Someone recently sent me a question through my Youtube Channel about in-built biases of search engines and other internet algorithms that run the vast synthetic machinery of the web and web commerce. This person wanted to see this tendency to treat, represent, or “tag” people from the middle East and elsewhere as form of Occidentalism. In my opinion, it cannot really be termed occidentalism, as occidentalism, by its very definition, is the pseudo-conservative way of saying that just as the Europeans Orientalized the East, the East also mobilizes the stereotypes of the West, as a practice that is, in the view of conservative scholars, called Occidentalism. I have suggested in one of my Youtube videos that occidentalism is a spurious concept. WATCH The Video.
Here I would like to suggest that the way the internet and the search engines offer up pre decided information about the Middle east or the Muslim world is an extended form of orientalism and it should be called Techno-Orientalism. So, simply stated:
Anytime an internet search, or a passive algorithm offers to the user an orientalized, exoticized, or a stereotypical view of the orient, the Middle East, or the developing word, it could very easily be termed a form of techno-orientalism.
This even goes beyond the search engines: if you have monetized your Youtube channel or any other website, you probably already know that the CPM is very Eurocentric and the countries of the North Atlantic regions get a much higher CPM compared to, for example, India or Pakistan. One could argue that it is because of the consumer driven nature of advertising, but there is no harm in acknowledging that those working on their websites in the West already have a definite advantage in comparison to other equally hard working and talented counterparts from the developing parts of the world. This then is also an factual and proveable form of techno-orientalism.
These are some of my preliminary thoughts on the concept and its implications. I will try to publish something formal on it soon but if you like the concept, I do encourage you to explore it and develop it further.
Most importantly, any time you use the term orientalism, please bear in mind that reading Said’s book and carefully understanding it is always the best first step in understanding orientalism as a concept.
How to Cite this Article: Raja, Masood. The Internet and the Techno-Orientalism of the Algorithms. Postcolonial Space. Link: https://postcolonial.net/2021/05/the-internet-and-the-techno-orientalism-of-the-algorithms/