Cultural imperialism on a global scale? The role of the Internet in the globalization of the culture

Piotr Pawlak


The fast spreading presence of the IT technology, Internet most of all, at all levels of our lives, results in numerous changes in human activity. The expansion of the Internet is parallel to the process of globalization which causes the creation and growth of the global disproportion meaning that major part of the global capital is held in the hands of few countries named the global centre while only little is left for the remaining peripheral countries. Another issue is this one “western” standard being imposed throughout the world which questions such important aspects of culture as social awareness, or especially cultural identity. When taking into account the consistent process of the Internet popularization, a question has to be posed as to its role within the widely understood globalization of the culture. Acquiring the clear benefits of the development of the electronic communication systems, I wish to touch upon certain negative aspects of the IT revolution.

In my speech I would like to deal with the problem of the “cultural imperialism”, described by the researchers of humanities of the second half of the 20th c. (Herbert I. Schiller, Thomas Guback, Stuart Ewan, Georg Gerbner and others). This term (popular in the 70ties for the communication research) was used to describe the uneven information flow, to pinpoint its negative effect on cultures and economy. “Cultural Imperialism” dealt primarily with the relations among the wealthy, developed countries (that means basically the USA) and the newly born, developing countries (it is worth remembering that the post war years were the era of total, global even decolonization). The main tools of this imperialism were to be especially the mass media, TV, cinema, and radio.

As mentioned above, my aim was to analyze the Internet as a new super mass medium with regard to its role within the process of culture globalization. I wish to pay special attention to the features that would identify the global network as another – most dangerous tool of “Cultural Imperialism”. The authors of the “Cultural Imperialism” theory treated in the works about the traditional media, not taking the Internet into account. It happened so due to a simple cause that when the spread of the Internet among greater amount of users (beginning of the 90ties) took place, the theory itself had been to a great extent forgotten. The Internet as a medium differs indeed form TV, cinema, or radio nevertheless there is a reasoned fear that within the IT space (cyberspace) created by it, the process of imposing one, dominating culture on everyone may be taking place.

I wish to have a closer look at the architecture of the Internet in order to (by presenting adequate data) highlight its certain features, characteristic also for the theory of „Cultural Imperialism”. On the basis of the analysis of the mentioned theory, several main features constituting the imperial character of the media may be pinpointed:

  1. The presence of a given world system
  2. The presence of less developed countries when compared with the dominating centre
  3. The presence of the dominating centre of the given system meaning the developed countries, monopolizing information, privileged when compared with the less developed countries
  4. The presence of values and structures, and therefore culture and organization that are characteristic to dominating centre and strange to the peripheral countries. Such organizations (media, corporations) cause the expansion of the culture of the dominating centre.

To justify my assumptions, I wish to highlight the following facts:

  1. The Internet is in fact the creation of the North American culture
  2. The basic framework of the Internet is still placed within the territory of the United States of America
  3. The trade of any products, necessary for enlarging the Net’s infrastructure (electronic equipment, software, etc.) is centralized in The United States of America
  4. The trade of any widely understood content of the Internet (cultural products included) is centralized in the United States of America
  5. The global flow of the information within the cyberspace is based upon the basic formula, placed in the United States of America

I would also like to stress the problem of digital exclusion, which I regard as one of the major factors in accordance with the thesis of the imperial character of the Internet. The consequence of the presence of various barriers is the overall set of facts that may be called „digital exclusion”. The digital exclusion generally applies to the division of the world population into two parts. The first part possesses the potential possibility to access the global IT infrastructure along with the possibility to make use of information sources placed there; the other part does not possess such a possibility.