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Edwin Jurriëns and Ross Tapsell (eds), Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2017, 295-xxi p., ISBN : 978 981 47 6299 1.

Deasy Simandjuntak
p. 282-286
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Edwin Jurriëns and Ross Tapsell (eds), Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2017, 295-xxi p., ISBN : 978 981 47 6299 1

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1In a televised debate between President Jokowi and his rival Prabowo Subiyanto during the 2019 electoral campaign, the previously unknown term “unicorn” took the country’s millions of netizens by storm. As rare as the mythical creature it draws its name from, a unicorn is a startup company whose value passes the USD 1 billion threshold. Southeast Asia has no less than seven of such companies, and four of them are homegrown in Indonesia.

2With a population of 63.4 million millennials, 100 million mobile phones, 150 million internet users and a projection of 50 million more users by 2020 with a penetration of 53 %, Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest digital economy and a fertile ground for digital technology. However, challenges such as uneven internet access, the lack of digital infrastructure investment, restrictive regulations and unarticulated policies continue to limit these potentials. Digital technology’s rapid uptake also brings perils such as online propagation of religious extremism and state repression.

3The fifteen chapters of the volume portray the opportunities and challenges in different aspects of Indonesia’s digital era. In Chapter 1, the editors Edwin Jurriëns and Ross Tapsell define the “digital” by “the translation of various aspects of life into digits for information and communication purposes” (p. 3) and argue that a discussion on “digital Indonesia” should begin by “putting the very idea of technological ‘revolution’ into critical perspective by positioning the realities of the digital world in a context of colliding socio-political, cultural and natural environments” (p. 3). The book is divided into five sections : connectivity, divergence, identity, knowledge and commerce.

4Starting the first section on Connectivity, Chapter 2, written by Yanuar Nugroho and Agung Hikmat who are officials at the President’s Executive Office, highlights the administration’s e-governance strategy. The authors describe four policy initiatives : the creation of an official geospatial map, the integration and centralization of data, the promotion of a national complaint-handling mechanism, and the promotion of online government services. Yet these initiatives will only work with substantial public participation, funding, political will, a clear regulatory framework, a proper institutional setting and a robust monitoring and evaluation. This chapter is therefore particularly interesting for policymakers and service providers.

5In Chapter 3, Emma Baulch highlights the socio-political significance of mobile phones (or handphones ‒ HP in Indonesian), which was influenced by the political reforms in the 1990s and the growth of consumer capitalism. Digital-related consumer capitalism does not only perpetuate class-based distinction but also reshapes it by “the tactical use of digital technologies associated with the lower class” (p. 54), such as the usage of SMS (considered more accessible to the lower class) instead of Twitter or WhatsApp to promote local events.

6Chapter 4 discusses the growing predominance of the digital media businesses. Here Ross Tapsell argues that Indonesia’s mainstream media is dominated by eight Jakarta-based “digital conglomerates” born out of mergers and acquisitions of media companies over the years. According to Tapsell, these conglomerates have the same business plan, which is “to take as big a share of the mainstream Indonesian audience in as many platforms as possible, and to build an ‘ecosystem’ of linked media and online business and communications infrastructure” (p.61). Their centralized news production and “very few deeply investigative stories” indicate the decline of the quality of investigative journalism in Indonesia. On the other hand, their financial might and Jakarta-centric pursuit made them politically influential. Media oligarchs are a dominant political force : they either vie for political power themselves – many of them “own”, and/or are leaders of, political parties ‒, or have actively supported one of the two presidential candidates in the 2014 election.

7In Section 2 on Divergence, Onno Purbo’s Chapter 5 suggests two strategies to narrow the digital divide between rural and urban areas, that is by improving digital literacy, for example by introducing information and communication technology training at school, and by creating better digital infrastructure.

8Chapter 6 by Usman Hamid from Amnesty International paints a grim picture of Indonesia’s online freedom of expression. Taking the examples of state crackdowns under both the draconian Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) and the Criminal Code, the author shows that while the proliferation of social media allows citizens to express their opinions, “it has not changed the elite-centred characteristics of the political and economic decision-making processes […]” (p. 105) as the state may block websites and criminalize citizens for expressing their views.

9The chapter thus flows naturally to Chapter 7, where Budi Raharjo documents Indonesia’s cyber security incidents, their root causes and the government measures. These incidents, including spam emails, website defacement, malware distribution, DoS attacks, identity theft and financial fraud are caused by a lack of secure methods of identity verification. Echoing the previous chapter, Raharjo warns that government measures “should be taken with caution because [they] can lead to censorship or be perceived as an attempt to control society” (p.122).

10In Section 3 on Identity, Chapter 8, written by John Postill (the author of The Rise of Nerd Politics : Digital Activism and Political Change, 2018) and Kurniawan Saputro, focuses on three aspects of digital activism : victims, volunteers and voices. For “victims”, the authors took the examples of those who were charged under the ITE Law and the launching of SAFENET, a group of activists fighting against the ITE Law. “Volunteers” include the activists whose work revolves around the elections, such as Election Guardians (Kawal Pemilu) who in the 2014 election entered poling stations’ results and cross-checked most of the votes so as to ensure a clean and fair election. Lastly, “voices” include those organizations who use media technology to fight against political repression.

