In the previous two chapters of this study I have examined some of the physical, infrastructural and institutional aspects of the arrival of the Internet to Israel. In this chapter, I hold up the diffusion of the Internet to Israel as a discursive event. That is, I ask how the Internet was talked about by various commentators and actors in the local scene. Given that the Internet was imported from the United States, I ask whether the dominant discursive style surrounding the Internet in that country–techno-utopianism–was imported too. If so, who were its most faithful exponents? And where it was not taken up, why not?
Put differently, this chapter investigates the linkage between the technology of the Internet as it emerged in Israel during the early 1990s, and the various values associated with it, asking questions such as: how was the Internet represented? Were there differences in perceptions of the Internet among different groups of actors? What values were seen as accompanying the Internet? What was the perceived affinity between those values and the technology itself? That is, were they seen as inherent to the technology, as an inevitable outcome of it, or was there some other kind of relationship? My findings show that different groups of actors talked about the Internet in different ways: some saw it in distinctly utopian terms, while others attributed no values to it at all. How, then, are we to account for these differences in perceptions of the Internet between various groups of actors? In answering these questions I draw on findings already presented in this study, in particular the ways that various actors were positioned in relation to the global.
These questions are asked in relation to three groups, all of whom had a stake in the successful diffusion of the Internet to Israel, albeit in different ways. First, journalists and others who expressed their opinions in newspaper and magazine articles concerning the Internet. Second, the lobbyists and activists who were trying to spread the Internet as broadly as possible throughout Israeli society in the early- to mid-1990s, whom we can term “Internet pioneers”. And third, the people very closely involved in actually providing the technology to people’s homes and offices, namely, the founders and owners of the early ISPs in Israel. For each group, then, I show how they talked about the Internet, how they represented it as a technology bearing certain values, and account for the differences that I shall demonstrate between the ways that they did so. In doing so, I am adding another layer to the discussion running throughout this study as to how globalization happens.
In what follows I shall review some of the ways that technology and values have been associated in both popular discourse and academic literature. I shall explain why I prefer not to talk about the impacts of technologies–mostly because of the pitfalls of technological determinism–which, I suggest, leaves one to discuss representations instead. Because it has been the dominant mode of representing the Internet in the United States, I pay special attention to a particular configuration of values and technology, namely, technological utopianism.
The concepts of technology and values can be brought together in a number of ways. For STS researchers of recent years, the challenge has been to do so in a fashion that is not technologically determinist. Technological determinism is “the idea that technology develops as the sole result of an internal dynamic, and then, unmediated by any other influence, molds society to fit its patterns” (Winner, 1999, p. 29). An alternative formulation suggests that: “Technological determinism is the notion that technological development is autonomous with respect to society; it shapes society but is not reciprocally influenced” (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992, p. 686).
Technological determinist thinking thus has two main aspects. The first relates to the development of technologies, and holds that technological development moves forward according to a logic internal to the technology itself and follows an inevitable path. This was the type of technological determinism I discussed in Chapter 3 when critiquing studies of the diffusion of the Internet and the way they portray the Internet’s spread across the world as an unproblematized matter of course. The second relates to impacts of technology on society, which are held to be built in to the technology under discussion and as such unavoidable. Marx is often cited in this regard, specifically his assertion that “[t]he windmill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist” (Marx, 1847). These two aspects of technologically determinist thought are well summarized by Williams and Edge, who see it as the beliefs:
1. that the nature of technologies and the direction of change [are] unproblematic or pre-determined (perhaps subject to an inner ‘technical logic’ or ‘economic imperative’);
2. that technology [has] necessary and determinate ‘impacts’ upon work, upon economic life and upon society as a whole: technological change thus produces social and organizational change (Williams & Edge, 1996).
If Chapter 3 dealt with the first clause, it is the second type of technological determinism that I am trying to avoid here. I do so by inquiring into perceptions of the Internet’s impacts of society, and by not making claims about such “impacts” themselves.
The relationship between technology on the one hand, and values on the other, is not simple one. Indeed, there are a number of ways that this relationship has been conceptualized. The following are three common ways in which technology and values are commonly linked:
1) One way in which technology and values can be related is when a technology is held to reflect or express values in society. For instance, one might argue that various types of personal stereos–from the original cassette-playing Walkman through to today’s iPods–are reflective of trends towards individualism (Bull, 2000, 2008). Noting the range of ways in which one can make one’s experience of listening to music more and more personalized, and less dependent on radio broadcasts, say, or on the order of the songs in an album, one might argue that western society is becoming ever more individualistic. More generally speaking, it could be said that if one wants to discover the dominant values in a given society, one should look at the kinds of technologies it uses. For instance, organizations for the rights of disabled people point to the lack of ramps and elevators as reflecting society’s lack of consideration for those who are unable to walk.
2) The flip side of this conception is to argue that certain technologies advance certain values in society. In other words, rather than arguing that the iPod reflects a growing individualism in society, it might be suggested that by enabling people to put headphones over their ears while in the public sphere and listen to songs in an order determined by them, the iPod is actually making western society more individualistic (a popular theme in the press. See, for instance, St. John, 2004). Pacey makes a similar argument about how snowmobiles changed Eskimo (sic.) culture in Alaska (Pacey, 1983, pp. 1-4). Some go further and argue that this kind of social influence is actually built in, or hard wired into the technology. For example, people who argued that Internet would make us more socially isolated because it no longer required us to leave our houses were making such arguments (a classic case of this is Nie & Erbring, 2000).Suggesting that the very structure of the Internet as “borderless” would encourage a similar borderlessness in society at large, as certain journalists have done (see below), is to make a similar kind of case, albeit that the allegedly inevitable outcome of the technology is this time regarded positively. Indeed, this kind of thinking would seem to be deeply seated in sociological thought, and Wajcman suggests that it permeates the writings of thinkers such as Giddens, for whom the technologies that bring about the collapse of space-time are central (Wajcman, 2002).
3) Yet others assert that such values as come to impact on society in an inevitable fashion can be intentionally built in to technologies. This is how Langdon Winner sees the construction of Moses’ bridges (Winner, 1999): in a well-known article, Winner describes the construction of low bridges in Long Island as purposely preventing the entrance of public buses into the area, thus effectively preventing those too poor to own a private motor vehicle from reaching Jones Beach. This he refers to as the politics of artifacts.
