Asia.Com: Asia Encounters the Internet

By K. C. Ho; Randolph Kluver et al. | Go to book overview

7

From real to virtual (and back again)

Civil society, public sphere, and the Internet in Indonesia

Merlyna Lim

The ability of the Internet to facilitate communication and distribution of information has caused many to identify it as the "new technology of democracy" - as the principal means to enable the expansion of a newly emerging public sphere of political discourse and decision-making actively involving civil society. Yet despite the utopian perspectives on the impact of the Internet upon global society, the Internet, as a technology originating in the U.S. but now existing all over the world, is always localized. Its democratic potential is thus indeterminate and must be worked out in the context of local constellations of power. As elsewhere, the Internet that has been developing in Indonesia has its own character and configuration as it is transformed in important ways by localized power structures.

Technological transformations are imbedded in these power relations, and localities - nations, cities, communities, including cyber-communities - are sites of the nexus struggles over the choice, use, and transformation of technologies such as the Internet. No one source of power is predetermined to "win" in these contests. Rather, dynamic tensions continue in a process of historical change, which, as an open-ended trajectory, allows human agency, when collectively empowered, to make a difference. Indonesia during and after the overthrow of the Suharto regime shows how such moments of the interplay of technology and society allows for the possibility of its people to make history.

In the relations among the state, corporate economy, and civil society, a focal point of contests of power is over the creation and assertion of identity. These contests over identity are driving forces that are interpreting and transforming technological processes of the Internet in Indonesia. More than merely creating a self-image that stands in relation to larger social, economic, and political forces, emerging identities is part of a struggle for power. In its extreme, such identities work against hegemonic systems of belief, loyalty, and action. This has been the case with the so-called "developmental state," which has used various controls and manipulation of media to cast a rigid identity congruent with political regimes that, in not a few cases, have remained in power for decades.

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