7.3 Native N-Geners
Native youth could be following examples set by
mainstream kids today: They resisted control of the Net with shared
music distributions systems (MP3s and Kazaa, a new peer-to-peer
music application which has replaced Napster and Gnutella), and will
work to keep cyberspace free in the future. Donald Tapscott says
that "for the first time in history, children are more comfortable,
knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation
central to society" (1998: 1).
N-Geners developed their own, non-exclusive
approaches, such as Gnutella, where "members of a network using
Gnutella software in essence form a search engine of their own that
expands its search exponentially." The system has been shut down by
major corporations holding copyright, through actions in the U.S.
courts, as has Napster. Nonetheless, the way the system works is
typical of distributive software, and its democratic intent: "When a
Gnutella user has a query, the software sends it to 10 computers on
the network. If the first 10 computers don't have the file, each
computer sends it to 10 other computers and so on until, designers
say, an estimated million computers would be looking for it in just
five to 10 seconds. The program could theoretically check every site
on the Web." (Cha 2000). This is networking, working together, for
the good of the group. Kazaa continues in this tradition.
The very existence of these free-distributed
networks is a statement about the wild nature of the Web and how
impossible it seems to be for any dominant group to claim it. It is
also a dramatic display of how easily the Net (and society) can be
transformed or at least shaken by smart computer programmers who are
in their teens.
Communities are changing as well. Children are born
into cyberspace and thus assimilate it; adults can only hope to
accommodate. Since the kids are the authority, family members must
begin to "respect each other for what their authorities actually
are. This creates more of a peer dynamic within families" (Tapscott
Innovations such as the printing press, radio and TV
are "unidirectional and controlled by adults" whereas the "new media
is interactive, malleable, and distributed in control... (and)
children are taking control of critical elements of a communications
revolution" (1998: 26). The youth-elder power relation is shifting.
This must be even more so in Native communities, and
those communities built on family and extended family, where the
computer has already begun to show its downside in terms of family
There is idealism in this youthful propensity for
sharing, perhaps more akin to traditional Native ways: "N-Geners...
find power on the Internet because it depends on a distributed, or
shared, delivery system" (unlike the media), and "this distributed,
or shared power is at the heart of the culture of interaction"
(Tapscott 1998: 79). Cyberspace is a place for youth to interact.
This sharing can also be individually empowering.
Foucault presciently talked about the "Web of power," stemming from
the "incitement to discourse" about a subject, leading to "increased
knowledge on that subject, which leads to power. Power comes from
any person who starts a discussion, the discussion forms a web
outward to the discussion group, weaves its way out from there to
other conversations, and sometimes even returns along the same or
new paths to where it started" (1998: 79). Usenet email groups,
websites, and chat groups all have these qualities.
The decentralization of power through "open" and
"distributed network" programs such as Freenet, Linux and Gnutella
has revived the romantic dreams of many a cyberspace pioneer; a free
realm where no information gatekeeper exists and where all property
is commonly owned. The developers of Gnutella ranged in age from 26
to 16; they were motivated by a love of "invention, freedom and
transformation." Gnutella reached over 10,000 machines, storing
perhaps two million song files. It is said that "none of the
400-plus people who subscribed to the various Gnutella developers'
email lists dared to bring up business proposals." (Cha 2000).
This may have been true of young developers from the
mainstream, but I suspect that youth in the communities are doing
just that today - trying to find ways to use the Net to generate
interest, and income. In remote communities, the Net may serve to
provide an essential link to the mainstream, one that could help
keep youth in the community. At this time, it is a long shot, given
low access rates and lack of training, but it may be a way to the
future that can further bridge the Two Worlds.
Next: 7.4 Freedom for the People?
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