These approaches to technology and values, or to the social impacts of technology, have been subjected to the critique that they are guilty of the second breed of technological determinism mentioned above, that is, that they postulate necessary and inevitable relationships between technologies and their outcomes (Williams & Edge, 1996). They are seen as impacting on social life “like a meteor hitting planet Earth” (Kling, 1996a, p. 19). However, instead of seeing the Internet as an inherently democratic and thus democratizing sphere, for instance, one could suggest as a counter-example the structure of the network in China, where a dense government firewall prevents surfers from accessing sites deemed inappropriate by the regime, not to mention the very process by which potential users must sign up with a government body in order to get permission to use the Internet in the first place (Harwit & Clark, 2001; L. I. Press et al., 2002). Thus, there is nothing inherent in the appearance of the Internet as a democratic technology in western societies; rather, as Kling suggests, “people and organizations adopt constellations of technologies and configure them to fit ongoing social patterns” (Kling, 1996a, p. 19). In other words, rather than seeing the outcomes of a technology as determined by the features of the technology itself, we should see social outcomes as the result of complex interactions between society and technology, the exact constitution of which cannot be known in advance. They are, in a word, indeterminate. As Das and Kolack put it,
[w]hile it is true that technological changes affect social life, this relationship is not one-sided. Societies do not passively accommodate or receive new technology. […] There is an intricate interrelatedness between technological and human factors (Das & Kolack, 1989, p. 2).
So far I have discussed technology and values in quite general terms. I now turn to the way in which the Internet as a specific technology is attributed with certain values. As mentioned above, the dominant mode of representation is one of technological utopianism. I shall offer a description of technologically utopian thought and discourse, before asking whether the subjects of this research appear to have adopted it when the Internet arrive in Israel in the early 1990s.
Howard Segal, whose analysis of the utopian writings of twenty-five American authors between 1883 and 1933 stands behind much recent concern with the notion of technological utopianism, sees it as “a mode of thought and activity that vaunts technology as a means of bringing about utopia” (Segal, 1985, p. 10). Rob Kling defined it as follows:
Technological utopianism places the use of some specific technology, such as computers, nuclear energy, or low-energy low-impact technologies, as key enabling elements of a utopian social vision (Kling, 1996d).
Kling’s major contribution to the study of technological utopianism is to point out that it does not “refer to a set of technologies. It refers to analyses in which the use of specific technologies plays a key role in shaping a utopian social vision” (Kling, 1996c, p. 42). That is, he sees it as a “genre of discourse”, or “any body of work that is shaped by a set of conventions” (p. 43). Identifying most writings about the Internet as falling into the genre of utopian writing (with a minority being classified as anti-utopian, or dystopian, indicating the ways in which the Internet is making society worse), Kling suggests that their authors are actually limited in what they can write, and that they operate within “epistemological envelopes” (Kling, 1994). Specifically, “[a]uthors craft utopian and anti-utopian writings within a set of conventions that limit what they can or will say, and which circumscribe the kinds of themes they can effectively examine” (Kling & Lamb, 1996, p. 21).
In her doctoral dissertation on “The Rise of the Internet in America”, Merav Katz-Kimchi found that the discourse surrounding the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s as a widespread commercial phenomenon was “primarily techno-utopian” (Katz-Kimchi, 2007, p. i). Drawing on Ruth Levitas’ work on utopias (1990), Katz-Kimchi argues that “proponents of the internet perceived the new technology to be the ultimate means to achieving utopia, that is, a ‘better way of living'” (Katz-Kimchi, 2007, p. 6). For example, Katz-Kimchi shows how representations of the Internet in advertising images portrayed the Internet in a utopian fashion. “[I]n these advertisements”, she argues, “the world in its myriad facets (and problems, like famine, overuse of natural resources, the greenhouse effect, and air pollution, to name only few) is abstracted, simplified and condensed, through technology, to the utopian or ‘dream world’ of twentieth century tourism” (Katz-Kimchi, 2007, p. 60).
Al Gore (from whom more below) certainly saw the potential of the Internet in utopian terms:
The Global Information Infrastructure …will circle the globe with information superhighways on which all people can travel. These highways …will allow us to share information, to connect, and to communicate as a global community.
From these connections we will derive robust and sustainable economic progress, strong democracies, better solutions to global and local environmental challenges, improved health care, and – ultimately – a greater sense of shared stewardship of our small planet.
The GII [Global Information Infrastructure] will spread participatory democracy. In a sense, the GII will be a metaphor for democracy itself (Gore, 1994b; cited in Thornton, 2002).
Similarly, Iacono and Kling observed that the people promoting the National Information Infrastructure (NII) “all envision an extensively computerized future that is deemed preferable to the less computerized world in which we currently live”, and they note that the United States government was promising “universal access to the NII and societal renewal through technology” (Iacono & Kling, 1996, pp. 87-88). In a similar vein, Christian Sandvig asks us to entertain the following scenario:
[I]magine the president of the United States making a speech to declare that the political process in the U.S. is fundamentally broken and nonparticipatory, economic opportunity is nonexistent for the lower classes, the U.S. is no longer a technological leader in many areas, the delivery of government services to citizens is often inefficient, the public education system does not adequately prepare children for satisfying jobs, and basic healthcare is not available in a large number of rural areas. Second, the president outlines a single public policy remedy for all of these social ills, at once. The scenario is fantastic: the first part political suicide, the second suicidal nai”vete’. Yet this list of social problems is adapted directly from [Clinton and Gore’s document,] “Benefits and Applications of the National Information Infrastructure” (Sandvig, 2003, p. 180).
Meanwhile, as described by Rochlin, the vision championed by Wired magazine
portrays a fully interconnected society where the networking of individuals has undermined the power of existing firms, institutions, and governments and destroyed or bypassed their instruments of hierarchy and central control, replacing them with more open and democratic global social communities that are self-organizing, self-regulating, and self-empowered (Rochlin, 1997, p. 43)
In short, from the moment it appeared in American public consciousness, the Internet was seen as providing a path to a better society. Below I ask whether the same was true of the Internet in the Israeli context. By doing so, my discussion interfaces with the questions of globalization that came up in the previous chapters in two main ways. Firstly, the utopia suggested by utopian writings about the Internet is a global one, and secondly, the genre of technological utopianism is an American one.
In what ways is the technological utopia that the Internet is seen as ushering in a global one? First of all, Gore’s calling it a “Global Information Infrastructure” clearly shows that the emerging network was held to be a technology that would cover the entire world. This was not a technology for the United States alone (as certain military technologies might be, say), but rather something that would improve the entire globe. Similar to Sklair’s analysis of the “global vision” of Fortune 500 companies (Sklair, 2000), the recurrence of images of the globe in advertising images related to the Internet (Katz-Kimchi, 2007) offers another concrete expression of the affinity between the Internet and globalism.
Further, as discussed by Stephen Graham, many metaphors of the Internet involve spacelessness. He explains:
Most common here is the assumption that networks of large metropolitan cities will gradually emerge to be some technological anachronism, as propinquity, concentration, place-based relations and transportation flows are gradually substituted by some universalized, interactive, broadband communications medium (the ultimate ‘Information Superhighway’) (S. Graham, 1998, p. 168).
Nicholas Negroponte provides a fine example of this in his best-selling techno-utopian tome,Being Digital:
Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time […] If instead of going to work by driving my atoms into town, I log into my office and do my work electronically, exactly where is my workplace? (Negroponte, 1995, p. 165).
