Techno-Cultural Asymmetry in Latin America

Present day technological assimilation processes offer new possibilities for the development of communities based on autonomous, distributed and collaborative networks. This opportunity places us at the cross-roads of a double-edged Latin American techno-cultural asymmetry paradigm. The following comparative analysis describes 10 New Media Latin American cultural initiatives contributing to the emergence of a new ‘Transamerican Culture.’


The LatinWare Meet-UP
“Once again, late for another on-line Meet-UP, like usual in our ‘Maestro Chasquilla’ – handyman – country. So of course, I got on my cell phone and started calling:
Me: Hello where are you, are you connected yet? 1st Friend: Hi. I am in San Pedro, because my Open Space in the city has no connectivity. Me again: Ok. Then let’s try to see if we can connect to Skype. 1st Fiend again: Yes. But I don’t have anyone’s contact imagination. Me: Ok, ok. Just send me your user name and I will Bypass you.
She soon sent me a textuality with her data, and I transitioned her an invitation. She then called me once again and told me Skype didn’t work. Right at this time, my 2nd friend suddenly popped up on the desktop and said:
2nd Friend: Hey man, it’s my first time on Skype. Me: It’s easy. We just have to simply bypass the system. 2nd Friend again: Yes, but don’t really know what I am doing, I really need to visualize. Me again: Ya, ya don’t worry. I will add you to the LatinWare Meet-Up ideology.
I immediately infoed him the step-by-step process, and managed to reconnect. Right at that point I got another cellphone call from 1st Friend. She streamed me about her tech difficulties, and that she hoped to subvert the future.
1st Friend: Hi. I am so sorry. I still have problems with the neo-liberal software. It works but informs me that “I will never be connected”. Me: Ok. Try hacking the system. I will let 2nd Friend know about the tech asymmetry.1st Friend again: I have already tried restarting and reprogramming several times, and no change, the system will just not work!!! Me: No, no let’s try to figure out how to Trans-culturize. We must depolarize.
At this point, I found out she was connected on G-Talk. So we create a digital-analog bypass for the rhizomatic transformation. I had to physically placed one laptop on top of the other, thus another low-tech retooling solution for a Non-Problem.” [1]

According to international market research statistics, during the last decade Latin America has undergone the third largest internet user growth rate, alongside with the Middle East and Africa, which hold second and first place respectively. But overall for the period 2000 to 2010, Latin America has had the largest global increment of internet users, rising from 18 million to 226 million users. [2] This rapidly expanding social phenomenon is contributing to the rise of enormous social transformations that are inevitably incubating and establishing new associative, communicational and productive organizational and political social structures.

Latin America – together with other technological expanding world regions – is undergoing an exponentially expanding technological assimilation scenario, which offers a unique opportunity for the re-organization and subsequent implementation of new types of socio-political models based on the establishment of locally inspired forms of distributed and collaborative networked communities. This new social networking scenario -characterized by self – organization and self-regulation – places emerging and underdeveloped regions at the cross roads of a double-edged ‘Techno-Cultural Asymmetry’ transitional historical context.

‘Techno-Cultural Asymmetry’: Refers to the technological and cultural differences amongst regions or nations concerning their distinct communities or geo-political areas. The extent of the differences depends on the levels of social development and technological assimilation of each area and their characteristics regarding their, technological engagement, cultural identity and/or economic prosperity. It is a recent phenomenon product of processes that accompany technological proliferation and globalization, generally associated with the emergence of counter-cultural social movements and inspired by ‘Open Culture’ ideology.[3]

Unfortunately, this techno-cultural condition is also creating a contradictory dilemma concerning social empowerment and political control. On the one hand, technology is facilitating people’s access to web 2.0 communicational tools and information, which in turn facilitates the implementation of distributed and collaborative networks, but on the other hand, decontextualized regulating policies and associative methodologies conditions restrict their usability and impose developed strategies fostered primarily by an exo-centric and hegemonic global context.

Nevertheless, this apparent conflicting cultural scenario of empowerment vs. control may also be viewed as an opportunity, due to the fact that for the first time in Latin American history access to on-line content – creation and publication – and the establishment of collaborative networks are relatively inexpensive and easy to acquire at least for the majority of Latin America’s new media cultural industry stakeholders, independent agents and consumers.

Within this complex and rapidly shifting techno-cultural scenario it would be expected – according to market projections regarding technological penetration – that most of Latin Americans will soon have the opportunity to engage with new and improved web 2.0 tools and information, therefore may one day be able to re-appropriate and re-invent their social, economic and political public domain. That is of course if socio-political conditions don’t undergo radical changes.
A preamble to this pro ‘Open Culture’ condition may be exemplified by the fact that during recent years, countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay have managed to propose and implement the use of free software within their respective governmental administrative apparatus. The adaptation of this free software policy, in all cases has been twofold: It was carried out in order to reduce administrative and logistic government operational expenses, and to promote the public’s appropriation of “Open Culture” tools and ideology.

