The Internet and digital media have caused an impact on how artists and culture-makers express themselves in this country, how our cultural heritage is presented and made accessible, how libraries make information accessible to the public, and how the media presents the news, public debate and culture. In short, digitalisation has affected the entire spectrum of culture production, distribution and presentation in our loved country of Uganda.
Digitalisation has paved the way for new interrelationships and cross-fertilisations between the different cultural domains (arts, media, information and cultural heritage), and between culture, education, the sciences, and the (knowledge) economy. In this article, I will formulate a perspective on the development of Ugandans from Traditional cultures to e-culture. Digitalisation is both a technological and a social development, Facilitated by advances in computer technology and telecom networks, the true relevance of digitalisation lies in the way new media and information technology are practically incorporated and utilised in society.
In a recent study on ‘cultural change in the age of digitalisation’, digitalisation has been defined as “the ongoing integration of information and communication technology into society.” Digitalisation also encompasses the rise of new media, spearheaded by the Internet. Four interrelated developments are germane within this plethora of developments: the mediatisation and rise of visual culture, and the development towards a network and knowledge society.
The media in Uganda is increasingly influencing our understanding and stance regarding what lies beyond our immediate surroundings. Directly and indirectly, and in combination with other factors, the media thus has affected our behaviour and modes of action. The print media (newspapers, books etc.) have lost ground to the dominant audiovisual media in terms of the amount of time people devote to them; on average, Ugandans in urban and some rural areas spend at least an hour on a television per day.
Also, the Internet is being seen as a new medium for information, communication, and entertainment. On average still, Ugandans spend 10 to 20 minutes a day emailing and surfing the web. The younger generation makes even more use of computers and the Internet, and this seems to have begun superseding other media, including television. Another striking feature of the younger generation is their extensive use of mobile phones, which has prompted changes in their social lives and the way they relate to their family.
Yet, we must also place things in proper perspective. At no time in this country has novel forms of media replaced the old media. With the advent of radio, the demise of the book was predicted; film has been expected to replace radio; and television replace film. But all these media still exist, and they will continue to coexist in the digital age, although their interrelationship will change over time in Uganda.
Another Cultural change is visual culture, owing largely to the dominance of television, film and advertising. Even Ugandan political parties have recently and increasingly made use of logos and images, and in the melee of competing, the image of a politicians is sometimes more important than their opinions or arguments. Almost all consumer and leisure domains are to some extent affected by our growing desire for a swift interchange of stimuli, exciting stories, or thrilling experiences. In the real world in Uganda, a visit to a shop seems to be gaining the same status as a visit to a funfair, museum or cinema.
There are many Ugandans that see all of these as leisure activities that are very similar in terms of and experiential impact. To this I can add multimodality within the digital domain. Everything now can be expressed in bits and bytes and in combinations of text, images and sound. Once visual and other information exists in a digital format, it can then be presented on various platforms and made accessible to many different categories of users which is currently taking lead in this country. This has explained the diminishing distinction between education and entertainment, and between art and popular culture, in terms of technology as well as content; here too, I need to put things in perspective. The rise of visual and experiential culture has gone hand in hand with a reassessment of tranquillity, tradition and originality. In short, there remains a need for experiencing a still exhibition, a live performance by a symphony orchestra, or a linear documentary — perhaps even more so than before.
The Network Society:
From politics and trade to education and culture, in all fields we now see a rise of network relationships between relatively autonomous, self-steering groups, with an ever-changing configuration.
As this processprogresses in this country, it will exert increasing pressure on existing institutions, collective bodies and experts in all social domains. Moreover, the rise in cross-border communication and trade has also eroded the operational authority and competence of the nation-state.
The Knowledge Society:
The application of digital technology is also becoming a crucial factor in all fields working with information and knowledge. Digital media and the Internet allow different information sources to be linked with one another and made accessible to various categories of users. In the knowledge economy, this is of particular importance for knowledge sharing; i.e. allowing exchange and joint utilization of knowledge and information to the benefit of public services, education, economic growth, job opportunity, and welfare. This is where the digitalisation of culture affects our economy and society as a whole.
The digitalisation of society with emphasis to Uganda is an ongoing process with which all artists and cultural organisations will be confronted, whether they want to or not. That is why e-culture is under taking this country by storm.