In dominant American imagery, then, technologically utopian images of the Internet portray it as a “global” technology in two ways: (1) It is seen as expanding to encompass the entire world; (2) it eradicates space, thus making geographical location irrelevant.
What, though, does it mean to say that the very discourse of technological utopianism is especially American? Howard Segal wrote,
Since its discovery and first settlement by Europeans, America had been the object of utopian hopes abroad, and those hopes fed America’s own. What made America a potential utopia was its status as a blank slate on which a new society could be written (Segal, 1985, p. 75; see also Smith, 1994).
In other words, the very settlement of the North American continent was a utopian project. Kling and Lamb expand on this, arguing that
the United States was founded on premises that were utopian in the 1700s. The Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men were created equal” and that they would be should be guaranteed the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was in significant contrast to the political cultures of the European monarchies of the time, where the rule of the king or queen, and her nobles, most of whom were selected by heredity, determined people’s fates (Kling & Lamb, 1996, p. 38).
Communications theorist James Carey also refers to
a deeply recurrent cultural pattern in North America whereby the growth of technology in general–the printing press, literacy, communications technology in particular–is seen as part of a larger narrative of progress. The history of communications technology becomes the story of the expansion of the powers of human knowledge, the steady democratization of culture […] More information is available and is made to move faster: ignorance is ended; civil strife is brought under control; and a beneficent future, moral and political as well as economic, is opened by the irresistible tendencies of technology (Carey, 1989, pp. 147-148).
Literary critic Joel Dinerstein puts the America=technological utopia case much more bluntly: “technology is the American theology“, he argues. “For Americans”, he goes on, “it is not the Christian God but technology that structures the American sense of power” (Dinerstein, 2006, p. 569. Emphasis in original). In other words, part of what “America” means is a belief that technological progress is the panacea for society’s ills. Finally, as described by Merrit Roe Smith (1994), the idea that economic independence for America would be brought about by machine-driven production, meant that by the end of the 19th century, “[t]he belief that in some fundamental sense technological developments determine the course of human events had become dogma” (Smith, 1994, p. 7). More than that, however, machines were seen as wondrous symbols of progress. As these concepts were taken up by the newly emerging field of mass advertising, technology came to be represented not only as “the great panacea for everyday problems; they also stood for values at the core of American life” (Smith, 1994, p. 23).
In sum, technologically utopian conceptions of the Internet see it as a global technology and are deeply rooted in American culture, if not actually constitutive of it. I now turn to an analysis of the way the Internet was represented in Israel by three different groups. Was the techno-utopianism that accompanied the Internet’s appearance in the public consciousness in the United States reproduced in discourses of the Internet in Israel? Did it accompany the entrance of the technology into the Israeli context? If so, where? And if not, why not?
How was the Internet in its early days represented in the Israeli press? What values did journalists and other people publishing opinions in the newspapers attribute to the Internet? How did they see the Internet as changing society? Did they see it as a positive force, or as a negative one? In trying to answer these questions, I searched the archives of Israel’s three major newspapers (Ha’aretz,Maariv, and Yedioth Ahronoth) for articles on computers, computer networks, the Internet, information super-highways, other similar terms. The following is based on newspaper articles that were published as the Internet was emerging in Israel, that is, in the first half of the 1990s.
This question of the representation of the Internet in the Israeli press can be divided roughly into two parts. Firstly, what characteristics did journalists and other contributors to the press attribute to it, and how did they see those characteristics as impacting on society? In other words, were there any perceived “built-in” properties of the Internet? And secondly, what was the Internet portrayed as enabling us to do that we could not do before, and how were these new activities evaluated? We can then ask how these representations resonated both with American technological utopianism and with social and cultural trends afoot in Israel at the time.
Many journalistic articles published in Israel offer utopian visions of the Internet, and none more so than a widely syndicated piece written by former US vice-president, Al Gore, entitled “Communications Serving Growth” (Gore, 1994a). According to Gore, an Internet supporter from its very early days, the development of a “Global Information Infrastructure” would strengthen the global community and create economic growth. This in turn will increase democracy and provide “better solutions to global and local environmental challenges”, another one of Gore’s long-term interests. Through the Internet, he argues, the G11 will be able to “provide the information required to dramatically improve the quality of life throughout the entire world”. For Gore, the development of communications is essential for the preservation of freedom and democracy. This spirit is entirely in keeping with the utopian views of technology that took root in American society as early as the 18th century (Smith, 1994).
This approach was most certainly taken up by some Israeli journalists, who also identified the Internet with democracy. Some saw it as an inherently democratic environment, sometimes comparing it to ancient Greece (Goldman, 1995; Gordon, 1995a). By this I mean that some writers point to the very formal structure of the Internet as democratic: it has a horizontal, and not a vertical hierarchy, for instance; each voice has equal weight; information passes through the network in an indiscriminate fashion; and so on. Indeed, Habermas might recognize his “ideal speech situation” in these descriptions of the Internet as inherently democratic (Habermas, 1984).
Not only is the Internet seen as democratic in itself, and as fostering democracy around the world, it is also represented as contributing to world peace. Reviewing what to the best of my knowledge was the first academic conference in Israel on the Internet, Yehuda Koren quotes Internet researcher Sheizaf Rafaeli as saying that “the Internet erases differences between people, and brings them closer together. In such a world it will be difficult for leaders to take their nations to war” (Koren, 1995). This attribute of the Internet is related to its perceived borderlessness, both as a feature of the technology, and as a social consequence of it. For instance, in another quote from that same article, Rafaeli says,
my life used to be dictated by the fact that I was born in a certain place, studied in a certain school, and have friends with whom I served in the army. Local geography determined who I married. No longer. We are heading toward a world without borders.
This clearly resonates with Nicholas Negroponte’s abovementioned suggestion that “[d]igital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time” (Negroponte, 1995, p. 165). Similarly, A later newspaper article similarly claims that, “In the cybernetic space, where all words are identical, national boundaries and distinctions are blurred” (Kantrowitz & Rogers, 1997).
On a somewhat less lofty level, plenty of articles describe the ways in which the Internet can make our everyday lives easier. This is reflected in the ability to carry out tasks such as shopping online (for instance, Beller, 1994; Blizovsky, 1994a; Frankel, 1994), checking one’s bank balance (Goldman, 1991), distance working (Berger, 1994), and ordering videos on demand (Beller, 1994). The Internet, according to these journalists, can make everyday tasks easier to carry out and enable us to do them more efficiently.
