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Earlier this month, The New York Times reported on a remote Amazon tribe, called the Marubo, that recently gained access to the satellite internet service Starlink. According to the reporter Jack Nicas, it was a chance “to understand what happens when a tiny, closed civilization suddenly opens to the world.”

Nicas notes some of Starlink’s positive effects, like increased job opportunities and reduced emergency response time, but he spends much of the article projecting Western moral panics onto the Amazonians: “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.”

However, it turns out that the premise of the story is false. As the journalist Jason Koebler explains, the Marubo had actually been using the internet for a long time. Many of the tribe members split their time between their villages and a nearby town, regularly journeying downriver to attend school, collect pensions, and browse the internet. They had also installed radios in their villages and were working on acquiring television. Starlink, rather than suddenly tearing away their primitive innocence, was the culmination of a long and arduous effort by the Marubo tribe to connect with the rest of the world.

The Marubo are not alone in their struggle for connection. Around the world, remote communities go to great lengths to secure signal. They hike for miles, dig ditches, and climb trees and mountains. And in places without any internet at all, or where it is heavily censored, people trade flash drives full of music, videos, software, and copied websites. They go through all this trouble because the internet is incredibly valuable, unlocking access to the global economy and endless information and entertainment.

The internet, like all innovations, causes its own problems. But just as eating too much food is vastly better than having too little, too much screen time is a better and more manageable problem than boredom and isolation. And it seems the Marubo understand that, too. In his article, Nicas quotes an old Marubo woman kvetching about the new habits of the tribal youth: “‘Young people have gotten lazy because of the internet,’ she said. ‘They’re learning the ways of the white people.’ Then she paused and added, ‘But please don’t take our internet away.’”

Malcolm Cochran, Digital Communications Manager


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