Rather than having sparked off a revolution in international communication, the Internet is a technology on the basis of which a global culture may unfold and become established in evolutionary fashion – in a process that may extend over many decades, perhaps centuries. Yet even this developmental prognosis rests on as yet shaky foundations. One might also argue that, in terms of actual use, the Internet, despite its potential to network the globe, has never been primarily a global system of communication. The tendency of national and regional interconnections to increase more rapidly than international ones with the help of the Internet may be intensified. Cultural peculiarities may even be reinforced; cultures may move further apart.
All the problems we have looked at – from linguistic ability and the digital divide through the issue of the global perception of distance and quality control to the Internet’s negligible capacity to mobilize at the national and international level – cast some doubt on the vision of a global public sphere, let alone the emergence of an Internet-based “global village” of the kind once imagined by famous Canadian media studies scholar Marshal McLuhan. The world in the Internet age has moved closer together in many ways, but this closeness is deceptive and – where it exists at all – limited to specific events, language areas, regions, and an informational elite, although a growing one, that can afford Internet access. For brief moments – revolutions, world events – the world may even appear to be a village, but these moments pass quickly and in everyday life it is local and regional circumstances that usually dominate. The “global village” of the Internet then emerges as a vast and complex “global megacity.”