them into the economic policy panels and seek from them ideas that will be in sync with those of the members of the advisory panel.

Let us analyze our economic existence and installations differently.

Let us look at the developmental path we have been taking thusfar. Putting the once popular American “economic futurologist” John Naisbitt’s prediction aside for a moment, let us look at another set of “megatrends” that is shaping us.

Using Cyberjaya as a case of a “technopole” − a city that is run on fiber optics − rather than one viewed as a metropole such as Kuala Lumpur, I propose that the following trends will further flourish and develop as this nation moves along the hypermodernist developmental path.

The French word, bricolage, used in social and cultural analyses might be useful in this context: that the elements of cultures form different sources are gathered and synthesized to create a tapestry of base and superstructural quilt of the emerging nation that wishes to speed up its developmental process.

Let us look at what is going to be happening to this technologized nation, taking Cyberjaya as a case in point.

"Cyberjaya as bricolage"

As we go into the futuristic city of Cyberjaya, we may begin to ask ourselves what the nature of this city and reality is: what necessitates the birth of this phenomena?

Cyberjaya as a modern business capital, and Putrajaya as its administrative capital, modeled after the New York-Washington D.C dyad, exemplify as good reference for us to understand how “to read a city” that we live in.

Cyberjaya built by the regime of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad represents a new form of cultural technological syntheis of a bricolage that might interest students of “the sociology of technopoloes” such as Manuel Castells, Peter Hall, Henri Lefevre, or our own urban anthropologists/sociologists to study.

Cyberjaya can be seen as a form of bricolage by the powerbrokers and policy-implementers in which the deep play of culture is operating at a sophisticated and hegemonic level.

To elaborate this further, I observe that Malaysia not only attempt to harness the power of digital technologies but transform itself ideologically and craft a newer form of civilization so that her older ideological structures -- pre-traditional, Sultanate, and colonial -- can be dismantled.

It is a form of cultural bricolage when the ideas of development and progress as well as the religious dimensions of it are woven into the program of "technological determinism" (or "cultural engineering") and a newer scenario of progress is created.

"What we are witnessing"

We are witnessing a complex picture of the nature of transformation taking shape; one of a complex synthesis of Western developmental iconoclasm with Oriental (Malay, Chinese, and Indian) cultural architectural symbolism. This is a result of historical-material progression of spaces of knowledge and power. One for example, sees the architecture of Putrajaya as emblematic of this Western-Orientalist installation of ideology and infrastructure. This picture of change is primarily based on real estate ventures motivated by huge profits.

We can no longer study “national development” from the perspective of outdated theories of development; we need to look at the idea of how nationalism is withering as a consequence of globalization. We will require Immanuel Wallerstein’s and Andre Gunder Franks’ suggestions via World System’s Theory, as a starting point to look at how our developmentalist ideology works. Our “hyper-modern” developmentalist project is actually one that is meant to erode nationalism and integrate the nation’s productive forces into this global system of postmodern indentured slavery.

We are seeing more and more of the word “cyber” which is colonizing the landscape our mind, our social and political institutions, and our physical institutions. The discourse of social change, names of places, topics of professional conversation are all laced with the idea of cybernetics. The entire landscape of the educational institution such as The Malaysian Multimedia University is filled with the linguistic symbols/names that signify the advent and enculturalization of the idea of “Cybernetics”.

We are seeing more and more integration of our economies into the international framework of informational capitalism, further relegating our workforce into providers of cheap labor for the owners of the means of intellectual production of informational capital.

We are witnessing the strengthening of the political will to control the loudness of democratic voices that are produced in cyberspace.

We are witnessing the growth of Internet-based journalism, Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today amongst the most widely known and widely paid attention to by the government. The speed of erosion of the influence of government-owned media will be determined by the nature of social and political activism that is mounted by the “cybernetic-journalism”. The capability of these independent and more progressive news media in integrating text, audio, and video coupled with the improvement of broadband signals will pose more challenges to traditional, government-owned media such as the newspapers and television.

We are finding out that we will require a set of new tools to pry open the house that Informational Capitalism built in Malaysia, and to understand why it is built, who the inhabitants are, and in what way it might and have become an institution of colonization. The tools of analysis provided by our social scientists of the 1970s are no longer useful and accurate in studying the house Malaysians built.

"Megatrends for Us"

The following thirteen observations might be useful for us to understand the larger order changes that are happening within the logic of postmodern capitalist accumulation and as Malaysia moves from a society grounded in Oral, Print, and Broadcast Technologies to Digital media.

I foresee the following changes in the way we continue to develop:

1. In a globalized post-industrialist world, the development of a cybernating nation will continue to follow, to a degree or another the Center-Periphery perspective of development.

2. Pure historical materialist conception of change cannot fully explain why nations cybernate; the more a nation gets "wired" the more complex the interplay between nationalism and internationalism will be.

3. The more a nation transforms itself cybernetically, the more extensive the enculturalization of the word "cybernetics" will be. The word will spread into society and takes on a new cultural meaning based on the political-economic reality of the host nation.

4. The extent of the enculturalization of the concept of "cybernetics" will determine the speed by which a nation will be fully integrated into the global production-house of telematics.

5. The stronger the authority of the regime the greater the control and magnitude of the cybernating process. In a cybernating nation, authority can reside in the political will of a single individual or a strong political entity.

6. The advent of the Internet in a developing nation signifies the genesis of the erosion of the power of government-controlled print media. Universal access to the Internet will determine the total erosion of government-produced print media.

7. Creative consciousness of the peoples of the cybernating nation will be centralized in the area of business and the arts, modeled after successful global corporations.

8. Critical consciousness of the people of the cybernating nation will be centralized in the area of political mobilization and personal freedom of expression, modeled after successful Internet-based political mobilization groups.

9. At the macro-level of the development of a nation-state, the contestation of power is between the nation cybernating versus the nations fully cybernated, whereas at the micro level, power is contested between the contending political parties/groups.

10. The more the government suppresses voices of political dissent; the more the Internet is used to affect political transformations.

11. The fundamental character of a nation will be significantly altered with the institutionalization of the Internet as a tool of cybernating change. The source of change will however be ideologically governed by external influences, which will ultimately threaten the sovereignty of the nation-state.

12. Discourse of change, as evident in the phenomena of cybernation, is embedded in language. The more a foreign concept is introduced, adopted, assimilated, and enculturalized, the more the nation will loose its indigenous character built via schooling and other means of citizenship enculturalization process.

13. Postmodernist perspectives of social change, rather than those of Structural Functionalists, Marxist, or neo-Marxist, can best explain the structure and consequences of cybernetic changes.

"An invitation"

These thirteen observations most obviously need to be refined in order for us to look at the phenomena of transcultural impact of computer-mediated communications from perspectives beyond ones characterized as pure Structural -Functionalists or neo-Marxists, but it is a start in analyzing society in more meaningful ways.

Technological development as it impacts Independent nation-states must be looked at from the perspective of borrowing the words of Clifford Geertz, "interplays and deep plays" and how these two notions relate to the transformations of social relations.

These fertile areas of research are even more interesting for us to engage in precisely because the transplantation of dominant concepts can have both hegemonizing as well as enculturalizing effects with long term-consequences.

I invite Malaysian social scientists, political economists, cultural analysts, and educationalists to explore the observations above using the Grounded Theory Method of analyzing higher order changes, so that we may produce theses on the fate of this nation, and translate theory into practice.

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