Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three years old? How dated.

In reading chapters three and five of Elizabeth Hanson's "The Information Revolution and World Politics," I found myself wondering at how dated her outlook on the internet feels. It seems that even over the course of three short years since this book was published, the internet has surpassed all expectations. Since 2007, the year of Hanson's most up to date figures in her book, the number of internet users worldwide has doubled to two billion and now some 30% of the world's population has some kind of access to the internet.

This is not a critique of Hanson, but rather an observation of the near futility of analyzing the potential of the internet. The speed by which its efficacy and penetration grows is, for a lack of a better word, ridiculous.

The information gap is closing, access to the internet is increasingly affordable everyday and we're now getting closer to developing affordable computers for the developing world as well. By affordable, we're talking for the same price as lunch and a drink in the Mary Graydon Center. The world of the internet right now does not seem to dissimilar from the scene Hanson painted of India during their television boom: cable companies sprouting every which way, tying cable lines to trees, lamp posts and anything else standing still.

Hanson notes Bill Gates' point that having a laptop won't help somebody who's starving to death and they're right, internet access is not a silver bullet for world peace and prosperity. However, access to the internet opens avenues of completely unexplored potential to everybody.

Three years from now, where will the internet be? What about two? Will access to broadband internet be considered a natural human right? Free wifi for everybody? Tom Clancy predicted a world where people done virtual reality headgear and literally surf the internet in his futuristic spy series Net Force. Far-fetched? Time will tell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Forgoing Diaspora Ties for Nation-State Identity

As international communication professionals, we are often tasked with the responsibility to enhance relationships between a nations leaders and its public. Within this relationship building, lie integral factors such as culture and ethnicity that if left unacknowledged, can impede the process. Considering those factors, communication professionals have a unique role in accurately aligning the nations interest with its citizens and on the other hand, aligning the interest of its citizens with the nations agenda. This complex task is further compounded when one seeks to include citizens of a Diaspora.
According to Karim H. Karim’s, Re-viewing the ‘national’ in ‘international communication’ Through the lens of diaspora, individuals belonging to a diaspora share common ancestry and are “also often viewed as [citizens of] nations that have become deterritorialised.” Within nations, diasporas play a critical role in unifying groups of people by establishing a common connection through shared history, heros, language, and food among other things. Take the Latino community in America for instance, a controversially dubbed diaspora which at 43 million, makes up the largest minority group in the country. Though several academicians have argued whether or not Latino Americans can be justifiably called a diaspora, one thing is clear: in 2011 the majority of US Latinos maintain cultural ties that connect them to their ancestral land.
Despite an avid push to maintain ancestral linkages, years of assimilation, acculturation as well as daily socialization makes cultural preservation challenging. In the case of Latino Americans, the racial discrimination members of this group face leads some to attempt to assimilate to the race of the majority.[1] When analyzing the goal of nation-states overall, it can be assessed that the overarching goal is to have groups-especially those belonging to a diaspora- forgo their connection to their ethnic roots and instead adopt the cultural homogeneity of the nation. As Karim writes, “[historically] states played a key role in eliminating differences and imposing one culture. Whether through state sponsored institutions (schools, military service, national holidays) or private and civic associations” or through state sponsored discrimination (Arizona SB1070) it is apparent that America is working to strengthen its national identity and unite citizens under one homogenous umbrella.

[1] Outcomes of Assimilation and Discrimination: The Case of Hispanics in America at the Dawn of the 21st century by. Emily P. Estrada, B.A

The Many Faces of Diaspora

I was excited to further learn about the many facets and faces of diaspora during our recent class discussion. I am particularly interested in diaspora and it's impact on development. Diaspora can be very effective and powerful if organized correctly. Diaspora heavily rests on the strength of the community. Most of these groups are small and lack the resources to adequately give back to their homeland. I am interested in finding out how the United States plans to engage diaspora to provide development assistance.
I think USAID could greatly benefit from engaging Diaspora. The diaspora can provide significant primary information that cannot be gathered from many sources. There is a great deal of mistrust amongt the United States and foreigners. I know that the U.S. seeks to form a more harmonious relationship with foreign governments and the populations they serve. Although they are extremely effective, there are always better ways to strengthen engagement. In addition to our many missions abroad, I think even more emphasis can be placed on interacting with the many diaspora's that reside in America.
By utilizing this untapped resource, the U.S.can strengthen bi-lateral communication,increase trade and provide direct assistance to foreign nations. The U.S. would then be able to harness the power to implement sustainable cooperation and create a better environment for promoting U.S foreign interests in a creative and more convenient way.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Facebook Nation?

