February 29, 2004

Orientalism and E-Fest 2004

by Nick Montfort · , 12:26 pm

It’s been a week and a half since the fine E-Fest at Brown already — no time for me to write anything like a trip report — but I wanted to bring one incisive comment from there into this forum.

Brian Kim Stefans was one of many who provided great readings/performances and participated in interesting discussions. Speficially, he compared humanistic writing about internet and computing culture to the Orientalism that Edward Said discusses: people from a different culture, with no direct knowledge of the country or culture, learn about it second- or third-hand and construct their own fantasy of what it is like.

The most provocative thing about Brian’s comment is that it suggests that new media studies of a certain sort may have things in common with racist or colonial perspectives. But that, which will just rile people up, isn’t what interests me about the idea, really. More importantly, Brian is assuming that computing and network culture actually is culture (or sub-culture) and that there are severe limits to what people can learn about it from the outside, without programming or designing or blogging or file-sharing or instant messaging or playing games, depending upon what subculture you’re interested in.