Volume 13, Number 28
01 May

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This Week

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By the time you read this, the Fourth National Congress for Political Science and Public Administration Students (which is being held by Sosyal Bilimler Topluluğu and Yeni Ufuklar Kulübü) will be over.

Organizing such an event brings many positive and negative aspects. Besides the overwhelming tiredness and continuous worry about the potential problems, it's a great opportunity to contribute to something greater than myself and a great chance to listen to new people/ideas.

For instance, this morning (April 25th), we had a presentation on the effect of the Internet on political participation. Özgür Tezer, from METU, presented an elegant paper questioning the Internet's political aspect. An idea he mentioned was that despite the opportunities the Internet gives people to access different ideas, it already creates closed communities. The racist Internet forums are a great example of this, I think.

This claim seems to be very important to me, because it inverts all the ideas we have about "Web-politics" (hey, I've just invented a term again). Since the Internet is rarely studied scientifically by scholars, most of the ideas and generalizations we have about it emanate from the shallow observations done by non-experts like me. The mostly accepted common sense on the Internet claims that it increases communication between individuals. And this generalization automatically leads to another one: since individuals can communicate more through the Web, they will tend to exchange more ideas more often and this will lead to the abolishment of the abstract walls between communities.

But if this is the case, why do we have so many over-reactions against different ideas and life-styles these days? The massacre at Virginia Tech Campus, the tragedy towards missionaries in Malatya, the sectarian fights in Iraq, the killing of Hrant Dink, the rise of immoderate nationalism in many countries including Austria, Germany, Turkey and even Australia...

These all might seem like separate incidents, but once you try to define them, you face a common ground: unrest towards a particular belief, origin or life-style: in short, a particular "other."

The communication capacity of the Internet might seem contradictory with such a tendency, but the deeper you think about the real "opportunities" the Web provides, and the actual methods it is based on, the better you see that the Internet (and other technologies) gives people a gift they rarely had before: the might to ignore others.
This gift is welcomed by the users because (if I am to quote from Asst. Prof. Ersel Aydınlı), we finally understand that there are people different from us. "People," says Aydınlı, "are surprised because they encounter others. They were already there, but people didn't know they even existed."

Yes, through MSN Messenger or Yahoo! Chat, you can talk to anybody with an Internet connection. Yes, your television can show you anything in the range of a video camera. But how can the Internet or any other technology make you accept the differences while you always have an "ignore" button to completely delete a person from your messenger list or a remote control to change anything you don't like? If you can put your headphones on any time you want and pretend you don't hear the ones you don't like, does it matter how many different radio stations there are? Does the Internet connect you to "the world" or does it isolate you from it if you're a serious member of nihalatsiz.org? The answer is not as easy as it seems.

İsmail O. Postalcıoğlu (POLS/IV)

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