Digitization of the Cultural Heritage - Part 5 - Part 2

posted by ka:kanev on 2006/02/11 10:57

[ Digitization of the Cultural Heritage ]

And here is my text from the Kakanien Revisited "Emergence3" workshop in Vienna last week, of course a bit condensed. The full text with references, bibliograpy and other goodies will, hopefuly, be posted soon in the Kakanien text collection.

The Bulgarian Internet Situation

A historical, sociological and cultural overview/analysis

The Internet is the “new media” that has, at least to some extent, fundamentally changed and marked the whole human condition at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
What are the main characteristics of the Internet situation in general and their cultural, socio-anthropological, political implications. I am not that interested if the new medium is in itself the message, in McLuhan’s words, but how does this global and almost limitless media function on a specific local level – in the Bulgarian context with all its specifities and distinct characteristics.

What does new media mean – that there is a fundamental shift or a change in the channels, in the communication patterns, in the power relations and the hierarchies, in the form and in the content. The digital age, viewed as a process in its very beginning for it has gained its momentum not more than a 10 – 15 years ago, is seen as the next stage of the human condition, as a shift from the McLuhan’s “Gutenberg galaxy” of the printed, text media, which has shaped the Modernity to a supposed period for “Gutenberg elegies”, in Sven Birkerts’ words and the decline of the text and the book and the change towards the multimedia and the predominance of the visual, the formation of new culture and cultures and new communities and forms of social interaction, the advent of the protean nature of the virtual space and the virtual self, the simulacrous hyperreality of the web, the radical compression of space and time in the computer mediated communication, and so on, just to sketch some of the most prominent cultural and socio-anthropological implications of the Internet.

The Internet from its beginning is also infused with strong political implications and was hoped to be a kind of postmodern political utopia, based on the principles of freedom, equality, direct democracy, a non-hierarchical horizontal and decentralized network of peers/users. In its early and shaping stages it had been formed more or less on such principles, but its has required more technical computer skills and its residents – the Internet visionaries - were few in number academics, researchers and enthusiasts, fascinated with the almost limitless possibilities it offers. With the creation of the World Wide Web in the beginning of the 90’s and the supervened commercialization of the Internet, its utopian political project underwent a crisis, but nevertheless Internet has remained the most “free” media.

All of these fundamental characteristics of the Internet are also manifest in the Bulgarian situation. But still one of its most interesting specifics in this regard is a feature, common not only for Bulgaria, but also for all the post-communist countries in South East Europe – the rise and proliferation of the new media coincided with the changes after 1989 and the political, social, economic and cultural transition. Citing Orlin Spassov, a scholar specialized in the media history and research, in Bulgaria we are experiencing two simultaneous transition processes – the political, social and economic turmoil and the dramatic shiftings of the value systems and in the everyday life on the one hand and the digital, the “other” transition on the other, which in comparison with the course that it was taken in the Western societies, remains much more hidden and peripheral.

This specific feature of the Bulgarian digital transition has as a consequence its development at the background of the more disruptive and fundamental changes in the social, economic and political life in Bulgaria and was much more unproblematic and silent – there were no far too great expectations and respectively no grave disappointments, almost no debates in the public sphere, a very late engagement of the state administration with the Internet. Neither transitions have reached their ends and both are leading, hopefully towards the European project for Bulgaria.
In order to understand the Bulgarian Internet situation and its specific characteristics I will give here a brief historical overview of its development to trace the traditions and the continuities that have shaped to a great extent the present situation.

I have deliberately skipped almost all of the statistical data and will relate the history as a narrative, because, besides its “real” reference, it has become a part of a new Bulgarian mythology.

  • The strategic establishment of the branches foe cybernetics and computer technologies in the Bulgarian industry in the 60’s and the 70’s;
  • The forming of the Bulgarian “electronic elites” (Spassov);
  • The wide spread and proliferation of the Bulgarian produced computers in the production and industries, in the education system (schools and universities), in science and research centers, the mass production of personal computers for home use;
  • Young, motivated and well established specialists with a privileged position in the socialist state – contacts with the West, knowledge of foreign languages, etc.;
  • The decline of the branch in the late 80’s;
  • The changes and the “fate” of the electronic elites – braindrain, but also a better orientation in the new environment;
  • The Bulgarian Internet – two, almost simultaneous beginnings, two starting points – combining and accelerating the processes that have shaped and will shape the Net – as academic network and community of mutual interest and shared knowledge and communication and as a commercial, private company enterprise;
  • The present situation – impact, dissemination, culture, the electronic elites, the academia, the Internet providers, the Bulgarian digital divides.
  • Alpha Research Agency – the latest poll results on the Bulgarian Internet Situation: 22 % usage adults in the whole country / 46 % in Sofia.
  • The Bulgarian Internet is facing the same problems as all around the world, but of course in its limited and local version, but the tendencies for a broader and more equal access are tending so far to be optimistic.

Is there such thing as “e-Bulgaria”?: the situation with the Bulgarian “e-”s




Also underdeveloped, only in the major forums of the Bulgarian online newspapers there is something like a grassroot democratic/civil movement


Still underdeveloped, mostly due to the fact that In Bulgaria very few are credit card owners


  • Hackers and piracy. Another facet of the same new Bulgarian mythology.
  • Piracy of software, intellectual property
  • compromise with quality and lawfulness.
  • Portals, online communities, forums, interest groups forums
  • Language – Cyrillic vs. Latin


Overall connected with the piracy issue - gaming, music, movies.

The problem of access, the “digital divide” within and without Bulgaria and the diachrony/dichotomy between the “connected” and the “disconnected”

As we have seen from the local and isolated example of the Bulgarian Internet situation, maybe the deepest problem that runs throughout all the discourse of the new media is the one of access. Access has become the focal point for all of the tensions that are generated along the global advent of the digital transition and/or revolution. Precisely there lies also its paradox, as the media that is supposed to be synonymous with freedom and non-hierarchical horizontal networks, is such only for those, who for one reason or another have access and all of its benefits, be they virtual, real or simulated, are restricted for the “disconnected”. Thus, both on a global and on a local scale runs the digital divide, creating zones of diachrony and dichotomy, and new, cultural, borders.

Following the insightful theory of the concept of access of Jeremy Rifkin in his book “The Age of Access” we can outline some tentative conclusions on the whole problematic and the specific issue of the Bulgarian Internet situation. According to Rifkin the classical capitalism from the modern, industrial era is in the process of transcendence by the “hypercapitalism”, where the economic relations will shift from selling and purchasing commodities to lending, leasing and selling access to ideas, paid-for-experiences, cultural production and the physical embodiments in which they are contained. Everything will be converted to a service and the whole system of the market will be based on the access to experiences and symbolic capital. The fundamental hypercapitalist change, that already has started with the rise of the Internet and the dawning of the electronic age, is the shift from labour to game ethics.

In this terms the Bulgarian, be it Internet or not, situation can be considered to be a hybrid of both capitalist and hypercapitalist features. With the political and economic transition and the whole restructuring of the economy and the political, social and civil structures of the Bulgarian society, puts us more or less a condition, governed by the rules of the classical capitalism and the digital transition, on the other hand is leading us to more and more hypercapitalist relations.



Welcome to the [Sofia] weblog, a part of the Kakanien Revisited weblog network. The Team - Dimiter, Assen and Mira - all three PhD students in the Department of History and Theory of Culture at the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" will try to create an image - although sometimes a faceted and incoherent one - of the Bulgarian academia, culture, ongoing events, ideas, realities and virtual spaces. All of you - our readers - are warmheartedly invited to join us in this endeavor with your comments and suggestions.
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