These counter hegemonic political strategies by four Latin American governments may in some way exemplify the potential for the implementation of new social paradigm in the region, that may contribute to the establishment of positive and ‘neo-democratic’ social transformations. These Open Culture governmental policies are in part a consequence of Latin-America’s present day ‘Techno-Cultural Asymmetry’ phenomenon, which are rooted within a communal intensive cultural identity and ‘LatinWare’ style survival ingenuity and tactics, all of which play key roles in understanding recent techno-cultural assimilation and development processes.

The following section of this paper briefly describes 10 Latin American new media cultural initiatives which, in different degrees of engagement, promote and/or incorporate ‘Open Culture’ methodologies and tactics within their mission and operational mandates. Most of these organizations have been conceived and/or inspired by existing regional and local cultural expectations and foster and/or implement associative, communicational and productive ‘Open Culture’ methodologies and web 2.0 techniques. Through these practices, these and many other emerging organizations offer local and regional and local cultural communal spaces for the reflection and promotion of contextually informed and holistically imbued cultural practices.

It is interesting to note that within the following 5 institutional initiatives, most of them are made possible through funding and collaboration from foreign institutions. They include: Paralelo, Anilla Cultural, CCE Network, Plataforma Bogota.

  1. PARALELO: Euro-Brazilian Collaboration for the Promotion of Cultural Exchange for Sustainable Culture. Paralelo: Technology & environment, was a unique five-day project in Sao Paulo, Brazil, consisting of workshops, symposia and live events - supported and organized by the British Council in Brazil and the UK, hosted by the Museum of Image and Sound in Sao Paulo and the Centro Cultural de Sao Paulo, with the support from Mondriaan Foundation and Virtueel Platform in the Netherlands and the Arts & Humanities Research Council in the UK. It brought together artists and designers working with media from three different countries - Brazil, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to discuss different ways in which collaborations across disciplinary and cultural borders to enable research and new insights into global and local ecological problems. [4]
  2. ANILLA CULTURAL: An Iberoamerican-Funded Cultural Center Network. A New International Agora for Contemporary Cultural Initiatives. Anilla Cultural Latinoamérica - Europa is a co-creative, collaborative and participative network that links Latin America and Europe in the field of contemporary cultural initiatives incorporating the intensive use of the Information and Communication Technologies and the Second Generation of Internet. It has been articulated as a collective and innovative initiative to explore, generate and establish new forms of action and knowledge through networking that would allow access for people, groups, communities and countries to varied local and international experiences.  Sound art, film, dance, visual arts, performance, multimedia, net art, theatre, literature, video art, exhibitions, festivals and concerts are some of the various initiatives fostered by Anilla giving special attention to debate, research and experimentation through intercative conferences and the development of digital media libraries and multimedia laboratories. [5]
  3. TALLERES EN RED: AECID's Collaborative Network in Ibero-America promotes the creation of Shared Workshops and Educational Initiatives. The Network Workshops have been established as a proposal to generate and spread content related to art and web 2.0 communication technologies. These workshops have been organized by the Spanish Cultural Centres in Ibero-America and are open to everyone interested in these topics. This proposal has been developed through courses and workshops given by renowned artists, researchers and theorists. This platform has the following objectives: To generate knowledge, connect different spaces and realities while establishing itself as a free content production space open to the community. [6]
  4. PLATAFORMA BOGOTA: An Interactive Art, Science and Technology Laboratory. Plataforma Bogotá is a free-access laboratory that fosters production, research, training, and the promotion of art, science and digital culture. It is a space for creation that generates interdisciplinary crossings among a wide audience of different ages and training levels interested in carrying out projects for the development and use of Free Software, Open Source, and digital culture linked to art, science and technology. [7]
  5. ESCUELAB.ORG is an organization in Lima, Peru that fosters young creators, theoreticians and activists to project their ideas -conceived in the present- to design and built possible futures in which the gap between technology and society will be addressed through imagination. Escuelab offers a dynamic and modular study plan, focused on the development of projects, which combine disciplines usually practiced independently from each other. This action facilitates transdisciplinary knowledge in the fields of art, science, technology and new media. [8]

One can note that the following list of independent media labs is a recent phenomenon, since they have emerged only within the last 12 years, and most of these initiatives are concerned with regional and international based projects. For the purpose of this paper I will only describe a few of them but you may refer to other examples of New Media initiatives, which may be found within the independent Latin American project MapaSur. an online wordpress platform created and facilitated by Alejandro Duque. – You may view and add other local and new initiatives to this Map –

