Saturday, March 10, 2007

Global Neighbourhoods vs. Global Ghettos - the language problem

I deeply appreciate the efforts by Shel Israel of Naked Conversations fame to compose a new book entitled Global Neighbourhoods [sic], but I am still hung up on a problem which he himself has acknowledged: the language barrier.

I agree that the concept of a global neighborhood is very relevant and will be increasingly more relevant in the years and decades to come. The Internet and Web really do breakthrough a lot of geographical, political, economic, social, cultural, and technical barriers, enabling people from around the world to communicate, meet, and organize in "global neighborhoods", but natural language is still a huge barrier, effectively partitioning the universe of global neighborhoods into language-specific global ghettos, communities between which little communication is possible.

Luckily, quite a number of people have learned English as a second language, at least enough to be able to read it and possibly even scribble some rough blog posts, but vast numbers of otherwise intelligent people from many cultures around the world either do not know English or even if they can read it are not comfortable putting themselves out there to be assaulted by the kind of shoot-from-the-hip "cowboy" bloggers who [over-]populate the Blogosphere.

Of course, we do have "anonymous" forms of communicating on the Internet and Web that make it possible to communicate even when we aren't completely comfortable, but there is something about anonymity that doesn't quite seem consistent with the theses of global neighborhoods.

Incidentally, that is one reason to encourage real-world meet-ups for people in "global neighborhoods": a lot of people may feel more comfortable in real-world, face-to-face meet-ups, especially where a little "social lubrication" can eliminate some of the cold harshness of the raw, devil-may-care Blogosphere.

In any case, I'm sure there will be all manner of technical and semi-technical "solutions" in the coming years and decades that will lower if not eliminate language barriers. For example, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would willingly translate blog posts and comments between languages if only there were an infrastructure in place to support web-service translation services.

But for now, the natural language barrier is formidable indeed.

I do hope that Shel includes at least part of a chapter on language barrier issues and opportunities.

Even in an average workplace, language and cultural barriers are issues, even today.

In the category of opportunities, photography, music, and video can be used to facilitate cross-language sharing, assuming at least a minimal level of language-neutral tagging.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 11:30 AM EDT , Anonymous shel israel said...

I greatly appreciate this post. The new book will have a chapter on the Darkside of the neighborhood. I've talked with both an Italian and an Estonian who started online social neighborhoods. They got close to 100 percent market shares in their countries, but moving on was quite difficult. Language is a huge barrier and translation technology is moving forward very, very slowly.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home