The big bad cultural takeover?

Could the technology revolution be forcing Western culture and principles on the Middle East?

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By  Eliot Beer Published  March 30, 2008

Almost anyone in a job with a fairly regular pattern has a tendency to develop a fairly limited - but intense - view of their area of work, be it installing IT systems, managing a team, or editing a magazine. Occasionally, though, something happens to make you question this myopic view, and broaden it out.

I recently had a visitor here in Dubai - an academic - who in the course of his stay picked up ACN and had a read. Later on, the subject of the magazine came up in conversation, and he mentioned he was fascinated by the "Western" tone of the stories, which held technologies, methods and individuals up as "heroes" and as "right". He also highlighted the preponderance of "business-speak" from most of the interviewees - again more evidence of the influence of the West.

At the time I argued - and he agreed - that this was in large part of the origins of modern ICT systems in the technological revolutions in the West and Japan in the last few decades. I also argued that, although the language around much of IT, including the business decisions, was couched in American and European terminology and principles, the ends to which IT can be the means are open to be anything at all, from a company run on Maoist principles, to an Islamic lender.

My visitor took issue with this, and said the reverse may very well be true - that Western principles would necessarily seep in to cultures - business or otherwise - that utilised the concepts, language and technology around ICT systems. Effectively, although not in these exact terms, he was arguing that modern ICT (and by extension, ACN) was a - very subtle - tool of Western hegemony, at a cultural level, rather than political.

This was a rather uncomfortable thought for me to consider - I have no particular wish to be the unwitting tool of anyone's hegemony, however peripheral. I would - and did - strongly suggest that technology is one area where different cultures can very much make it their own - see the internet, and its often uncomfortably diverse range of voices, as Exhibit A.

However, it strikes me that there may be a grain of truth in the idea that organisations in the Middle East may be taking on board more than just a set of servers, switches and software packages when they invest in IT. This is not necessarily a bad thing - especially if the whole package brings benefit to those that use it, and represents an addition to rather than a replacement of a culture.

But now that the region's organisations and businesses are venturing further down the path of sophisticated IT implementations, the time may have come for the Middle East to start developing its own IT culture, distinct from that in Europe, America, or anywhere else.

By this I mean more than the unique set of business considerations that shape the sector here in the region - I am suggesting the adoption of a new, and I use this word with care, paradigm of technology-based business and culture.

Of course, it may be that the Middle East already has this, and it is only my blinkered, Western eyes that are unable to see it. But although the seeds of this new culture may be germinating, I do not personally believe we have seen them grow and develop to their full extent.

If you have a view on this topic, write to me - eliot.beer@itp.com.

3907 days ago
theshadow

While technological determinism does indeed exist it impacts all societies, not just non-Western ones. Let us not forget that even Westerners couldn't "Google" anything even if they wanted to. In terms of creating new, culturally-specific technological paradigms, I'm not sure what you're looking for there. Information Technology iat its very core s about storing, sharing and manipulating data; a paradigm which is universal and without cultural bias. As for everything else - all the case-specific terminologies etc. etc. etc. - pretty much every operating system out there has multilingual support and some are almost infinitely customizable (i.e. Linux). As such, I don't see any concrete barrier for anybody seeking to develop a new culturally centric technological paradigm however I suspect that any such aims would ultimately be subservient to the real needs of maximum efficiency and productivity, in which case the existing models would make anything completely different effectively a non-starter.

3908 days ago
Paul

The academics insular comments are just that. Maybe other cultures have experiences and practices that can enhance your own culture rather than displace it. It's interesting in the Gulf that multi-culturalism is an idea that never sees the light of day. In the West it's held as the highest ideal, people from all backgrounds living side-by-side in harmony but not at the expense of any one group. In anycase, he's might be misplaced. A quick look at any organisation in the Gulf would see that the majority of IT functions are generally performed by low paid Asians.

3908 days ago
Firozali A. Mulla MBA PhD

The big bad cultural takeover? Eliot Beer I read and reread your article. I usually read one article once very fast and pick up few points to elaborate this for myself. I am a reporter as you are I use the yellow lighter very fast and random sadly at times. Mine is IT and economy. With HR. Many a times I repeat the word to make the clear distinction between what we read and whet we want others to read. Tell me. What has the Mao and Islamic leader have to do with your article. I keep on telling many that Mao is a political move and nothing to do with the religions. Many decipher Mao as atheists. Non-believer in God, Allah, Ram, Christ, creator for all purposes why haggle with the words when we have the knowledge? The Islam is a region. Where does this come in IT.? If you talk of the education, Egypt had very good math and we have picked up many threads from these old dynasties. Where is the cultural take over when all these days want to or have to learn the IT? There was a powerful wave in the California called the Silicon Valley, This had a big burst. Why? The asset factor of humans was neglected or misused. Now the same people have the Silicon Valley in Bangalore in Indai. In fact, the PC is used under the tree to outsource for many corporations. The winner. The human without any of use complicating the issues. All are happy very good math and we have picked up many threads from these old dynasties. Where is the cultural take over when all these days want to or have to learn the IT? There was a powerful wave in the California called the Silicon Valley, This had a big burst. Why? The asset factor of humans was neglected or misused. Now the same people have the Silicon Valley in Bangalore in Indai. In fact, the PC is used under the tree to outsource for many corporations. The winner. The human without any use of complicating the issues. All are happy. The West or the East, IT is thriving in all parts of the world and all seem to be working harmoniously for the same goal. from a company run on Maoist principles, to an Islamic lender. I thank you Firozali Mulla MBA PhD

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