Thursday, April 2, 2009


Dear Yasminers,

First of all, I would like to thank Ricardo Mbarkho and Roger Malina for having me as a respondent in our new topic: "New Media: User's Behaviour, Social Systems, and the Body Politic"... I hope that we will have an interesting exchange!

I would like to start by adressing one of the main questions that Ricardo has proposed: "Are global and local systems two separate entities, or is it about one place?" ... for too long, a tendency to think about the local and the global as two separate -yet interacting- social spaces has prevailed. But what lies in between? Do we have to make a quantum leap to travel between those two spaces? And where would we "land" if we did the jump from our locality into "the global"?

As Bruno Latour proposes in his revealing book "Reassembling the social" (by the way, I'm not a sociologist ;), we can "expand locally everywhere", provided we can trace the links between different localities. The theory of network topology, together with interactive visualization technologies, can become valuable tools for tracking the myriads of connections in the increasingly complex system that our world is becoming.

Think about your mobile phone for a while: a symbol of the globalized practice of ubiquitous communication, and yet an intimate and personal object with which you can contact your colleagues or reach your loved ones... whether they are physically near or far. Your mobile phone turns you into a moving communications hub, a tool for invoking dispersed localities and bringing them into your own. But think also about the thing itself: the screen, the plastic case, the circuits and microchips... where do all these parts come from? Components from all around the world, suddenly in the palm of your hand. And while mobile phones are being used more and more as tools that serve not only for communication in daily life, but also as media in which creative and artistic practices are based, they are also the direct cause of many conflicts which (seem to) happen "out there", in the "global space". If we trace the route which ends in the palm of our hands, between the
circuits in our mobile phones, we will almost certainly find its origin in Central Africa, where brutal wars are being financed greatly through the exploitation of Coltan, a metallic ore mined mostly in Congo which has become an indispensable material for the manufacturing of consumer electronics... such as our phone.

Viewing "the local" and "the global" as two separate entities tends to obscure the links, routes and connections that we must be aware of, if we want to make a more humane, rational and respectful usage of technology, or of consumer products in general. We should be able track the far-away localities from which our own local things come from; otherwise, we will find ourselves blinded by the distance. Quoting Latour, "... this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world"... sounds like it might be worth giving it a try! But how do we start?

Looking forward to hearing from you all...

Best wishes,

Eugenio Tisselli Vélez

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