Democracy is only as good as the people, and information is only useful if those crunching the numbers possess sound, critical minds. Smartphones have allowed those in the furthest corners of the globe to have access to an almost unlimited library of ideas and data. How will they use it?
In America and other developed nations, unending streams of info have created a stubbornly chaotic new normal, with conspiracies growing like weeds and democracy coming to seem less like a village than a lynch mob. Will other people, unencumbered by our baggage, manage the modern arrangement in a saner way?
In a Washington Post piece, Caitlin Dewey writes of a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything with members of the Maasai tribe, who are already connected to the rest of us, which might be a blessing. An excerpt:
Earlier this week, Redditors were given a pretty neat opportunity: Two leaders from the Maasai tribe, a seminomadic people living in Western Kenya, signed on to do an “Ask Me Anything.” Redditors asked about the standard stuff: religious practices, diet, what people in the village do for fun. And then, inevitably, one user asked the chiefs to describe their favorite “kind of Internet porn.”
“They don’t believe it and don’t know what it is,” the chiefs’ interlocutor replied — to a giddily gleeful audience. “Don’t think or know about pornography. They are asking is it normal in America.”
The assembled Redditors went wild. It was their crowning achievement. They concluded that they had, in what may have been the Redditiest moment ever Reddited, introduced the concept of Internet porn to a culture that had not encountered it.
But what actually happened is slightly more complicated … and truthfully, more fascinating. Chief Joseph and Assistant Chief Leshan had, in fact, seen Internet porn before, because data-enabled mobile phones have actually become a huge part of even their remote, disconnected community.
As distant as the Maasai may seem from the modern world — the tribe has access to neither running water nor electricity, and many of the questions in the AMA centered on customs like drinking goats’ blood and circumcision without anesthetics — they do increasingly have access to forums like Reddit.
As Adam Schiller, the 24-year-old volunteer who set up the AMA, put it: “Imagine having porn before you have power.”•