Can Facebook be considered a nation? A recent article in the Economist suggests just that.  The article examines Facebook as an imagined community that developed through horizontal ties. Although Facebook has no land, army, or governing body the article ponders whether or not those ties are necessary in defining a Facebook nation. Mark Zucherburg, the creator of Facebook can be compared to the leader of this nation.
The Karim reading suggested that a nation has a set of myths and rituals to qualify as a nation. Many Facebook users consider checking Facebook as a ritual, and a shared experience. Reading newspapers, and books has been a ritualistic experience, which defines a nation.  Newspaper readership is on the decline while Facebook usage has reached over 500 million.  Facebook exists internationally, and has connected users worldwide, is this the future of nations?
As was discussed in class nations require a shared sense of destiny, I don’t believe this exists on a platform like Facebook. Although users engage in a shared sense of ritual, the actions are very individualistic. Facebook users in Zambia, do not have shared sense of destiny with users in Canada. When Egyptian Facebook members used the site to mobilize the population, their national ties were increased, but the Facebook community could not share in this experience.
I think the idea of Facebook nation is interesting way to define what one considers a nation, although a true nation is a long time coming.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Our class readings were really interesting, I found. I especially enjoyed them because they dealt with the issue of identity. This is something that I have always pondered. I shared an anecdote today in class and at the risk of being crude, to steal a line, I shall repeat myself.
I am American born and raised but my father's family is from southern Germany. Since they immigrated, they have remained 100% German. Growing up, our Christmases were full of German tradition. My father lost much of the language because his father fought for the US in WWII and would not allow German to be spoken. I have always felt a deep connection with the language. The words are, after all, the words that my forefathers spoke to express themselves. I have always had something in me that wanted so much to make those sounds and scribe those symbols. It was essential that I learn and retake this part of who I am. So, I did. I studied German very intensely and even took a semester at the University in Berlin. I loved every second of it. I finally felt like I had connected with my roots.
Last summer, while in southern Germany, I was with friends. I was declaring proudly that I was German through and through. I could speak the language. I understood the history and customs. I enjoyed every facet of life there; from waking to falling back asleep. One night, while having a drink or two (as we Germans do), I overheard a conversation about "stupid America." Spurred on by the liquid bread, I shocked myself by turning around and getting in the speaker's face. I was American again, through and through. It was odd.
My point is, I think that identity can be very volitile. It depends on the situation, sometimes.
I also feel that the way the communication works in this "globalized" era has so much to do with the marketing of identity. Are we not reminded daily that we are American? We see ads about political candidates. We see ads and hear news reports about our soldiers advancing and protecting our interests abroad. We are reminded in very subtle ways that we are Americans. It's not out and out propoganda. It's not something that dismisses other identity sources, but it does seem to hold its own agenda (again - not that that's a bad thing, necessarily).
I am only one guy, though. So let me know other ways in which you might think this "marketing" has permeated your mind. Or let me know I'm wrong.


I'm not really one to blog. In fact, I don't care for it. The whole buzz over "social media" has become a bit too trendy. Sometimes it seems to me that what we use here as a way to keep up with what parties we're attending over the weeking is being used in more dire situations around the world. I can't honestly deny the facility of the internet in Egypt. And there it really did allow people to coordinate and unite. I get it. I just don't know if blogging here in the USA has the same meaning. Sometimes I feel that this super-imposed requirement to blog is just that: super-imposed.
I am, however, open to new things and will give this a shot.
When I thought about it, I did realize that there is something very appealing about being able to voice opinion and, especially here, it can sometimes go unnoticed that such freedoms exist. When I thought about blogging in this light, it did honestly make me curious to try it out as an exersice in my amendment rights. The founders of this nation did make a point to ensure this freedom for me, after all. So maybe I should see what tools are available to me.
The ironic thing is, I'm an IC major. I should be exploring all I can about this channel that has always been so very open to me. So this first blog is a humble one. Here I am: a communications major trying out a form of communication that the rest of the world has utilized for such a long time. Yes, it would seem I still have much to learn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A reflection on nationalism in media post 9/11

The Waisbord reading this week got me thinking about nationalism and patriotism in the media. Unless I read it wrong, the author time and again makes the point that media has little impact on national identity. However, what about the other way around? Rather than looking to influence people through media, we can instead get a sense of the sense of belonging within a nation. In other words, popular media in particular is a bellwether of the public feeling of nationalism.

