The Internet offers the hope of a more democratic society. By promoting a decentralized form of social mobilization, it is said, the Internet can help us to renovate our institutions and liberate ourselves from our authoritarian legacies. The Internet does indeed hold these possibilities, but they are hardly inevitable. In order for the Internet to become a tool for social progress, not a tool of oppression or another centralized broadcast medium or simply a waste of money, concerned citizens must understand the different ways in which the Internet can become embedded in larger social processes. In thinking about culturally appropriate ways of using technologies like the Internet, the best starting-point is with people -- coherent communities of people and the ways they think together. Let us consider an example. A photocopier company asked an anthropologist named Julian Orr to study its repair technicians and recommend the best ways to use technology in supporting their work. Orr took a broad view of the technicians' lives, learning some of their skills and following them around. Each morning the technicians would come to work, pick up their company vehicles, and drive to customers' premises where photocopiers needed fixing; each evening they would return to the company, go to a bar together, and drink beer. Although the company had provided the technicians with formal training, Orr discovered that they actually acquired much of their expertise informally while drinking beer together. Having spent the day contending with difficult repair problems, they would entertain one another with "war stories", and these stories often helped them with future repairs. He suggested, therefore, that the technicians be given radio equipment so that they could remain in contact all day, telling stories and helping each other with their repair tasks.

Building an Internet Culture