Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Netizen - citizen of the Internet

Recently there's been a lot of discussion on the Internet Governance mailing list about the term netizen. What is it, what does it mean, should we push to have the term officially adopted...
So - online to the dictionary!
Merriam Webster Online
Main Entry: net·i·zen
Pronunciation: 'ne-t&-z&n also -s&n
Function: noun
Etymology: blend of net and citizen
: an active participant in the online community of the Internet

From all the discussion, seems to me that the term netizen is being used to refer to activists in the Internet space. i.e. people with a common mindset and goal, "a community or social purpose and that they would be active to support that purpose" .
Which is an exclusive club. Most citizens around the world are not activist, and do not share a common mindet and/or goal, nor do they often have a community or social purpose. So the netizen, like the citizen activist, is a special breed.

So basically, I agree with those who posit that the term is not inclusive of all the people who are online and use the resources of the Internet, and certainly is not inclusive of the ones who are not yet online. Suppose they come online and decide not to be activist? Would they not be netizens and have the rights afforded to such (if the language goes into the WSIS?)

Also, in the citizen space, there are many who do not actively advocate, but support by economic means (don't shop at Walmart and pay a bit more to support local small business for example). These may equate to those who in the push for open source software, would pay to support open source projects (e.g. Linux) rather than Microsoft (as long as it's easy enough to do so). So, commercial interests can be a form of activism.

In general, I've found that self-interest is the most sure motivator for most people. Very few are totally (or even partially) altruistic (when you really analyse their motives). So I also disagree with the negative color with which this discussion has painted such self-interest. Seems a bit idealistic and exclusionary to me.

Idealism is wonderful, but commercialism to an extent, as well as self-interest, has driven the recent massive growth of internet use. Coming from a developing country, use of ICTs is pushed by economic factors - in Trinidad, we use VOIP to save $$ when calling abroad - if the phone rates were lower, a lot of people wouldn't go to the trouble of using VOIP. A big Government push in community/household computer ownership was lobbied for by the computer salespeople. So the commercial interests did assist to an extent. If Google makes the net easier to use so that activists can get information easier and faster, is it a bad thing that they primarily do so to make money for themselves?

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