These themes more or less overlapped the way that the Internet was being discussed in similar spheres in the United States at the time (indeed, some of the articles cited above were translations of pieces that had originally appeared in the American press–nonetheless, they have a place in this discussion insofar as they were printed in Hebrew in the mainstream Israeli press and thus constituted the Israeli discourse on the Internet); that is, they are not specifically Israeli representations. We can see this quite clearly if we borrow examples from the American context from Katz-Kimchi’s work (Katz-Kimchi, 2007, chapter 2). A piece in The Wall Street Journal, for example, noted that “homebound elderly and disabled people could now connect to outer worlds via personal computers” and mentioned that advances in technology had given them “freedom they only imagined years ago” (Abrahamson, 1995). Following the same theme, Katz-Kimchi cites a report from The Washington Post, which discusses how the Internet liberates deaf people from their disability. An interviewee for the article, Jamie Clark, who had been deaf since birth, described himself as “an articulate in cyberspace where his deafness is as irrelevant as the color of his socks”. Regarding cyberspace, Clark said: “There is nothing to blockade me. I feel free, it feels great” (Sullivan, 1993). Katz-Kimchi also cites many sources predicting that the Internet will contribute to world peace, including a quote from the CEO of American Online, who was himself talking about an Israeli friend of his, who thought that “one of the best thing that’s helping bring the Israelis together with the Arabs is the Internet. He said when you’re talking to people online, you don’t know who they are, you meet them first on a basis of what they talking about, what they’re interested in, and what kind of person they are”. In short, in her chapter on visions of the Internet, Katz-Kimchi’s many examples of utopian predictions reinforce the impression given by the citations from the Israeli press provide above.
The way that Israeli reports chime with American pieces would seem to reinforce Kling’s notions regarding technological utopianism as a genre (Kling, 1994). Moreover, this genre would appear to have deep historical roots. Carey (1989, pp. 208-209), for instance, cites a text written in 1858 about the telegraph:
How potent a power, then, is the telegraph destined to become in the civilization of the world! This binds together by a vital cord all the nations of the earth. It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth (Briggs & Maverick, 1858, pp. 21-22).
Not all representations of the Internet are so positive, however. Along with the increased efficiency associated with distance working, concerns are expressed that it might make the workplace less egalitarian (Berger, 1994). And while shopping online may be faster than going to the shops in person, it might also have the potential to become an isolating phenomenon, as expressed in an article entitled, “You’ll No Longer Meet in the Supermarket” (Frankel, 1994).
More generally speaking, a participant in the abovementioned conference on the Internet in Israel suggested that “the Internet heightens individualism and the weakening of collective values”, a process more commonly known as anomie. The argument is familiar from Putnam’s classic,Bowling Alone (Putnam, 1995; 2000), and in particular from what he calls “the technological transformation of leisure”. Although the technology that Putnam blames more than any other is the television, which, he argues, “has made our communities […] wider and shallower” (Putnam, 1995, p. 75), by spending more time on their own–a phenomenon enabled by the Internet–people spend less time in the community strengthening values held in common.
Likewise, presaging intense discussion of what would later come to be known as the Digital Divide (Brown, Barram, & Irving, 1995; Robinson et al., 2003), anxieties can also be found in the Israeli press that the connected and non-connected will become increasingly alienated from one another. For instance, Brenda Danet, who also spoke at the first Internet conference in Israel, is cited as claiming that Internet usage will mainly characterize the educated middle classes (Koren, 1995).
A couple of articles also expressed concern for the type of culture the Internet would spawn. Some were worried that the spread of the Internet would entail the spread of the English language (see, for instance, Crystal, 1997), and by extension the decline of other languages (see also Chapter 6 of this work), while others feared a dumbing down of culture (somewhat in the spirit of Hoggart, 1957). For instance, one article notes that while the website of the Smithsonian Museum was receiving 1.9m hits per week, the Playboy site was registering 4.7m hits per week (Stephen Levy, 1995).
Many of the articles that were published between 1994 and 1996 were aimed at explaining to the public what one can do with the Internet, given that it was a new technology largely unfamiliar to most people. Most of the examples given of uses of the Internet refer the Israeli reader overseas. For instance, various articles mention that one can read foreign newspapers and periodicals (especially American ones, such as The New York Times, Time, or The Washington Post), shop in Macy’s, visit the online store of a museum in Moscow, check world markets, take an interest in the theatre scene in New Zealand, discuss Thai food with other aficionados, and so on (for instance, Blizovsky, 1994c; Goldman, 1991; Gordon, 1995b; Koren, 1995). In other words, the experiences offered by the Internet, as represented by Israeli newspaper articles from its early days, are cosmopolitan, though with an undeniably American leaning. The Internet in Israel is represented as connecting users to the larger world beyond Israel’s national borders. These representations include references to the exotic and unfamiliar (Thai food, New Zealand theater), as well as to the familiar though out of reach (Macy’s, The New York Times). This focus on the global opportunities offered by the Internet is, of course, hardly surprising, given both Israel’s attraction to the United States, especially during the early 1990s, and the fact that most Internet sites at that time were indeed American.
Another aspect of the Internet that journalists related to in its early days was sex. Indeed, this was a topic that quickly attracted much attention among both academics (such as, Lamb, 1998; McCormick & Leonard, 1996; Younger, 1997; Zizek, 1996) and popular writers (Hobbs, 1998; McRae, 1995). I already mentioned that one article compared the number of visitors to the Playboy site versus the Smithsonian Museum’s site. To this can be added a number of other pieces that mention the ability to have cybersex along with a list of other Internet-based activities such as appears in the previous paragraph (Beller, 1994). However, concern is also expressed that relationships formed over the Internet might lead to abductions, and that children are liable to stumble across pornography when surfing the web (Benholm, 1995; Stephen Levy, 1995).
A major use of the Internet reported by journalists from the early to mid-1990s is as a communication tool, in particular through email and chat software, as well as in online forums. Indeed, the Internet as a communication tool appears in many descriptions of it from the period (see, for example, Benholm, 1995; Blizovsky, 1994b, 1994d; Gordon, 1995b; Koren, 1995; McGarret, 1994).
If the examples cited so far are mostly taken from articles aimed at laying out the Internet to newcomers and discussing its possible social impacts, and as such can be said to be intentional representations of the Internet, the following aspect of the representation of the Internet is far more unintentional. I am referring to the repeated mentions of the number of people using the Internet, the number of computers connected to the network, the number of countries hooked up, the number of sites, the rate at which the population of users is growing, and so on. Such references were found in all sorts of articles on the Internet, and not only in those specifically dedicated to documenting its growth. One particularly notable example is an article that claims that 22 terabytes of information are flowing through the Internet every hour (Goldman, 1995). A terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes, or one trillion bytes, but I suggest that very few readers of that article in 1995 would have known that. At best, the average reader would understand that a very large amount of information indeed is traveling around the Internet, though without having any idea as to how much information a terabyte actually consists of. I further suggest that such representations portray the Internet as having some kind of magical quality, with the journalists writing about the Internet standing in awe of it. As computerization theorist Rob Kling describes it, such depictions serve to create “a sense of excitement about the new” (Kling, 1996c, p. 48); or as he puts it elsewhere, they “enchant” us (Kling & Lamb, 1996, p. 21).
