MeFi Americacentrism January 22, 2001 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to the Internet, an international medium. Posts like this one have the unfortunate effect of positioning "American" as the invisible center or unstated norm against which all others are judged. This doesn't foster a community inclusive of those who aren't from the United States and reflects a narrower view of the world than most of us would like to cultivate. I'm trying to get in the habit of always referring to the U.S. specifically rather than with a personal pronoun. Won't you join me?
posted by sudama to MetaFilter-Related at 5:08 PM (14 comments total)

Yep, that's a good idea, I've always tried to do that, and will make an effort to do it everytime.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:52 PM on January 22, 2001

First it's the Earth that's not the center of the universe and now it's USA. I suppose the next thing you are going to say is that I'm not the center of the the universe.
posted by john at 11:22 PM on January 22, 2001

Thank you, sudama. As a non-American, the use of 'us' and 'we' when refering to the U.S. and 'them' when refering to anywhere else really sticks out.
posted by Markb at 1:58 AM on January 23, 2001

I agree with the sentiment.

Unfortunately, "foreigners" like myself and Markb are still vastly out-numbered here so I would expect to see U.S. parochialism to remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future.

posted by lagado at 5:24 AM on January 23, 2001

Parochialism is inescapable. I'd rather have people write intelligently on what they know, than make vague speculations on things they don't: that's why I've learned loads from MeFi.

That said, I'm with Markb on the skewing that comes from "we"/"them" thing, especially when the "us" position is one that puts the US in a minority of one.
posted by holgate at 12:47 PM on January 23, 2001

On the Net, Americanism is the norm. The Net was created here, most of its development was here, and the majority of English-speaking users are Americans. That's just the way it is, for better or worse.

Perhaps Matt could code in something (heh heh) to let everyone put their country of origin on their info page, so that if you have a question of where someone's coming from, so to speak, you can just click on their name and find out. FreeRepublic put in something like this a while back.
posted by aaron at 3:15 PM on January 23, 2001

They do that on SITO, everyone gets a little flag. I was *amazed* how many contributors turn out to be from Andorra or Antarctica or the Maldives.
posted by rodii at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2001

Yeah, that's what FreeRepublic does, little flags. The flags even wave, courtesy of animated gifs; here's one example. Unfortunately, it doesn't actually name the state, so unless you really know your state flags, it's not a lot of help.
posted by aaron at 8:23 PM on January 23, 2001

aaron: for worse. isn't it great when the world wide web doesn't actually include the whole wide world? i'm sure imperialism was exactly what tim berners-lee had in mind when he invented the web at CERN (which is in geneva, switzerland, btw).

americanism is the norm -- to americans at least, since most of you don't really know that much about the rest of us anyway. i'm sure the millions of non-english-speaking mainland chinese online who are probably going to outnumber all the english-speakers combined in the next three years are going to care about americanisms, and ignore the millions of localized chinese portals in order to use english language portals that don't even have their local weather, as i'm sure dot-coms and advertisers are going to completely ignore the largest market on earth and concentrate on the teeny tiny US population. or not.
posted by lia at 9:22 AM on January 24, 2001

Sudama, THANKYOU!!

Could someone tell me if Blogvoices is just for Americans also? I should have checked, but kind of just went ahead assumed that it was......
posted by lucien at 1:32 PM on January 24, 2001

Of course now I see how the post that started this thread was itself guilty of ... whatever.
posted by sudama at 2:23 PM on January 24, 2001

lia, Berners-Lee invented the Web. He did not invent the Internet, which had already existed for 20 years when he came up with the idea. And the Net was invented in America, and developed mainly in America during those decades.

Like it or not, Americans made up the gigantic majority of Internet (and Web) users for eons. And it's going to take time for everyone else to come online in sufficient numbers to before the "norm" changes. That's just the way it is. It's not a moral statement.

Besides, you posted a Filipino link with no outward indication of it being about Philippines politics, so why should we Americans have to go out of our way to note "This is an American link" in our posts? Besides, I knew what your link was about without you having to state explicitly the country it was coming from; I think others are equally able to determine what links are "American."

I mean, what could be more comfortably multinational than if we all just posted our stuff without having to worry about labelling it in the first place?
posted by aaron at 11:04 PM on January 24, 2001

I'd argue about the precise national origins of the Net and its protocols -- and I think Vint Cerf and his peers would be equally equivocal. (Judging from recent lectures, Manuel Castells' forthcoming social history of the Net will be a great read.)

But: this isn't something that can be programmatically solved. As I said earlier, the best discussions come from people sharing their own experiences, offering snippets to contradict assumptions, shading in the apparent black/white polarities that are often embedded in two-party systems. I think MeFi does this well.

As for aaron's "the majority of English-speaking users are Americans": well, if you expand that to "users with English as a language", things get much more interesting. (I always like the Slashdot stories where the most eloquent threads are conducted by Scandinavians...)
posted by holgate at 11:24 AM on January 26, 2001

While I said that parochial attitudes are inevitable, i don't think they need to be compulsory.
posted by lagado at 8:12 PM on January 28, 2001

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