Starlink bestows, or forces, the digital age on an Amazonian tribe
By Mark Hurst • June 13, 2024

The Marubo, a remote tribe in the Amazon rainforest, has begun to roll out Starlink internet access in the village. The immediate effects on Marubo culture and society bring to mind a number of past warnings, which I’ve listed at bottom. First, let’s learn what happened.

From The Internet’s Final Frontier: Remote Amazon Tribes (gift link, NYT, June 2, 2024):

The Marubo are struggling with the internet’s fundamental dilemma: It has become essential — at a cost.

After only nine months with Starlink, the Marubo are already grappling with the same challenges that have racked American households for years: teenagers glued to phones; group chats full of gossip; addictive social networks; online strangers; violent video games; scams; misinformation; and minors watching pornography.

. . . “Some young people maintain our traditions,” said TamaSay Marubo, 42, the tribe’s first woman leader. “Others just want to spend the whole afternoon on their phones.”

. . . The Marubo pass down their history and culture orally, and he worries that knowledge will be lost. “Everyone is so connected that sometimes they don’t even talk to their own family,” he said.

The American woman who funded the Starlink installation, after seeing a funding-request video from the village, says that she’s doing this with the understanding of the downsides:

Ms. Reneau said she recognized the internet was “a double-edged sword.” So when she posts on Facebook about bringing the Marubo internet, she said, she always stresses that a leader requested it.

“I don’t want people to think I’m bringing this in to force it on them,” she said. She added that she hoped they could “preserve the purity of this incredible culture because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The article also mentions a tribal prophecy:

Decades ago, the most respected Marubo shaman had visions of a hand-held device that could connect with the entire world. “It would be for the good of the people,” he said. “But in the end, it wouldn’t be.”

“In the end,” he added, “there would be war.”

The transformation of the Marubo evokes several warnings from thinkers past and present:

• Jacques Ellul’s warnings in The Technological Society, that technology will make no compromise with non-conforming cultures but instead swallow them whole

• Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred, in which he describes similar effects on Inuit tribes when TV arrived in the 1980s

• Bob Ostertag’s observations in Facebooking the Anthropocene in Raja Ampat (listen to my Techtonic interview with Bob), in which he encounters a “plastic beach” on a remote Indonesian island

• Astronomer Sam Lawler’s warnings that Starlink is, on balance, a harmful service – listen to our Techtonic interview; Creative Good members (join here) can also access the Forum thread Space junk, from Musk’s Starlink and others, is out of control, with lots more resources

• My own reflections in the Creative Good Forum column Indigenous thinking and the future of civilization – accessible to Creative Good members (join here)

• Paul Salopek’s walk around the world, which I wrote about in Walking away from tech (May 2022) and our interview on the June 26, 2023 Techtonic. Traditional farming practices are dying out in southwest China, while aging farmers there say that they’d welcome modern power tools.

Once again, here’s a gift link to the NYT story:
The Internet’s Final Frontier: Remote Amazon Tribes (NYT, June 2, 2024).

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Until next time,


Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see our services or join as a member
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