In the preceding pages we have seen how the Internet arrived from the United States to Israel, how the field of commercial Internet provision was established and its rules institutionalized, and how the actors involved in those processes interpreted them in relation to the dominant public discourse of technological utopianism. Finally, we saw how even the seemingly trivial task of representing Hebrew letters on web pages is saturated with struggles that tie into the same processes of globalization that were highlighted in the three previous chapters.
I see this research as belonging under the rubric of Internet studies, despite the fact that it appears quite different from the studies that populate that genre. In the introduction I suggested that one reason for the lack of studies such as the current one within the field of Internet studies is that researchers of the Internet tend to come from various disciplines and bring their theoretical tools with them from those disciplines: the expert on social capital wants to find out how the Internet affects holdings of social capital; the lawyer wants to discuss the legal implications of the Internet; the anthropologist wants to explore the possibilities of conducting ethnographies among online communities; and so on. All of these researchers are certainly studying the Internet, but by and large they are blind to the technology itself. This study, however, focuses precisely on the technology: on the cables and wires that carry the Internet around the world; on the legal and administrative processes that are called into play as the Internet reaches a new country; on the pages of code that tell our Internet browsers what a Hebrew word should look like on our screen. Thus, while not driven by a new social phenomenon such as Internet dating or the uses of social networking sites, this study nonetheless sheds light on the social contexts in which the processes described in the above chapters are embedded.
This is not to say that the way that the Internet is becoming an integral part of new social forms is not interesting and important–of course it is–but the modest point made throughout this dissertation is that we ought to problematize the very technology behind those new social forms and not merely take it for granted. By not taking the technology for granted, this study shows that the infrastructure behind the Internet is also a social phenomenon with a political economy, no less than the social and cultural forms that are based on that infrastructure. This project thus makes an original contribution to the field of Internet studies. The very writing of this dissertation is in itself an argument about how the Internet might be studied, just as an architect makes a statement about how houses can be designed through the way she designs houses.
Furthermore, because it is the first study to deploy the tools of STS in order to research the Internet as it does, this dissertation also makes a contribution to Science and Technology Studies. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, the kind of STS-informed research into Internet technologies that I have presented here has not previously been undertaken. Surprisingly, STS specialists seem to have been taking for granted a technology that has been almost literally under their noses for the last fifteen to twenty years. This is even more surprising given that many studies in STS have investigated precisely those everyday technologies that we take most for granted, such as microwave ovens and bicycles. It would appear almost rudimentary, therefore, to apply the insights from STS to the Internet. This is precisely what I have done here in a number of different ways. By doing so I would like to think that I have opened the door to further similar studies: firstly, a similar approach to the one adopted here could be taken up in relation to the arrival of the Internet to other countries; secondly, there are other Internet technologies that could be treated with the tools of STS–for instance, this study finishes long before wireless Internet was introduced to Israel.
As explained in the introduction, any future STS-based studies into Internet technologies would not necessarily share the same primary theoretical concern exhibited by this research, namely, globalization. Each of the previous four chapters dealt with the Internet and globalization in a different way: chapter 3 looked at the micro level processes involved in the global spread of Internet technology; chapter 4 presented the ways that the ISP industry in Israel quickly became a global one, leaving businessmen with a more local orientation behind; chapter 5 discussed local uses of the global techno-utopian discourse, including how it is ignored by certain groups of actors; finally, chapter 6 revealed the negotiations between the local and the global in the solution to the problems of presenting Hebrew on web pages, a solution that is global in scope and profoundly local in its implementation and possible consequences for non-English languages.
Much of the current study is clearly indebted to Saskia Sassen’s work on globalization. Firstly, the Internet can be seen as a multiscalar global phenomenon, whether we conceive of it as a factor driving globalization or as a consequence of processes of globalization (though I prefer to see the Internet and globalization as constituent of one another, and I find the notion that one causes the other not to be very useful). Indeed, throughout this text I have shown how the Internet is a global phenomenon that is constituted locally. As I have told it, the story of the institutionalization of the Internet in Israel is as much about the rezoning of local dialing codes and the establishment of kibbutz-based ISPs as it is about the entrance of global capital into the emerging ISP industry. Likewise, the local relations between Israeli ISPs as the Israeli telecoms incumbent, Bezeq, are as much a part of the story as is the opening of the Israeli chapter of the Internet Society and the allocation of the .il suffix.
