As Geert Lovink pointed out in a conversation recently, one of the next big challenges and paradigm shifts in Internet politics and culture is the creation of ‘national webs’. If the Internet since the 90s became the embodiment of a benevolent globalization ideal where information was finally free of national ideologies, then today we see a reversal happening. As Google announced today that is is 99.9% certain they will withdraw from that market, this is a good time to enter these discussions and try to envision the world where Google does not penetrate and why.
China is certainly the best example in the creation of a closed Internet system where the Great Firewall blockades access to a range of foreign links as well as places bans on the display of certain images that cannot be seen or circulated there. The image of the Dalai Lama is illegal to carry physically and unsearchable online, and Tiananmen Massacre images are equally disapproved by the authorities. Mao images, of course, still abound, even though they have become a pop relic of a bygone era.
In desperation, the corporate becomes political
In the best American style, this corporate decision will reverberate in politics as well, and Hillary has already given her golden nugget on this one. The history of China and the US is one based on mutual historical misunderstanding, two giants who need each other (although the US might need them more now), ideologically opposite but who share the same love of capitalism and thirst for world (or at the very least continental) domination. Google is probably pissed off because many of its affiliate businesses like Youtube are barred in China, and Google may simply not see a good revenue model there with who knows how many other sanctions, filters and controls.We will never really know as these things are not really disclosed for the public.
I love it how China says ‘take it or leave it’ to Google stating that it’s the end of the line for business if they withdraw. Very Chinese in style – our way or the highway, and negotiations tend to be one-sided thus always protecting their own interests. Wait a minute….isn’t this how the US also controls business? isn’t this how the Internet has been the largest American feud along with multinationals, oil wars, Hollywood movies, crap TV and other colonizing banalities?
The Chinese Turn
There is a Chinese oasis somewhere with content that most of the other hemisphere cannot even begin to decipher, let alone understand if only for the alphabetic impediment. Imagine the obverse – having most of the web in a language you do not understand, with information that is inaccessible to you. The rest of us will still live in cyber-USA until nations draw their own borders and firewalls to not only contain information, but speak other languages, and more importantly protect and further generate revenue from the web. China perhaps has capital power to support large tech ventures like Google on its own soil, other countries may be less fortunate and still depend on the globalized web.
I will be watching the action comfortably on my beach chair somewhere in the peripheries.
In a way, it feels like China is in Web 1.5, still protecting 1.0 revenue models while still precariously socially 2.0. Or maybe this is already web 3.0 and I should be spending my free time learning Mandarin.