In sum, the press tended to see the Internet as a technology with immense powers of social transformation, not to say revolution. Journalists wrote about how the Internet would penetrate all aspects of our lives, from the micro level of managing our personal finances, to the macro level of bringing an end to war. Their style of discussing the Internet is clearly suffused with technological utopianism, and hence technological determinism, and this in both of the senses described above. First, by citing numbers of surfers, servers, rates of growth, and so on, the impression is created that the Internet has a life of its own, that its exponential growth is inevitable and detached from activities carried out by social actors. Moreover, by discussing the Internet as is, and not referring to the processes by which it arrived in Israel (as I do in Chapter 3), the impression is created that it arrived as if by magic, or entirely of its own accord. Second, by attributing inevitable consequences to the technology based on certain features of its design (its being a dispersed network implying a democratic politics of the Internet, for instance), journalists fell afoul of the second aspect of technological determinism, namely, that it will have certain inevitable social repercussions.
These newspaper articles were not published in a social vacuum, of course. I have already indicated the linkage to utopian discourses of technology in the United States. Now I shall place these representations in the context of Israeli society in the 1990s.
When attributing values to a new technology, journalists are not isolated from their social context, and their representations do not emerge from a vacuum. This point has been clearly made in relation to the United States and the way that technology has always been part of the national imaginary (Carey, 1989; Segal, 1985; Smith, 1994). This implies that journalists will see in a technology values with which they are familiar from other spheres of their cultural and political lives. What, then, was the context for the way that Israeli journalists talked of democracy, openness, borderlessness, and foreign cultures? A very brief historical survey will help us understand this.
In the first decades of its existence, the state of Israel was characterised by a remarkable degree of collectivism. Politics, economics and culture were intensely intertwined, and all served the national cause. In the field of economics, for instance, there was an almost formal connection between economic and political power. The state made politically-motivated appointments to business positions and funnelled very large funds into various industries, and agricultural and workers’ cooperatives, which in turn were steady suppliers of employment (Shapiro, 1976). Thus the Israeli economy developed as an extremely centralist one, with remarkably high levels of state intervention for a non-communist state.
However, the 1980s saw a period of rapid change, led by the Emergency Stabilization Plan, which was intended to deal with a period of three-digit annual inflation. At root, the changes involved increased market influence on the economy. This included a program of privatisation, albeit a limited one, and the focus of industry shifted to exports and hi-tech (Shalev, 1999). Meanwhile, Israel was placed under pressure by the US to tie itself into the global economy, with the result that a large number of Israeli firms were no longer competitive, as protective tariffs were gradually cancelled. By the end of the 1990s, Israel was held up “as a model of economic liberalization and successful adaptation to globalization and technological change” (Shalev, 2000, p. 129).
Most significantly, this was also the era of the Oslo Accords, and the beginnings of serious hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. These hopes were sometimes expressed in blatantly economic terms of a peace dividend to be reaped from both reduced military expenditure, and increased trade as a result of the end of the Arab boycott of Israel (Ram, 2000; Shafir & Peled, 2000a). And indeed, the early- and mid-nineties were years of economic growth and foreign investment. This “normalization” also had a cultural side, as Israel experienced changes in patterns of consumption–shopping centres were opened all over the country, filled with more and more American shops (such as Pizza Hut, Ace hardware stores, Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Domino’s Pizza, Office Depot, Toys R Us).
However, as well as being a decade of increased openness, liberalization and a general acceptance of “globalization”, the nineties in Israel, as in many places across the globe, were also years of increased ethno-nationalist particularism (Appadurai, 1990, 1996). In the Israeli context, efforts were made to preserve the Jewish nature of the state from various perceived foreign threats, be they non-Jewish immigrants, Reform converts, labor migrants, or the spread of “Americanization” (Shafir & Peled, 2002). This opposition to the importing of foreign, especially American, cultures took various forms. For instance, Israel is home to a small but dedicated group of anti-globalization activists, and a small number of Israeli’s can usually be found at the major anti-globalization rallies around the world. Those activists also organize demonstrations in Israel concerning the familiar range of issues: environmentalism, workers’ exploitation at the hands of multi-national corporations, animal rights, consumerism, and so on. Opposition also comes from Zionists who fear for the cultural integrity of the Jewish state. This attitude is associated with former president Ezer Weizman’s famous outburst against “the three Ms”–Madonna, Michael Jackson and McDonald’s–following the death of a number of youths at a rock concert.
However, the most significant opposition to processes of globalization within Israeli society came from religious quarters, and especially the religious establishment. The import of western lifestyles was seen to lead directly to serious contraventions of Jewish law, and as such has been fiercely resisted. Taking place a number of years after the period being discussed here, but nonetheless instructive of attitudes in certain sectors of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in Israel, a Halachic ruling in 2000 banned the use of the Internet, saying it was “liable to bring ruin and destruction upon all of Israel” (see, for instance, Ettinger, 2007; Ragen, 2000).
It is quite clear with which of these two processes the journalists and editors of the mainstream newspapers’ technology sections aligned themselves. Indeed, their articles were suffused with the optimism of the Oslo years and resonated with the possibility that Israel might make peace with its neighbors, while enthusiastically listing the encounters with foreign cultures that the Internet enabled. So while clearly drawing from American techno-utopianism, Israeli representations of the Internet in the mid-90s also resonate with the cultural and political climate of the time, which, as shown above, was one of optimism, based both on Israel’s increasing submergence in global (or, more accurately, western) culture and the prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
So far I have dealt with representations of the Internet in the press, which were largely positive, and which resonated with trends in other cultural spheres in Israeli and global society at the time. But what of the people who were involved first hand in bringing the Internet to the Israeli public? How did they conceive of the very technology that they were instrumental in bringing to Israelis’ homes? In my interviews with founders of Israel’s first ISPs and other Internet pioneers in the country, I asked how they saw the Internet in its early days, and how they tried to sell it to others. What were they telling potential customers that they could do with the Internet? How did they think that the Internet might influence society? And what attracted them to the Internet? That is, how did they represent it to others, and how did they represent it to themselves? Next, I ask what motivated them to diffuse the Internet. Did they see the Internet as heralding a better society? If that was not what drove them, then why did they want to see the Internet take root in Israel? As we shall now see, their representations differed quite strongly from those offered by the press. This is not to say that my interviewees were not equally enthralled by the new technology as their journalist counterparts appeared to have been, but that their perceptions of it were focused somewhat differently. This is a finding I shall try to explain.
