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She notes that ethnographers are famous for their microfocus.
When she published her book, a Facebook friend joked, “How odd, I just finished my book on youth in the internet cafes of suburban Ghana!
Ghana’s “non-elite” net youth culture – i.e., the young people accessing the internet via cybercafes, not the digerati who are accessing the net through computers in their homes – centers around the idea of the “pen pal”, an analog concept adapted for a digital age.
Many Ghanaian students have interacted with pen pals via paper letters, and their encounters in online space often focused on finding a digital pen pal.
Based on her experiences and that of her informants, she posits two types of exclusion: failure to include, and purposeful exclusion.
Ecommerce is a space where failure to include is pretty common. Many African economies, including Ghana’s, are largely cash based.
Understanding the gaps between their understandings of the people they are talking with on Yahoo chat or other tools helps illuminate the challenge of cultural encounter. They had applied for British Airways Executive Club membership – the airline’s frequent flyer program – and called themselves “The Executive Club”, reveling in the membership cards the airline had sent.
In addition, these cultural discontinuities are complicated by material asymmetries, simplistic perceptions of western wealth and African poverty, and the fact that Ghanaians are often paying for net connectivity by the minute, leading to rushed and high pressure encounters.
When cross-cultural encounters go badly, people seek to block further contact.
Dating websites, in particular, have taken to blocking and banning Ghanaians and Nigerians entirely, because they use the websites in ways that the site’s creators hadn’t expected or intended.
Working from Ghana for almost a decade, Burrell has found that it’s often difficult to engage in basic online tasks from that country because sites and services exclude based on geolocation.