How to Stay Connected in an ‘Offline’ Country? Stories of Cubans’ Internet Experience
Reloba de la Cruz, Xenia
Cuban communicative ecosystem , Internet access , agency , sense of connectedness , modernity
Since 2013, Cuban authorities have taken significant steps towards the regularization of public Internet access in the Island. Before that date, policies regarding the Internet benefited specific sectors and limited the broader access of most of the Cuban population. Cubans managed to stay current, creating original alternatives or adjusting pre-existing initiatives to get access to information and knowledge. This thesis explores some of the configurations that characterize the Cuban communicative ecosystem. Building on Don Slater’s concepts of communicative ecologies and communicative assemblages (2013), I define the Cuban communicative ecosystem as the combination of online and offline alternatives to access information and enable communication needs. Such alternatives involve human agents, tools and media that work within institutional, irregular, and illegal networks. Those networks coexist, not necessarily in harmony, within everyday life in Cuba. Rather than disappearing with Internet access, the irregular and illegal aspects of the communicative ecosystem continue to emerge and develop, providing in some cases more suitable solutions in a context of scarcity. The emergence of irregular and illegal networks is an expression of agency in the face of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). I argue that Cubans’ agency reflects a cultural sense of connectedness, based on imaginaries about modernity, modernization, development, and normality that have been part of Cuban tradition since its formation as a nation. I will approach the concept of modernity as a metaphor that expresses the goals and illusions of modernization and development. In the Cuban case, being part of modernity historically reflected an obsession to transcend geographical and intellectual insularity, embracing the global flows of technological and social modernization. Throughout this thesis, I seek to answer two central questions: What is the Internet adding regarding individual agency to the fabric of Cuban society? And how does the creation of alternative communicative structures, enriched by the Internet, relate to an inherent and mainly not deliberate sense of connectedness with a global community?