Secondly, as per Sassen, this study shows how the Internet as a global phenomenon is something that is produced (both locally and globally), as well as how globalization itself is produced, looking at this process through the prism of the Internet. For example, the Internet in Israel was produced through the legislation and administrative regulations that enabled it to be provided to private customers; similarly, it was produced through the work of the Internet pioneers in persuading the government and businesses of its potential value to them;
In particular, the individuals whom I interviewed for this study, as well as others whom I did not meet, represent a range of positions on a scale between local and global. Of course, there are ways today in which even the most “local” people in western societies are global–everyone consumes American culture in one way or another. However, not everyone identifies with global business communities to the same extent; put more broadly, not everyone has a “global habitus”. Thus, there were people involved in the diffusion of the Internet to and within Israel whose orientation was entirely local, especially the founders of the small ISPs–for those based in the north of the country even a trip to Tel Aviv seemed like a big deal. And on the other hand, certain people were quite markedly part of the Transnational Capitalist Class–they had lived in more than one country; they felt comfortable in different cultural settings; their social and business networks spanned national boundaries; their management understanding was drawn from the United States; and so on.
In other words, while the Internet can be seen as a multiscalar global phenomenon in terms of the institutions that it calls into play, the very people involved in the process of its diffusion also represent different levels of globalism. Bringing Sassen’s two major insights together, then, the multiscalarity of the Internet also applies to the very people who “produced” it in the Israeli context. In relation to the notion of cosmopolitanism, my research clearly shows that you can be entirely non-cosmopolitan and yet play a key role in the diffusion of a global form. At the same time, though, my findings also indicate that as Israel became more tightly tied in to global cultural and economic processes, actors with a more global orientation or with access to global capital had a distinct advantage in the field.
Also in relation to globalization theory, I have shown in this study how struggles over Israeliness impacted on the shape of the Internet in Israel. I observed in the Introduction that research into the local adaptations undergone by global products takes the local context to be a homogenous entity. However, the divisions in the field of Internet provision that I detailed in Chapter 4 show that the “Israeli context” was far from a unified entity. Specifically, there were disagreements over the role of the state in the management of the Internet, the place of the telecoms monopoly in Internet provision, and, for a while at least, the question of who should be allowed access to the Internet in the first place. These questions were not only practical matters, and the actors’ approaches to them reflected wider views of society. Moreover, the way they were ultimately settled is actually constitutive of the form of the Internet in Israel. Thus we can see how disagreements over the very definition of “Israeli society”, or the “Israeli context” were essential in the local adaptation of the Internet and in the shape it and the Internet service provision industry came to take.
The Internet in Israel has played a central part in that society’s globalization. It has made foreign cultural goods more easily accessible to Israelis, and Israeli cultural goods more easily accessible to those outside the country; it has been the backbone of Israel’s burgeoning hi-tech industry, the exports of which have become increasingly important to the Israeli economy. The Internet is part of (certain) Israelis’ image of the country as an advanced western society. All of these issues are worthy of separate study, but in this dissertation I have gone backstage, to the cables that carry the Internet to Israel; to the state-level decisions that were needed in response to the new reality that the Internet represented; to the protocols for representing Hebrew letters on websites. I have pointed to certain individuals as central to the process of bringing the Internet to Israel and I have analyzed the struggles between the state and various bodies and individuals in the institutionalization of the Internet in Israel. In doing so I have shown how a study of the Internet can fruitfully deploy the theoretical and methodological tools provided by the tradition of Science and Technology Studies. By treating the Internet as a part of the globalization of Israeli society and Israel’s political culture, I have also shown how it is a multiscalar phenomenon produced by the actions and decisions of identifiable individuals and organizations, both large and small. In trying to understand how the Internet has been part of processes of globalization in Israel, I have shown that infrastructure matters.