Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) post-apocalyptic tale explores questions of how we deal with technology and if we are able to bestow it the same values that we ourselves (attempt to) uphold. Now, we may not be quite at that level of philosophical conundrum but we are integrating technologies into our existence like never before.
The Internet is such a technology; once seen as something separate from our ‘real’ lives, today more and more of us seem as if we are incapable of living our ‘real’ lives without it.
In Aotearoa, Māori are leading the digital charge in a number of ways, including mobile Internet uptake and social networking. There has been a considerable amount of research into Māori use of the Internet over the years. Early on, these focused on establishing an authentic presence online predicated on Māori taking an authoritative role. In part, this was to address the misinformation and misappropriation that was occurring. But more so, it was also to stake a claim for Māori in the global digital landscape. More recent developments have sought to transfer Māori values and practices into the digital realm, transforming the online space to fit Māori knowledge and needs, rather than the other way round. This research has produced and recognised numerous successful initiatives and programmes. However, they have also highlighted the challenges faced when transferring cultural practices and values on to the Internet. This has proved particularly so for items placed in the public forum such as those on museum and gallery websites, which may attract a global audience that are not necessarily aware of culturally appropriate actions.
My name is Nikolas Brocklehurst and I am currently undertaking a Masters in Visual and Material Culture, Massey University Wellington. My thesis, entitled, Māori Culture at the digital interface: A study of the visual portrayal of cultural identity in the online environment, is set to examine how Māori cultural identity is being expressed visually online and if the use of digital technologies has enabled new ways to articulate Māori identity. By looking at the way Māori are visually portraying their culture online I am attempting to find the space were both culture and the technology have come to terms with each other. By examining Māori visual culture in digital realms, I ask how have Māori practices and values been influenced, and how have digital technologies been integrated into Māori visual culture.
The purpose of this study is to gather a picture of how Māori are portraying themselves and to use this information to inform museological practice. Now, Māori are far from a homogeneous group, and I will not attempt to create an all-encompassing vision. Rather, I aim to capture a moment in time for a number of individuals when the Internet is increasingly becoming an authentic place for Māori cultural identity.
In order to help me achieve this I have written an online questionnaire, Ipurangi Māoritanga regarding Māori experiences and practices on the Internet. Additionally, as part of my research I would like to bring together a number of focus groups and discuss the issues, benefits, challenges and successes of using the Internet as a place cultural practice.