Thursday, February 7, 2013

On the Road: Alexa's Travels Part 2

A beautiful peacock-in-residence in the arts building on the campus of University of Western Australia, Perth. He clearly owns the place.

Alexa on Shakespeare Around the Globe, Part 2


Speaking on touring performances while grappling with demanding international travel itineraries and writing several talks over the Atlantic and Pacific definitely brought home the idea of arts perpetually in transit. The experience also gave me a new perspective on globalization. “Global village,” as it turns out, is a cheap slogan detached from reality. The sheer distance to be traversed and all the oceans to be crossed are a sobering reminder of the importance of rooted cosmopolitanism and of locality.


This digital humanist takes the lesson to heart. Reading and writing are always done from somewhere rather than nowhere. Archives that are born digital have the capacity to both eradicate and preserve a sense of place. Travel restores a sense of place to our visceral and virtual experiences. This is one of the points I made in my keynote at the 2012 Book:Logic conference on “Text Editing and Digital Culture” at University of Western Australia, Perth.




The point-to-point distance has implications not only for globetrotters but also for Web surfers. This impressive submarine fiber-optic communications cable map shows the round trip latency, bandwidth limitations, and signal delay increasing with the distance:



During my trip to Australia, I discovered that the Internet is simply slow “Down Under” for the reasons outlined above. For example, to show a streaming video clip during my talk in Perth, I have to send a signal to a server in Building 56 at MIT which hosts Global Shakespeare. The signal has to either cross vast deserts on the Australian continent before arriving in Sydney for one of the trans-Pacific cable links to the western seaboard of the United States, or follow the cables from Perth through Jakarta, the Indian Ocean, Cape Town, Lagos, the Atlantic Ocean, and Fortaleza (Brazil), to reach the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

A walk down the memory lane in the hilly neighborhood of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
This is not some Disneyfied theme park, but rather how the residents carry out their daily life. 
In literary history as in life, there is no such thing as universalism. In fact, the “virtual” world without borders promised by Internet triumphalism has multiple limitations imposed by international Internet traffic flow and speed, and boundaries imposed by nation-states. International Internet access means something entirely different to users on the African continent. If you live behind the infamous “Great Firewall” in China, Facebook, YouTube, and even some academic email services are inaccessible unless you have acquired certain Web-based gymnastic moves. Even when censorship is not an issue, South Korea’s Daum tvPot and China’s Tudou.com and Youku.com are far more accessible and popular than what can sometimes be perceived as the universal video platform of choice, YouTube. UNESCO’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development predicts that by 2016 forty per cent of the world’s population, or 3 billion people, will be using the Internet, and English will no longer be the dominant language for Internet contents. If you have traveled outside your comfort zone—defined by your linguistic repertoire and cultural knowledge—these insights will come at no surprise.

In plain English: the world is (still) a big place!







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