I term as Internet pioneers those people who had also been involved with the Internet in the early- to mid-1990s, and whose involvement was bereft of any financial interest. When I talked with Doron Shikmoni and Hank Nussbacher, for example, about their part in persuading companies to ask the Ministry of Communications for permission to hook up to the Internet (in the days before it was freely accessible to the public at large), they provided me with lively descriptions of their activities at that time. Shikmoni, for example, still seemed to be amused that the people he tried to talk to about the Internet “just didn’t get it” and thought he was wasting their time. They did not appreciate the efficiencies to be gained from using email, he said. Nussbacher repeated in some detail an analogy that he had heard someone use when trying to explain to businesses why they should invest in Internet connectivity many years prior to our interview:
Listen there’s, in New York State there’s a bridge between Staten Island and New Jersey or between Brooklyn and Staten Island I forgot which one […] Before the bridge was built people used to go by boats back and forth bringing merchandise back and forth between these two places so when you go to the government […] and you say “I want to build a bridge for $20,000,000,” they’ll say “Well look, look how much merchandise is going between these two points, it’s not really worthwhile”. But you then have to explain to them that once you have this bridge and it’s five lanes in each direction, the amount of traffic that can start flowing is exponential and it will generate more merchandise and more trade.
Nussbacher and Shikmoni did not talk in the same utopian style as characterized the newspaper articles referred to above. Nor, for instance, did Dov Winer, a founder member of the Israeli chapter of the Internet Association, and another early advocate of the Internet in Israel. Clearly, because they were trying to sell the Internet they had to adopt a more practical tone than journalists needed to, yet even when talking about the Internet more generally they did not adopt the kind of techno-utopianism that appeared in the press. That is, they argued that the Internet could increase workplace efficiency and increase trade, but not that it would bring about a more peaceful world.
What, then, was driving these people? Why were they so keen for the Internet to catch on in Israel? Did they associate any kind of social agenda with the Internet? In an article on McDonald’s in Israel, Illouz and myself showed how the exclusive franchise holder, Dr. Omri Padan, used McDonald’s to advance certain ideological or political conceptions of his regarding how Israeli society should look (Illouz & John, 2003). For instance, he has not opened branches of the restaurant in the Occupied Territories. Can we see a similar pattern here? Given that the Internet is an American technology associated with globalization, should we follow commentators such as Shafir and Peled (Shafir & Peled, 2002) and Levy (Y. Levy, 2007) and see it as possessing some kind of natural affinity with the secular left wing in Israel? Where Kroes asks, “to what extent can we see the web as a carrier of cultural values and a mental habitus that are recognizably American?” (Kroes, 2003, p. 238), I ask to what extent the Internet pioneers in Israel saw it as such.
Nussbacher’s thoughts regarding the social implications of the Internet are particularly interesting in this regard, and would appear to reflect the views of most interviewees. “I try to view [computer] networking as being a neutral ground”, he said, explaining why he had no ideological problem helping Palestinians in the West Bank to get online. He explained that the Internet in the Palestinian Authority was having difficulties dealing with its telecoms incumbent, PalTel, which was proving problematic to Palestinian Internet pioneers in a similar way that Bezeq had been problematic to Israeli Internet pioneers, according to Nussbacher’s reading of the situation. So while the Internet may not help bridge national and ethnic divides–Nussbacher was quite explicit on this, as I shall show presently–aiding its diffusion was important enough for Nussbacher to meet with “people from Beir Zeit University […] and Ramallah” and explain to them how Internet connectivity worked and could be best implemented in the territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority. His perception of the Internet as value-neutral, though, was best reflected in his comments on the effects of exposing children to diversity via the Internet. While children may encounter other cultures by surfing the Internet, he rebuked my suggestion that we might see this as leading to pluralism or tolerance, as in the utopian visions of the Internet. “It doesn’t mean you’re tolerant”, he explained, “it means that you’re going to learn from them, […] or learn not to do it their way”.
From the way that Nussbacher and other Internet pioneers talked about the Internet, it would not appear that they saw it as worth spreading because of the type of society that it entailed; they did not see the Internet as the harbinger of a better society. Indeed, the Internet was not associated by my interviewees with a political agenda of any kind.
So the question remains: if they did not see the Internet as desirable because of certain inherent traits–a view eschewed by interviewees–or because they thought they could use it to further a social or political agenda, why did they take part in these struggles in the first place? Nussbacher told me, “I can’t put my finger on it”, though he did describe the Internet as a “great and wonderful” thing. Shikmoni was able to articulate more accurately the motivation behind his involvement, however. He wanted people to hook up because “we thought it was a great thing and that it was very important and good that as many people as possible would be connected and involved with it”. In other words, Shikmoni wanted people to get online, not because that would help reduce conflict in the world, for instance, but rather for its own sake. “You want a provocative analogy?”, he asked me. “It’s like becoming religious [lachzor be’tshuva] […] and you want to be even bigger, and bigger, and bigger”. That is, while Shikmoni tried to push the Internet by claiming that it made communications more efficient, in his own eyes the Internet was of value in and of itself, and not because email is cheaper and faster than the fax. In this sense, his approach to the Internet was far more emotional than rational. In this light, Nussbacher’s description of his own efforts to persuade “every single person you know […] to put in routers, put in lines” as “evangelizing the Internet” takes on added meaning.
Rather than promoting the Internet because of the better society it is meant to bring about, it would quite clearly appear that the Internet pioneers in Israel are instead representative of a long tradition of linking technology with religion. Dinerstein (2006) traces this tradition from Lewis Mumford, through James Carey to David Noble. For instance, he notes that Lewis Mumford described the American belief system as “mechano-idolatry” back in 1934 (Mumford, 1934), while Carey talked about “the language of futurology” in the United States as containing “an orientation of secular religiosity” (Carey, 1989, p. 114). These are views, then, that compare people’s attitudes to technology with those of religious people towards the object of their worship. This would seem quite an appropriate theorization of Nussbacher and Shikmoni’s actions, given their own use of religious terminology. Noble’s argument is somewhat different from those that see technology as a new kind of religion (Noble, 1997). Instead, he sees the fascination with technology in the United States and other western countries as rooted precisely in those countries’ Christian heritage. He argues that during the Middle Ages, technology came to be “identified with transcendence, implicated as never before in the Christian idea of redemption” (Noble, 1997, p. 9). In the current case I would be hard pushed to attribute transcendental notions to the interviewees; it does not appear that their interest in the Internet was ends driven, but rather that the Internet was an end in itself.
I further suggest that the work of Arnold Pacey (1983) can help us conceptualize the Internet pioneers’ enthusiasm. In a lively book full of Latourian ideas–though Latour himself is not cited–Pacey cites a book by an American engineer, Samuel C. Forman, entitled The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, who claims that, “At the heart of engineering lies existential joy” (Florman, 1976, p. 101; cited in Pacey, 1983, p. 80). He also refers to J.K. Galbraith’s talk of “technological virtuosity”; Herbert York’s notion of “technological exuberance”; and Mary Douglas’ description of what Pacey calls “the joy that comes through discovering and understanding how systems work” (Pacey, 1983, p. 81). That is, Pacey discusses what a technology means to the people who develop it–this is its “existential” aspect: “the fact remains that research, invention and design, like poetry and painting and other creative activities, tend to become compulsive. They take on purposes of their own, separate from economic or military goals” (Pacey, 1983, p. 82). Given that the Internet pioneers in Israel in the mid-90s were not trying to make money or to bring about a better society–in other words, they do not appear to have been driven by economic goals or techno-utopian thought–religious and existential concepts are more useful in helping us understand their motivations.