A perfect example of this is television coverage of baseball. Before 9/11 studio analysis would continue until and sometimes through the first pitch of the game. Afterwards, it became common practice for the national anthem to get full coverage and substantial pageantry came along with it including, people waving flags, fireworks and even F-16 flyovers. Similarly, the seventh inning stretch was seen by networks previously as an opportunity for a few extra advertisements during the commercial break. Today, at places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park to name two, coverage continues as the crowd is led in singing "God Bless America."

The media is, at least for the most part, out to sell to the public. Whether they're selling papers or air time, most are designed to make a profit. They react to public sentiment more quickly and effectively than they could ever shape it.

A perfect example of this is television coverage of baseball. Before 9/11 studio analysis would continue until and sometimes through the first pitch of the game. Afterwards, it became common practice for the national anthem to get full coverage and substantial pageantry came along with it including, people waving flags, fireworks and even F-16 flyovers. Similarly, the seventh inning stretch was seen by networks previously as an opportunity for a few extra advertisements during the commercial break. Today, at places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park to name two, coverage continues as the crowd is led in singing "God Bless America." A perfect example of this is television coverage of baseball. Before 9/11 studio analysis would continue until and sometimes through the first pitch of the game. Afterwards, it became common practice for the national anthem to get full coverage and substantial pageantry came along with it including, people waving flags, fireworks and even F-16 flyovers. Similarly, the seventh inning stretch was seen by networks previously as an opportunity for a few extra advertisements during the commercial break. Today, at places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park to name two, coverage continues as the crowd is led in singing "God Bless America."

The media is, at least for the most part, out to sell to the public. Whether they're selling papers or air time, most are designed to make a profit. They react to public sentiment more quickly and effectively than they could ever shape it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Cultivation Theory and its Impact

Television is impacting the perception and actions of the American public in an enormous way. Watching television doesn't only influence buying behavior, but it also has influence on how people think and perceive life. The U.S. Department of Commerce recently reported that 99.5 of U.S. households that had electricity, also had a television set. This statistic indicates that an overwhelming amount of Americans have the potential to be influenced by television programming.

Developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross, the Cultivation Theory is the product of a study to examine the effects of television on American culture. After discussing the topic in class, I not only thought about how television impacts the American public, but I also thought about how television impacts the way other countries view America. Some foreigners will never visit America in their lifetime. So if they never encounter American life, how are their perceptions developed? A recent Christian Science Monitor poll found that 47 percent of Americans thought television portrayed the country in a positive light, whereas 43 percent had mixed feelings or thought the influence was negative.

I think it's fascinating that television and technology overall, gives anybody the opportunity
to have influence. With the rise of Youtube, American television is being made more accessible
to the world. This means that other countries have more of an opportunity to engage American life.

Globalization and the impact of television are interconnected. If the United States is
serious about diplomacy and spreading cultural influence, more emphasis must be placed on balance in television programming. The Cultivation Theory is a perfect example of how the media and particularly television can help influence change and sharpen perspectives if used correctly.

Television on the Decline

Since the invention of the television, American families have gathered around the tube to feast on a healthy serving of entertainment and news. Michael Stephens notes in his essay History of Television, “few inventions have had as much of an effect on contemporary American society as the television.” As the popularity of television grew, so too did the family dynamics within American households. By the 1960’s when 87 percent of U.S. households had a television[1], it was apparent that TV had made its way into the hearts of consumers.

For many families, television became a form of socialization where many opinions about the world were formed. Discussions at the dinner table were usually about the latest antics seen on TV. Television was a medium for communication which helped sustain ideas, enhance beliefs and strengthen cultural ties. Despite this enduring love affair, many media watchdogs are theorizing that the popularity of the internet could eventually end this seemingly sacrosanct bond.

