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Cultural Transformations through New Media in the Philippines

The second keynote speaker in this session at Mobile Media 2007 is Raul Pertierra, who shifts our focus to the Philippines. He asks whether the social changes now observable in the Philippines may require new theoretical models for their understanding much as the changes to society in the early industrial age required new theories at that time. This is even in spite of the still relatively limited take-up of new technologies in the Philippines, with a 15% Internet penetration and a 50% take-up rate for mobile telephony.

Modern society is highly liquid, modern culture is highly individualised, and globalisation produces local effects; the global is a condition sui generis, and the cosmopolitan is at home everywhere, and preferably elsewhere; the landscape of society, culture, and technology is changing in front of our own eyes, and in response to our own interactions. How is this affecting the traditionally orally based Filipino culture, which is now a major user of SMS (with use at 10 times the global average), and has 25% of its workforce located abroad? Its society has a very strong private and a weak public culture; its public sphere is an unclaimed territory open to predatory acquisition (mainly by adept politicians, but also by everyday citizens). The social structure is characterised by the gift economy, and based on consociation; trust is severely limited and includes only close friends and kin, and so Filipinos try to personalise their contacts either through intermediaries or the establishment of an elaborate system of personal relationships.

The mobile allowed the expansion of networks which were previously impossible; it made quotidian exchanges possible. This took place within a very brief time, as compared to the Western experience, but at the same time such relationships still employ conventional notions of personhood. Much of the exchanges through such networks still only involve close friends and relations, and remain relatively banal; the main use of such messages is to maintain the relationships themselves. In addition, there are also text-only relationships which do not translated into the offline environment. Such uses imbue the mobile with a significant personal value, the phone becomes an extension of the person, and its loss is acutely felt.

The mobile is therefore a technology of transformation, and banality has a significant role to play in this context; it provides a reassurance in the context of an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world. New media also provide a new space for cultural participation and interaction, and the development and exploration of different personas. This significantly changes social relationships, and allows new spheres for sociality to emerge. However, most such changes are also increasingly being able to be absorbed into the continuously changing systems themselves.

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