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Asia.com: Asia Encounters the Internet

Editor: K. C. Ho, Randy Kluver, C.C Yang
Publisher: New York: Routledge, 2003
Review Published: September 2005

 REVIEW 1: Rohitashya Chattopadhyay
 REVIEW 2: Allen Chun
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: KC Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth CC Yang

We would like to thank the reviewers, Allen Chun and Rohitashya Chattopadhyay, for their careful attention to our book. It is an honor to have the book selected for this feature, and we are glad that this first attempt to feature Asia's experience with the Internet has been recognized. We are also grateful to RCCS for providing this unique context in which to engage in a longer discussion of our goals in this volume. In this very brief response to the reviews, we will focus primarily on what we were trying to do, and use that discussion as a way to more directly respond to the reviewers.

As Allen Chun noted in his review, the essays in the book were derived from the 2001 Internet Political Economy Forum held at the National University of Singapore, and it was conceived as the first book length treatment of the Internet in Asia. This is important, as it sets the stage for both the time era from which the studies were generated (immediately following the dot.com crash and the 9/11 tragedy in the US), and the disciplines and theoretical frameworks from which the contributors emerged (primarily communication, political science, and sociology).

We wanted this volume to help to open up a discussion of what the Internet is, and what it means, in nations with vastly different cultural and historical traditions than the developed west, from which the largest bulk of Internet related research arises. At the time of the conference, although the business models which drove the dot.com fury had come into disrepute, there were still very few critical voices which questioned the overall enthusiasm for the diffusion of information technologies in the social and political realms. What we did want to show, then, is that the early enthusiasm for the Internet and related technologies, which was still quite strong at the time of the conference, although now quite in retreat, was questionable in the Asian context, given the widespread disparities in terms of digital access and power relationships within many nations, as well as to indicate the enthusiasm within Asia that was driving much of initiative of governments and international bodies to promote IT use throughout the region. Moreover, we wanted to highlight some of the critical issues that we believed would have a great influence in what the Internet would become within Asia, such as intellectual property regimes and the issue of digital access.

It is our conviction that the experience of new information technologies is neither universal across all nations, nor is it predetermined. As a result, we chose for this volume essays which provided both a geographical spread, including rich and poor nations, as well as a "social" range, demonstrating the role of the Internet in three specific domains, economics, society, and politics. We did not think it necessary (nor would space have allowed us) to include case studies from every Asian nation, nor every social context, as our goal was rather to be illustrative, rather than exhaustive.

As the editors, we also resisted the impulse to shape the essays into a stronger theoretical statement, as we wanted the authors to speak from within their own context. In our introductory chapter, we deliberately eschewed delineating a theoretical position as to what the Internet "is," because we strongly believe that it "is" what its users make of it, and thus, we encouraged the authors to draw their own conclusions. Thus, some of the authors focused more on the social and political context of technological deployment, while others provided much more "close readings" of actual behavior online. We think this mix of countries, experiences, and theoretical stances provides the reader with a much greater mix of perspectives than had we pursued a different course.

To be sure, there are some gaps in the book, which the reviewers note, including the absence of Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, all areas that have made the diffusion of information technologies a matter of national interest. Some of the chapters engage the theoretical foundation of their subject matter more directly, while others focus more on the "case study" aspect of their subject, and this is a mix that we still think is quite valuable. We also did not include essays from some of the more critical or philosophical disciplines, but we would reject the claim that that means the book represents a "unilineal and technocratic" view of the Internet. In fact, the volume quite clearly argues just the opposite; that the Internet has both a bright and a dark side, that it has both liberating and enslaving potential within Asia, that it means very different things to very different audiences, and that much more research is needed to highlight the variety of ways in which the technology interacts with Asian societies.

Moreover, the book does indeed look beyond the Internet as a simple medium, alongside television, radio, or newspapers. The chapters engage a number of critical issues concerned with just what the technology is, from a new form of "civil society," to a new form of social organization, to a new stage for the formation of personal identity. The chapter authors explore the creation of online identities, the exploration of cultural identity online, the role of governments and individuals in the struggle to gain political power through the Internet, and the overall social significance of information technology within nations that look to technology as a quick fix to the problems of endemic poverty, corruption, or authoritarian political systems.

We do acknowledge, however, that with every editorial decision, we are committed to not just inclusion, but exclusion of something else, and a certain narrowing of particular approaches. This is unfortunate, but we do sincerely hope that the essays we have included in this volume would spur more engagement with the Internet as it is actually experienced in cultural and geographical frontiers, and that the theories from the Western academic community are not superimposed upon the realities that are Asia.

KC Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth CC Yang


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