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Living Cultural Storybases
Sarah Rich, 7 Dec 06
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While there are those who argue that technology has led to the deterioration of traditional modes of communication and expression, the very same advancements are instrumental in allowing us to keep vanishing stories, cultural practices, and entire languages alive and thriving. By facilitating access to technology for people whose heritage is being challenged by the digital revolution, tech becomes a tool for nurturing traditional ways. Living Cultural Storybases is a new non-profit that works to do just that, using ICT to share knowledge amongst cultures and peoples with strong storytelling legacies. The globally distributed founding team rallies around this mission:

To nurture the oral heritage of minority cultures in a digital world by combining:
• A trustworthy participatory process that engages and empowers the youth, dispersed communities and displaced members of minority cultures to embrace and grow their traditional narratives.
• A generalizable technology which provides appropriate, two-way access for all the population and a dynamic audio database architecture that reflects the culture, inviting further contributions and stimulating internal social debate.

The team recently presented a paper at a Community Informatics Conference, in which they wrangle with the paradox of "cultural preservation" and question who has the right to decide what needs preserving, and whether or not preservation is even an appropriate way to frame this contemporary cultural challenge. Though the paper itself is quite academic in tone, it argues against an academic approach to studying indigenous culture, which typically regards cultures as isolated and dying, and treats them as static, preservable artifacts. In contrast, LCS believes in living, participatory processes that engage the people themselves in the telling of their stories and the continued use of their own languages.

LCS correlates cultural diversity and biodiversity, drawing connections between species extinction, land degradation, and other environmental destruction with the vanishing of indigenous cultures. The die-off of languages and oral teachings, they argue, results in a loss of understanding about traditional, low-impact relationships with one's land and environment. The paper's dot-connecting elements and illustration of context distinguish LCS from similar projects, providing a whole-systems explanation (much like we try to do at Worldchanging) for the larger importance of this endeavor.

LCS also has a longterm vision of the kind of impact their work might have. By 2020, they aim to have established community-managed "Virtual Cultural Networks":

InuitNet, BushmanNet, TuaregNet, RomaniNet, etc. These are distributed cultural intranets running across open public networks, supporting easy role-based access, secure communications in indigenous languages and searchable private cultural resources such as dynamic audio databases.

The LCS team is still looking for numerous collaborators and supporters, communities who might want to take part, oral culture experts and tech providers.

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