SOME NEW CHARACTERS
ICANN also known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers approved the use of Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and other non-Latin characters in domain names for the world wide web.
The decision came from the non-profit organization on October 30, 2009, after extensive debate in Seoul, Korea over how to make Internet more inclusive to the global community.
The incorporation of non-western characters has been proposed for years and ICANN states that it has previously tested domain names in other scripts but this is the first time that they have been approved for public use.
Websites with Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese characters should be appearing by mid-November according to ICANN officials. These three scripts will come first as they are the top three markets for Internet use.
GLOBAL, MAYBE NOBLE?
Since 1987, when they were created, domain names had been limited to western characters and the ten numerical digits. Users who did know the English alphabet had to use external programs, special keyboards, and or browser plugins to search the web in their respective languages.
The domination of English throughout the Internet led many scholars and political scientists to contend that the world was moving in the direction of a unified language.
This landmark decision may buck the trend that many writers and scholars have seen in the past ten years. The incorporation of new alphabets into domain names and, inevitably, Internet script will allow different cultures and countries to maintain their unique language.
However, with the strong incorporation of English already in the digital world it is hard to say how and when this decision will affect the online community.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
One impact that will most likely come from this change is that a whole new audience of users will have access to the Internet. ICANN’s move towards newer alphabets means that more people will be able to use the web. Individuals who may have not had an education in the English language can join the online community.
The ideal of the Internet is a forum where all nations and peoples can converge and share information. Breaking down this western centric language barrier will potentially allow the web to move in this direction.
The move away from English websites may have other lobbies behind it, however.
THE GREAT FIREWALL
News services, social networks, and any website that covers a topic of contention is blocked by intricate systems of firewalls and net nannying.
The elimination of western alphabets is one more step away from the content that threatens authoritarian systems like Communist China. The proliferation of a Chinese alphabet automatically pigeon holes Chinese users away from Western websites.
Instead of trying to block every deemed “anti-communist” website, this new system would make many of those websites simply unsearchable. The west wouldn’t have to exist.
The Atlantic writer James Fallows stated, “In America, the Internet was originally designed to be free of choke points, so that each packet of information could be routed quickly around any temporary obstruction. In China, the Internet came with choke points built in.”
Could this sudden move away from the English alphabet be a conscious lobby by authoritarian governments so that they can create another choke point of information?
We do not know the influence that China or any government has on ICANN but we do know that the decision will transform the dynamics of global web use. Inevitably when talking about the world and the world wide web, censorship needs to be discussed.
Government and corporate powers exist that work to stifle the proliferation of a free and open source of information. We must fight to save the ideal of the Internet that this decision is trying to achieve, a global communications tool for all.
Government censorship and, even more wide-spread, economic censorship has prevented millions from using the web. ICANN’s decision to use a wider array of language should make the web and the flow of information more free but we should remain diligent in the protection of free speech.
The post modern digital age has seen a new wave of free flowing information but with that opportunity there is great potential for consolidation of information.
The quest for monolithic power over our information will ultimately fail because the human condition can not allow it. As individuals we interpret the world, the way we want to. No entity of power can take that right away. Let us move in the direction of freedom, one byte at a time.