11Martin Slama’s Chapter 9 sheds light on how Indonesian Muslims are using social media for religious purposes. Messaging apps such as WhatsApp, LINE, Telegram and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) are used by members of prayer groups to interact among themselves and with their preachers, bringing online what was traditionally an offline matter. The author also highlights the usage of WhatsApp groups to compel members to read the Qur’an daily. Facebook and Instagram are also used to support proselytization (dakwah) activities, for example by posting prayers or photographs portraying pious lifestyles.

12While the chapter portrays a few social media usages among ordinary Muslims, it unfortunately fails to include a prominent example of how platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are used to propagate a purer Islamic lifestyle, dubbed the hijrah movement. While the movement itself is a spectrum : from a form of Islamic revivalism which is tolerant to various expressions of youth culture, to Salafism, which is less tolerant to contemporary culture, its sympathizers could at times be mobilized politically, especially during election times. The young cleric Abdul Somad, who has more than 10 million followers in the above platforms, is generally considered as one of the movement’s propagators.

13In contrast, Nava Nuraniyah’s Chapter 10 very relevantly sheds light on the role of encrypted chat groups in the proliferation of religious extremism in Indonesia. Having followed ISIS sympathizers on Telegram, a favourite mobile application among Indonesian pro-ISIS groups, she shows how social media do not only allow extremist groups to maintain or reactivate old networks, but also enlarge their recruitment pools to include diaspora students, migrant workers and highly educated individuals from non-extremist backgrounds. The Telegram community, in which these individuals find a sense of belonging and acceptance, is also a support group for those who broke away from their families due to their affiliation with ISIS.

14Chapter 11 and 12 present digitalization initiatives. Kathleen Azali highlights the importance of digitizing libraries, archives, museums and other resources to preserve the knowledge amid the humid climatic conditions and uncertain political contexts. Edwin Jurriëns shows how “hacktivism” or the creation of “open laboratories for exploring and executing alternative scenarios for more sustainable, socially inclusive and environmentally friendly futures” (p. 208) is used by art communities to access and disseminate projects relating to social and environmental issues.

15Economists and business practitioners would be interested to read Chapter 13 by Former Minister of Trade and later Tourism and Creative Economy Marie Pangestu and Grace Dewi. This chapter offers rich data showing the impact of digital economy on the overall economy, productivity and innovation, its modification of business models and its potentials in promoting inclusion. The authors conclude however that inclusivity has not been reached, as “levels of internet use fracture along income, locational, gender, age and educational lines”. This chapter thus follows up nicely from Chapter 3 which suggests an improvement to the telecommunication infrastructure and ICT training as means to mitigate the digital divide. On the other hand, sharing economy, especially in retail and transportation industries (e.g. Gojek, Tokopedia, Bukalapak), has successfully expanded consumer bases and created more commercial opportunities compared to the traditional models. Despite these potentials, however, government faces challenges especially on regulatory and taxation aspects.

16Following up, Bede Moore’s Chapter 14 offers an insider view to the trajectory of Indonesia’s e-commerce industry in 2011-2016. As the previous chapter, the author highlights regulatory challenges as well as a lack of guideline policies. Yet he also underscores President Jokowi’s keenness to take “political ownership” (p. 267) of the technology industry, such as aligning himself with Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim (whom in 2019 he made Minister of Education) and other homegrown large tech companies. This, however, creates ambiguity as the President’s aspiration for foreign capitals is hindered by constraining regulations.

17The last chapter by Michele Ford and Vivian Honan zooms in on Gojek, Indonesia’s most popular app-based transport service, and presents a conundrum : on the one hand, consumers’ satisfaction means that the company enjoys considerable consumer support – especially during the 2016 clash with conventional motorcycle taxi drivers and taxi drivers ‒, on the other, the unregulated expansion of app-based transport service is threatening the livelihood of conventional (motorcycle) taxi drivers.

18This book thus covers various issues on how Indonesia deals with governance, economy and social life in the digital era. Due to such a wide range, it is understandable that some important themes that are relevant to both the Indonesian and Southeast Asia’s contexts have not been adequately delved into. Among these are the intersections between national security and the freedom of information and between the freedom of information and the right to privacy. Many of the chapters mention regulatory problems, yet none touches upon, for example, the complexities of the government having to deal with viral hoaxes which poses security threats on the one hand, and its commitment to the freedom of information on the other. Another example is the recent discourse on the “right to be forgotten”, or the right to have private information be removed from internet searches, and how this may impede the freedom of information.

19That said, this book represents a pioneering work on Indonesia’s response to the digital era. It portrays various opportunities and challenges and shows how the state and the society alike navigate through policies and implementation. I thus recommend this book to policymakers, business practitioners, students and all who study Indonesia and are interested in how disruptive technology influences its politics and economy.

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Deasy Simandjuntak, « Edwin Jurriëns and Ross Tapsell (eds), Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2017, 295-xxi p., ISBN : 978 981 47 6299 1. »Archipel, 99 | 2020, 282-286.

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Deasy Simandjuntak, « Edwin Jurriëns and Ross Tapsell (eds), Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2017, 295-xxi p., ISBN : 978 981 47 6299 1. »Archipel [En ligne], 99 | 2020, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2020, consulté le 27 octobre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/archipel/1804 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archipel.1804

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Deasy Simandjuntak

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore and Academia Sinica Taipei

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Association Archipel

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