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Are We Heading Towards the Balkanization of the Global Internet?

by Fred Fortin

Despite the fact that she’s in not in health care, following the work of Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist, blogger, and educator on her China-focused RConversation blog always provides me with fresh insights and questions that need to be addressed when considering the development of health care in China.

After attending three conferences in China related to web 2.0 and other similar subjects, MacKinnon observes that

“. . . the conference showed was just how hard it is to hold a truly bilingual English-Chinese conference in which the Chinese and English speakers feel equally comfortable participating. . . as some people pointed out, it’s not just about language - it’s also about communication style, and whether you set up a gathering to favor people who are comfortable communicating in an American way or in a Chinese way. . . (we) definitely need to pioneer new models for English-Chinese bicultural interactive meetings.

And this “lost in translation’ difficulty is not just a problem for international conferences. More important, she says “with the Chinese-language Internet soon to become the largest part of the global Internet, we badly need more bridges, more collaboration, more dialogue, and better understanding.” It’s as though with the tremendous up tick in people-to-people exchanges we are just beginning to fully appreciate the depth of the divide which separates us.

. . . I wonder: is the next phase of the Internet going to make the world even flatter or will we see the geographical, cultural, political, and linguistic boundaries getting stronger? Will we start seeing substantially different media forms and communication norms emerging in different countries depending on their economic, cultural, political, and linguistic conditions? Possibly. We’re certainly finding that the big multinational Internet players are struggling to capture the Chinese market, and while politics and regulatory hurdles don’t help, perhaps we’re also getting to a point where one-size-fits all is increasingly untenable and homegrown services will increasingly have an edge over transplants.”

Her mission is to make global conversation work through using new media and the possibility of the balkanization of the internet concerns her.

As it should the medical community as it pursues improvements in global health care. It fact, our current embryonic global health conversation relies heavily on the emerging new media in its many forms and advantages. But having a global conversation on health is different than either the globalization of western medicine, or the technical and political isolation of important medical, cultural and intellectual spheres of global information and people. The Internet, for better or worse, facilitates all of the above.

So it’s a fine but firm line that the global health community has to follow if the internet gateways are to remain free and open: insist on meaningful exchange, be generous in what you give and respect what you receive in return.


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[…] my complete post over at the World Health Care Blog Posted in China, Globalization, Healthcare, New Media, […]

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