Some call it the “television switch off”- a tipping point of sorts when more and more people begin to do away with their TV in exchange for cheaper and more accessible programming on the internet. In 2008 for example, 2.5 million viewers in the U.S. switched off their television service. Although the 2.5 million may statistically represent a small number of viewers, Its existence still signals a change in the media consumer market. But should the convergence of media be seen as societal progression or cultural divergence? The answer is both. As a society, we are evolving technologically every day, much to the benefit of all mankind. Technology has traveled leaps and bounds compared to the days of the printing press. Americans especially, are committed to testing the limits of  and adopting new technology; even if that means eventually saying goodbye to our trusted friend: Television.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Globalization and Communication: reclaiming culture?

Communication technology has made the term globalization even less of a phenomenon, and more of cultural norm; but has the emergence of new technology allowed people to return to their cultural roots and away from the McDonaldization?

Thussu examines communication theory that emerged post World War II. The reading recounts how modernization theory was criticized by Southern scholars as “the chief beneficiaries of modernization programmes were not the 'traditional' rural poor in the South, but Western media and communication companies, which had expanded into the Third World, ostensibly in the name of modernization and development, but in fact in search of new consumers for their products.” I agree with this sentiment, as the creators of the modernization theory seemed to over simplify each countries culture, socio-economic, and political structures. I believe the emergence and adoptions communication technologies such as the Internet and cell phones created a more egalitarian approach to communications.

Thussu discusses the view of Ritzer who believes that globalization is actually “Americanization” and argues that globalization is not achieved because it does not have a 'multidimensional relationship among many nations'. Thussu explores the opposition to this perception, but was not able to predict the way the Internet would transform globalization.
A recent Gallup Poll found that mobile telephone subscriptions have grown faster in Africa than in any other region in the world since 2003, and that nearly 151 million people have cell phones in the 17 countries they surveyed.  This technology has the ability to develop in ways that reflect the culture and address country specific problems. An example is the Kenyan company Ushahidi, a open source software that collects local reports for interactive mapping. It was used during 2007 post-election violence in Kenya to collect reports of violence, mostly via text message, when traditional media was failing to report on the upheaval.

U.S. based companies are beginning to cater to markets that want to use their interface in a localized way. Google has developed Google Swahili, which allows user to access Google services in the East African language. Joe Mucheru, Google Lead for sub-Saharan Africa commented “We want to make the Internet more relevant and useful to East Africans”. 
It is largely true that the modernization theory has created consumers of Westernized technology, but the Internet creates a way for countries to develop the technology to reflect their culture, and interests.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Or is it?

We are conditioned to examine our world within the framework society provides us and in doing so it is possible to end up doing something that's quite simply crazy. However, according to Carey in the reading for class this week, by creating irony we are, as a society, caused to reexamine our communications within this new light. The Monty Python sketches and movies of the 70s and 80s challenged some of the longest standing aspects of British reality with a combination of irony and sheer lunacy. Nothing was sacred and they lampooned everything from religion, to royalty, to politics and everything in between. The skit above is a perfect example, as it reminds us of the ridiculous things we pay for and the bizarre ways we spend our time.

Even today, these sketches resonate both comically and intellectually. For example, I challenge anyone not to think of Monty Python's "dead parrott" sketch the next time they have less than helpful service from a store clerk and also look at how you respond. Carey says we are constantly building, breaking down and repairing our society and irony is an effective way of finding the oddities in our culture that we can maybe reassess.

In keeping with International Communications, I'll leave you by linking to one more Monty Python sketch on the dangers of translation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Role of Communications in International Power

In considering content of my first post, I really wanted to look at International Communications through a lens focusing on a central theme for this course. In the reading for the first week, both Thussu and Mattelart present a brief history of communications and how the field has advanced from the construction of Roman roads to the rise of television as the dominant form of communication of the 20th century. In doing so, they both also highlighted how control of communications and information helped the formation and development of the major empires of the last two millennia.