1.2.5 ISP owners
Having shown how the press whole-heartedly adopted the genre of technological utopianism, and how Internet pioneers without an economic stake in the technology approached it from what may fruitfully be conceived of as an existential or religious angle, we turn now to the owners of Israel’s first ISPs. As with the previous two groups, here too I ask what values they associated with the Internet and whether they saw it as a force for social change. Did they hold techno-utopian beliefs, similar to those expressed in the press? Did they see the spread of the Internet as an end in itself, a quasi-religious cause? How did they represent the Internet to their potential customers and to themselves?
Regarding the activities that the Internet enabled users to carry out, all interviewees were agreed that the two most important uses of the Internet in the mid-90s were email and the retrieval of information. (This latter quality may sound vague, but that is how many of the interviewees put it.) Email was championed over the use of fax machines as being faster and more efficient; while interviewees pointed to the large amounts of data accessible through the Internet. In particular, they related that if they themselves ever needed to find technical information or get technical assistance with the ISP companies they were setting up and running, they would find whatever they needed on the Internet. Some of them mentioned entertainment, but this was not particularly stressed; indeed, the use of the Internet for leisure was barely mentioned, though one ISP founder reported that he told potential private customers that a connection to the Internet would enable them to download free software and listen to pirate radio stations. While one of them pointed out to me the possibilities opened up to him nowadays by Internet dating sites, the practice of cybersex was not brought up by any of the ISP founders. What is noticeable, then, is what they did not mention. They did not talk about new possibilities for working from home, for instance, or about possibilities for making friends around the world. Unlike the press, their tone was mundane and practical.
I asked the ISP founders how they sold the Internet, or in other words, how they represented the Internet to potential customers. As mentioned, they all referred to email and information. However, even though I asked quite specifically how they tried to attract customers back in the early days, notwithstanding the fact that most of the companies lacked the capital to embark on fully fledged advertising campaigns, none of the ISP founders talked in anything like the terms I encountered in press clippings from that period. My questions did not arouse memories of examples they had used in marketing materials, for instance. One interviewee even questioned the very need for marketing the Internet at all: he worked on the assumption that everyone would want to get online, and that anyone who could afford to, would hook up. All in all, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly given that these are the people whose companies’ raison d’e^tre was to persuade people to pay money for an Internet connectivity package, it appeared that the issue of how to sell the Internet was not one that interested them very much at all. Alternatively, the benefits of the Internet may have been so obvious to them, so deeply taken for granted, that they found it hard to actually verbalize them. Either way, they appear not to have thought very hard about how to represent the Internet to potential customers.
Perhaps this is a function of the time that had elapsed between the period I was discussing with the interviewees (the mid-1990s) and the interviews themselves (the mid-2000s): maybe they had quite simply forgotten how they had tried to market their product. That is, they know that the main aspects that they pushed were email and the retrieval of information, but more than that they did not really remember. Perhaps this is the case, though the interviews I conducted with Internet pioneers, and their detailed recollections of how they tried to push the Internet, make this somewhat questionable. Indeed, comparing the vagueness of the ISP founders’ recollections concerning their representations of the Internet with the lucidity and freshness of the memories of these two Israeli Internet pioneers quoted above suggests that the issue was much more significant for the latter than the former.
In addition, I asked the ISP owners if, in the early days of the Internet, they had given any thought to its possible influence on society. One interviewee replied quite bluntly: “Not at all. I was thinking about the money we’d earn. That’s all”. Another refused to discuss the matter, saying, “I can’t answer that kind of question at all”. When pushed, he said, “There are people who think it’s good, there are people who think it’s bad. It’s a matter of opinion”. Others, however, were more willing to share their thoughts, but they tended to be quite vague and not indicative of particularly deep thought on the matter. One ISP founder, for instance, suggested that the global nature of the Internet makes one more open and broadens one’s horizons, but did not expand much on that insight of his.
“The Internet definitely promotes communication between people”, said another small ISP founder. “But does it bring people closer?” I asked him. “I don’t know how much. People are very tribal. [You] send email to your friends, surf on sites [you] like. [People] don’t open ICQ and look for someone in Afghanistan so as to understand why we’re fighting all the time”. Here, then, we have an ISP founder whose considered opinion would seem to be that while the Internet may “promote communication between people”, you are more likely to communicate with people you already know than people you don’t, let alone people from entirely different cultures and parts of the world. This point of view, undoubtedly aided by hindsight, is far from the vision of the borderless world that the Internet was seen by some as heralding.
The ISP owners, then, certainly did not talk in the technologically utopian style of the press. It is not that they thought that Internet would not bring about a better society; rather, they appear not to have thought about it at all. They appeared not to have really engaged in such issues at the time, and when prodded by me in interview, they seemed disinclined to explore them. The words of Ian Reinecke, cited by Kling (Kling, 1996b, p. 33), might apply here, if only partly:
Those who know most about technology are in many cases the worst equipped to appreciate its implications for the lives of ordinary people. Consumed by technical and corporate objectives that become ends in themselves, they fail to see that their work may very often be contrary to the interests of their fellow citizens (Reinecke, 1984, p. 243).
While Reinecke’s tone here is clearly critical, which is probably not applicable to the owners of ISPs in Israel, it would appear that they were ill-equipped to assess the implications of the Internet “for the lives of ordinary people”. Part of the reason for this may be that they were “consumed by technical and corporate objectives”, but another part may be that they were simply not very interested. This would seem to be borne out by their answers to questions posed about how they used their free time: they spend it with their families; they enjoy Hollywood movies from time to time; sometimes they might read some fiction; but they said nothing to indicate an interest in social issues. They read up on technological matters in books and magazines, but not on matters of technology and society. They are blind to “the interests of their fellow citizens” not out of greed, malice, or sheer hard-nosed determination, but rather in the way that most people do not ask themselves how the work they do influences society. I offer a further explanation of this finding in the following concluding section.
In this chapter I have presented and tried to account for the ways that three different groups of actors surrounding the Israeli Internet in the mid-90s represented and talked about this new technology. In this section I shall attempt to consolidate the findings presented above in relation to the tensions between the global and the local that run through this entire study.