  1. MemLAB: An enterprise working on web and video projects, creating free open source software and promoting the idea of free video encoding through the Open Video Alliance. They also develop experimental software for video mapping, and have created a plug-in to allow streaming video in Wordpress. In addition they have created tools for interactive installations, scenery projections and a series of web solutions always using the largest possible number of free tools. They have also helped develop Lives, a video editing software in real-time, and in studio. They are part of the Open Video Alliance, a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to the creation and promotion of technologies, policies, and practices in free online video, and are responsible for several actions in Brazil. [9]
  2. AVLab: is a meeting platform for the creation and distribution of sound and visual arts from an open collaborative approach. Its objectives are: To offer a place providing information, didactic orientation, and distribution about today's sound and audiovisual creation. Also it seeks to promote encounters among people with similar interests: experimental and electronic music, sound art, and audio and video processing in real time, in general terms. [10]
  3. LabSurLab: is a network of independant initatives conformed by hacklabs, hackerspaces, medialabs and all kinds of laboratories and biopolitical collectives working from and for South America seeking to establish their own spaces for action and representation through experimentation and creation. [11]
  4. ArTeK: The Art and Technology Cultural Corporation – ArTeK – is a non-governmental and not-for-profit Chilean-based organization created by a group of multidisciplinary professionals in 1999, in order to foster the development of cultural initiatives and creative projects at the intersection of art, science and technology. ArTeK’s mission is to articulate and promote the integration of the arts and multidisciplinary creations, facilitate its access and dissemination, enhance their communication capabilities, offer training in various aspects, assist to stimulate its creative process and help to systematize the utilization of their resources. [12]
  5. RedCATsur: is a network of artists, scientists, engineers, theoreticians and institutions promoting communication and collaboration in art, science and technology in Latin America. The network welcomes discussions and critical analysis in the field of art, science and technology in Latin America as well as information on events, artists' works, organizations' programmes and projects. This initiative does not intend to duplicate other efforts in this area. RedCATsur proposes itself as an open space for discussion and collaboration, more than solely for information exchange. It aims to facilitate cooperation within Latin America but it is open to individuals and organizations from all regions. [13]

The five independent media arts organizations described above correspond to only a few grass-root cultural initiatives in Latin America. From the characteristics and content development of these organizations, one may start to comprehend and analyze the possibilities of the emergence of a new ‘Open Culture’ social paradigm. These organizational and operational models may play a key role in understanding the possible establishment of new types of associative and productive social models in Latin America, since they seem to surge from a symbiotic collective spirit of resistance to globalization.

Some of the commonalities of these new media initiatives are:

  • They investigate topics and issues related to: Sustainability, Open Culture and Self-Governance.
  • They use operational tactics such as: On-line Networking, Technological Retooling, Adaptive Thinking and Collaborative Creation.
  • Their organizational traits are characterized by a spirit of inventiveness, contextual awareness and pro-active coexistence.

Some cultural factors that foster cultural resistance in Latin America:

  • High costs for technological renewal.
  • The urgent need for self-governance.
  • The importance of traditional culture.
  • An overwhelming belief in spirituality.

Most of these factors seem to be part of – and emanate from – the inherent Latin American techno-cultural asymmetrical context. Therefore its people have the unique opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and associative collaborative methodologies in order to re-appropriate and re-create a sovereign reality.

These social transformational processes, at least within the Latin American New Media arts milieu, are in part feasible or are developing because of the community oriented collaborative spirit, and in part because of the self-organizational needs that arise in order to address taboo or suppressed social concerns. This sub-cultural emerging resistance has at its core the driving force of the independent futuristic spirit, which articulates the inherent appropriation/improvisational tactics and techniques in order to bypass and/or coexist in parallel to traditional social organizational models.

In conclusion, global technological and cultural assimilation in Latin America – and other parts of the developing world regions – seem to have encountered an inherent and genuine spirit of resistance. Most importantly, its people are appropriating themselves of technology in order to establish the necessary social interconnections and collaborative channels for establishing a new distributed socio-political structure. If all remains in due course it would be expected that this symbiotic exocentric counter-assimilation process will establish a rhizomatic, non-hierarchical, collaborative social system which – sooner or later – will re-shape, nurture and facilitate the emergence of a new ‘Transamerican Culture’.

References and Notes: 
  1. Text is inspired from a conversation of an on-line meeting between artists from ‘PostaSur2011’ Festival.
  2. Internet Usage Statistics, “The Internet Big Picture,” Internet World Stats' Web Site, March 31, 2011, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  3. Definition is inspired in 2007 by Tomas Dorta Ph.D., University of Montreal.
  4. Paralelo, “About Parlalelo,”, April 2009, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  5. Anilla Cultural's official Web Site, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  6. CCEBA, “Networked Workshops,” CCEBA's official Web Site, May 2011, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  7. Plataforma Bogotá's official Web Site, “¿Qué es Plataforma Bogotá?” July 26, 2011, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  8. Jorge Villacorta, “que?” Escuelab's official Web Site, January, 2009, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  9. MediaLab Prado, “Networking or Disappear,” MediaLab Prado's official Web Site, October 2006, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  10. Erica Gonsales, “MemeLAB,” The Creators Project's Web Site, June 22, 2011, (accessed August 10, 2010).
  11. Susana Aniara, “LabSurLab,”, April 2010, (accessed September 6, 2010).
  12. ArTeK, “About,” ArTeK's official Web Site, March, 2010, (accessed August 15, 2010).
  13. RedCATsur, “Red Latinoamericana de Arte, Ciencia y Tecnología,” ListaRedCatSur, (accessed August 10, 2010).