Nina Wakeford goes to pains in order to refute earlier claims that the internet existed in a plane apart from human physicality and its limitations by opting to look at how England’s internet cafes have become a means by which “virtuality” becomes a “social accomplishment” (Wakeford 381). The connection between the internet and human physicality, at least in terms of what Wakefield is presenting, occurs in the smaller cafes, where they have opened to fill a niche need in their respective communities. As such, the internet may actually be somewhat secondary, where socialization becomes a primary driver of success for each of the businesses, “What is crucial at CheapCall and Colours are the ways in which links are made between local neighborhood populations, use of space and the role of the internet” (Wakeford 382).
Whereas, Faye Ginsburg disproves the assertion by demonstrating how people with disabilities have harnessed the capabilities of the internet in order to communicate with the world-at-large. Ginsburg provides case studies of people who not only are allowing internet users into their lives, but are doing so as art projects and educative opportunities. For example, Amanda Baggs film work is published via YouTube, and can potentially be seen by millions of viewers. The content uploaded by Baggs introduces viewers to her life as someone with autism spectrum disorder (Ginsburg 102), which suggests the internet is now an extension of a person who would otherwise have not been able to reach out to people beyond those closest to her.
As is now known, internet access is only egalitarian in that most people in the west has some type of way of using it. This may be in the form of dial-up, DSL, broadband or satellite, but the evidence over the years proves there is nothing egalitarian about the speeds by which internet users receive their services; or whether they even have the ability to receive the internet at all. The primary reason for internet cafes has to do with a lack of internet access in some areas of London (Wakeford 384). It seems that at the beginning of the new millennium, internet access in London was reserved more for commercial application, or perhaps even for the rich or upper middle classes. City leaders had only started to consider internet access in 2002, that is in terms of being more democratic about how access could be parsed throughout the city, “a network of London policymakers is trying to forge links between London’s future as a digital city and the
socio-demographics of the city” (Wakeford 384). While Ginsburg argues to the contrary, online access for those who are disabled is far more egalitarian. Her arguments concerning the struggles to gain physical access to the outside world for those who are disabled seems almost a canard in the face of technological changes that are far more amiable towards the disabled. Her essay was published in 2014, when various technologies have been developed specifically for the disabled to use while on their computers. Yet, her criticisms as they relate to online access seem to spring more from her personal biases and experiences raising a child with a severe disability (Ginsburg 103).
There are specific technologies related to the internet that are used by all. For example, a device such as a computer, modems, routers and an internet service provider. But, the reasons, motivations and contexts for internet use differ. Ginsburg discusses her daughters’ frustrations concerning a dearth of representation of children with disabilities in popular media, and deciding to develop her own blog at 11 years of age (Ginsburg 105). The case of Amanda Baggs, who produced a YouTube video that invites viewers into her universe, introducing them to her language as someone who has lost the ability to verbalize when communicating with others (Ginsburg 102). Both are instances of individuals who had assumed leadership roles by overcoming “digital” deficits in order to educate others, establish their identities online, and to demonstrate how fully capable they are to the world-at-large. Another example is the case of Dan Habib, who accidently became a disability advocate by producing a documentary of his son, Samuel, who lives with cerebral palsy (Ginsburg 107). The overarching point is that their motivations for harnessing the internet differs significantly from the small internet cafes and those who access them. Customers at CheapCall and Colours not only visit the establishments for internet access, but also because they are places to socialize and work, “In each café there were complex and overlapping sets of spatial orders, which also related to other new technologies which are embedded in contemporary urban life in London” (Wakeford 387).
The internet of CheapCall and Colours was partially a marketing effort that not only brought online life to small London neighborhoods, but also met the needs of their members. CheapCall was built around the needs of a growing Somali population, while Colours was tailored for migrants from Turkey (Wakeford 388). So, when considering the internet in both cafes, and the fact that each is tailored to be community hubs for specific cultural and ethnic populations, the internet becomes somewhat secondary; or merely another element that attracts people to their doors. Hence, the internet is not the same for everybody, especially in terms of how it may be harnessed, or whether the emphasis is actually on internet access. The reasons, motivations, contexts and purposes differ.
- Ginsburg, Faye. “Disability in the Digital Age.” Digital Anthropology, edited by Heather A. Horst and Daniel Miller, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014, pp. 101-126.
- Wakeford, Nina. “The Embedding of Local Culture in Global Communication: Independent Internet Cafés in London.” New Media & Society, vol. 5, no. 3, 1 Sept. 2003, pp. 379-399, doi:10.1177/14614448030053005.