Another way of formulating the findings of this chapter is to ask whether each group was part of what Kling and Iacono call a “computerization movement”: “Computerization movements (CMs) are a kind of movement whose advocates focus on computer-based systems as instruments to bring about a new social order” (Kling & Iacono, 1994). The press clearly has an important role in such movements. As Kling and Iacono note, “[t]he mass media has become a major promoter of the PC movement. Newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times run a weekly PC column. It is difficult to separate the effects of journalistic promotion from industry advertising.” Regarding many the newspaper pieces I reviewed, the same could most certainly be said. However, while the Internet pioneers seem to resemble “[t]he most active CM participants [in that they tried] to persuade mass audiences and whole professions to computerize in a particular way”, they were not doing so in the name of a “new social order”. At least, if they were striving to establish a “new social order”, all that could be gleaned about it from my interviews is that it is one with the Internet, as they did not talk explicitly about what kind of society the Internet would usher in. Meanwhile, the ISP owners did not even seem to be trying “to persuade mass audiences” to adopt the Internet, at least not during the period under study.
Accordingly, not all three groups can be seen as taking part in a computerization movement to the same extent. Kling and Iacono identify five key ideological themes in the claims made by computerization movement activists:
1) Computer-based technologies are central for a reformed world;
2) Improved computer-based technologies can further reform society;
3) More computing is better than less, and there are no conceptual limits to the scope of appropriate computerization;
4) No one loses from computerization; and
5) Uncooperative people are the main barriers to social reform through computing.
I suggest that while the Israeli press can be seen as voicing all five of these themes, the Internet pioneers can be associated with two of them (3 and 4), and the ISP owners with one (number 4), which itself makes the weakest claim of the five.
I would argue, then, that we understand the different groups’ representations of the Internet in terms of their proximity to and the accessibility of global discourses regarding technology in general and the Internet in particular. Thus, as I described in the previous chapter, Israeli ISP owners did not feel themselves to be part of a global industry of Internet provision in any way. Although the Internet is perhaps the technology most strongly associated with globalization in public discourse over the last fifteen years, Israeli ISPs were run on an entirely local basis: there was no need to travel overseas; all the customers were local; equipment was bought from local representatives of foreign firms. In short, the companies were no more global than any other local service industry, or perhaps even less so. Not only were they not required to move from one national context to another in the course of running their businesses, but they seemed quite indisposed to do so, refraining from joining various multi-national committees and forums, except on an ad hoc basis as and when they needed a specific piece of information.
Regarding the Internet pioneers, the situation is somewhat different, but not qualitatively so. Being heavily involved in the political aspects of diffusing the Internet in Israel, in interview they showed high levels of awareness of similar procedures of the diffusion of the Internet in other countries. Nussbacher is an immigrant from the United States, where he had played a central part in installing BITNET, and in interview he constantly compared the Israeli Internet with its American version. He has made similar points in interviews with the press, where he complained that Israel was lagging three years behind the States in matters of Internet connectivity (Beller, 1994).However, as his abovementioned comment about how the Internet can teach us how not to behave like people from other cultures shows, his comparative perspective on the Internet does not imply the cultural versatility or tolerance of foreign cultures suggested by the concept of global habitus and a techno-utopian outlook. Similarly, when Shikmoni talked about how early Israel set up a local chapter of the Internet Society relative to other countries outside the United States, he mentioned that this was a source of national pride, that it was meaningful for him that Israel should be first in these things. This was something I also sensed in the way that Nussbacher talked about the Internet in Israel, and so I decided to explore the issue with him:
Question: Was it important for you to see Israel make these technological advances?
Answer: Absolutely, I’m extremely Zionistic and therefore it was […] it was very important for me to show that the country had, you know, technical excellence, which is what I believed all the time, and the fact that, you know, Israel is always [… leading]
Question: So it’s important to, it’s important that Israel should have good networks because…
Answer: Zionistic. Being able, I felt that it was an important aspect of the country, the same way that you have to have good water supply and electricity.
In other words, it was more important to them that the Internet in Israel be as advanced as possible for the sake of national pride and to “show the world” that Israel was extremely advanced, rather than to link Israel up to the world, say, and expose its citizens to a range of other cultures, as suggested by the press articles presented above (Thai food, theater in New Zealand…). Indeed, both Nussbacher and Shikmoni told me how they used to spend hours writing defenses of Israeli policy and actions in Usenet groups. For these people, then, the Internet links in to concepts of national pride and international competition, not to mention insularity and a feeling of responsibility to defend Israel from its many enemies abroad. These are certainly not the manifestations of a global habitus (Illouz & John, 2003), or the expressions of being a “world citizen”.
The press, meanwhile, was mostly tightly linked in with global discourses of technology and the Internet. Articles published in the press fell squarely within the genre of technological utopianism and clearly represented technologically determinist thinking. They saw the Internet as the harbinger of a better society, and they thought this was the case owing to particular characteristics of the technology itself.
This has an interesting implication for the way we conceive of the interface between globalization and technological diffusion. In particular, the closer we get to the people who were actually providing the Internet to people’s houses and offices, the further we seem to get from global technologically determinist and utopian discourses. There is no doubt that the techno-utopian discourse that Katz-Kimchi showed to be so characteristic of the Internet industries in the United States in the 1990s was imported to Israel along with Internet technologies themselves; however, while the press rapidly adopted that discourse, the people who were actually providing access to those technologies, the engineers who set up Israel’s first ISPs, hardly spoke about the relationship between Internet and society at all. While popular commentators wrote excitedly about how the Internet opened up Israel to the world, the individuals who owned the companies that made this possible remained extremely locally oriented.
The spread of the Internet around the world was a material, infrastructural, and political process, as shown by Chapters 3 and 4. This chapter has shown that it was also a discursive process. Furthermore, though, this chapter has demonstrated that the two need not go together, or at least are not borne by the same agents. We have seen here how the people most involved in the material diffusion of the Internet quite markedly set themselves apart from the discursive aspects of the process (“There are people who think it’s good, there are people who think it’s bad. It’s a matter of opinion”). In doing so, they also reject technologically determinist understandings of the Internet.
In sum, it would appear that the closer they were to the actual provision of the Internet to people’s houses in Israel of the mid-1990s, the further the actors referred to here were from the global discourse of technological utopianism, and the less likely they were to talk in the technologically determinist fashions described above. Notably, the ISP founders and the Internet pioneers spoke in a much less deterministic way than journalists writing for the press. For instance, they appear to have avoided falling into the pitfalls of the first sense of technological determinism–that technologies develop and spread according to their own internal logic. Perhaps this was because they were involved in the machinations of bringing it to the Israeli public. They could see that it did not just mystically “arrive” in Israel, but was rather imported by specifiable individuals under specific institutional conditions. Some of them had worked in university computing authorities; some of them sat on government committees; all of them were fully aware of the political and bureaucratic processes at hand in bringing the Internet to Israel and opening it up to the general public. Rather than experiencing the Internet as a global phenomenon spreading to Israel as a matter of course, then, these people were witness to, and part of the struggles to bring it to Israel.