It was irresistable, a hut  with a satellite dish in the lagoon around Huahine, one of the leeward islands of Tahiti. With apologies to Rogers & Hammerstein, this was my South Pacific moment:  Bali Hai, calling you!

I’ ve been taking pictures like this for years: photographic evidence – documentation? – of the worldwide spread of the info revolution. Everybody has.  My first was from the terrace of an archaeological research institute when I initially went to Jordan, well over a decade ago, to study the spread of the Internet into the Middle East. Arrayed below on the hill was a row of smaller, older, individual family homes with one or more satellite dishes on their roofs. In fields on both sides, shepherds tended flocks, practically a biblical – not to say neolithic – scene.  I used that shot to illustrate lectures, and to show students in courses, that the info rev indeed had a palpable global reality.

There’s more to that story, though. In the house at the bottom of the hill, those flocks were kept in an underground garage. The house was occupied by a member of a tribe that owned the land, and in Summer he erected a sort of bedouin tent on the terrace over his garage. Only some of the sheep were his, the rest belonging to tribesmen in the country, whose younger or poorer relatives did the herding, not least to keep tribal claims on the land fresh in everyone’s minds. The sheep were partly for the market, partly for feasts, and partly for showing the flag, four-legged members of the tribe that relieved the two-legged from constantly walking the perimeters of the property. Urban encroachment made this prime development land between garden-like grounds of the national university and almost-country homes of new elites.

There’s likewise more to the lagoon house with the satellite dish. I took this picture from the deck of a pearl farming workshop and showroom, also on stilts in the lagoon, that I and a dozen other tourists were visiting during an all-day excursion to snorkel on reefs and dine Polynesian style on the island in the background.  The hut with the satellite dish probably – I neglected to ask – belonged to the proprietor of the pearl farm. Close inspection shows it’s not really a hut, and outside the frame were others, on the beach rather than in the water, including a number of maison secondaire or weekend get-away places of people in the capital, Papeete, on Tahiti. Their piece of paradise, like the mountain cabins that some in my hometown, also a capital (Washington, DC), have for weekends away, a back to nature-and-culture combinations of a good view plus local products.

I saw other houses on stilts that did look more like huts, with nets hung to dry, in the lagoon of Huahine. This is a working (farming-fishing) island more than Moorea or Bora Bora, which modeled James Michner’s Bali Hai. Some had satellite dishes, too; but by then the water had become too rough and the sky too grey for so good a picture as this one as just a picture, a virtual fact in another story.

Back stories are the ethnographic grist for anthropological mills about culture that’s grounded in the world and not just in the gaze. The rest of this one is that almost everyone I met on that trip to Amman and in other Middle Eastern cities over the years has been working for even more years to bring, install, exploit, spread the Internet into their countries. Some were e-entrepreneurs fresh out of college; others were graduates from computer engineering programs two decades previously who had since been working behind the scenes to install their models into the soft infrastructures of their countries. Many were accomplished in the international and regional circuits from Silicon Valley universities and Boston area business colleges to the rounds of mid-level conferences on IT implementation where they’d come to know their counterparts in neighboring countries in pursuit of  their piece of the globalization pie. Bali Hai moments, too, for Internet Pioneers.

In a similar vein, Tahiti also is hardly so remote or exotic anymore.  Beyond globalization in the familiar economic sense – Tahiti ‘exports’ tourism by importing tourists, and thousands of Tahitians are on contemporary circuits of transnational migrants’ seeking work or education abroad – globalization is also social and cultural, which a satellite dish on a hut that is not just a ‘hut’ barely hints.  But that’s another story.

Explore posts in the same categories: Internet in the Middle East, satellite tv, wiredworld

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