History is rife with examples of how empires maintained control of their colonies through the successful use of the latest communications technologies: the Roman roads allowed for messengers to more quickly transfer news and information from across western Europe back to the capital; The British empire was founded on their superior navy and control of the oceans, which allowed them to control trade routes and with them the flow of trade information. The British Empire later flourished with their near monopoly of telegraph lines in the 19th century, and the United States similarly used television and radio to project their power in the 20th century.

While fascinating in of itself, the history of control of communications and political power has far reaching implications for the future also. The internet appears to have changed the dynamics of power with regard to both control of communications and the information flow.

While some states, such as China, attempt to censor the internet by blocking certain sites, and others, such as Egypt and Iran try to “turn it off” in times of unrest, people are still able to connect. During the “Green Revolution” in Iran we saw how twitter remained a forum for protesters to alert one another of upcoming demonstrations in spite of the fact that the government was supposedly blocking the site from use.

States using tools of communication to forward their own ends is nothing new, but the public rejection of it is. In Egypt, deposed President Mubarak attempted to shutdown internet access in his country and five days later the internet was back on and the protests were more vehement than ever. As Reporters Without Borders reporter Lucie Morillon argued according to Forbes Magazine, “keeping millions of people offline simply isn’t a sustainable approach to quelling dissent.”

States also have substantially less control of information flow. With worldwide access, instant news and leaks of classified material, it is impossible for governments to effectively control what general public reads, sees, hears or even shape the way that information is framed.

Unlike the telegraph, newsprint, radio, or even television, the internet creates at least the potential for a new political paradigm for communications and information. Whether or not states will ever be able to control communications the way they have done for centuries is now an open question, but more to the point, will people ever allow states to control information like that again? The future of control of communications is a question we will no doubt come back to often over the course of the semester.

Social Media Advocacy: Help or Hindrance

The rise of social media has brought families closer together, increased international advocacy and transformed democracies. Particularly, social media has increased the way in which the masses lobby their government for better living conditions. U.S. elected officials use Twitter and Facebook pages and their constitutions can then take advantage of these channels to get their attention. The days of sending complaints through the mail or calling and voicing them over the phone are slipping away. Particularly, we have witnessed our foreign counterpart’s use social media in a powerful and profound way.

  The Arab world used social media to put pressure on the government and to demand the quality of life they believe they should be afforded. Within only a few days, these people took the international stage and changed the course of history. Not only did social media help them to organize, but it also created a mechanism that allowed the entire world to witness one of the greatest examples of how technology can bring about significant change to a place that was thought to be stagnant and unsusceptible to change. While the change happened instantaneously, some would argue that things happened too fast. I am not at all inferring that the goals of these protests have been met or that true democracy has been realized. I’m just offering my own belief that real change does not happen instantly, but is a patient and gradual process.

Most mass protests that have occurred in the world demanded substantial time before the end goal was met. Additionally, there are several components of mass protest that must be achieved in order to execute an organized protest. I think the speed of direct action should never be substituted for the substance of direct action. Through the use of social media, one should never neglect the other components that make a successful lobbying campaign.

The Arab Spring has included a great deal of human suffering. If human beings suffer, it should be done in a way that has clear objectives and is done purposefully. The goal of social media is not to solve all problems, but to play a significant role in bringing about change. I respect the efforts of those that engaged in their protest, but I hope they never forget the value of human interaction if human suffering is involved.

Citizen Journalism or Tools for Terrorism?

Amid a sea of crime and violence, residents of Veracruz, Mexico face another potential threat: cyber terrorism. Last month, residents were frightened upon reading several twitter and facebook posts in which two users falsely reported bomb threats, gunfire at an elementary school and  that  members of a drug cartel kidnapped 5 children at an area primary school. 

Dozens of traffic accidents occurred as parents rushed to rescue their children from the alleged kidnapers. The chaos also caused major congestion on emergency phone lines.

State officials responded to the pandemonium by arresting Gilberto Martinez Vera and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, who now face up to 30 years for  sabotage and terrorism.

 According to Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte said in a Twitter post after the arrests that, "Social networks are an excellent way to communicate, but sadly there are cowardly people who hide behind them only to hurt."

 In recent months, websites like Twitter and Facebook have become trusted sources for Veracruz residents to get information about current events due in large part to the growing feeling of distrust toward the mass media, PC suggests. "The media is so terrified of bloodshed inflicted by these ruthless gangs that it is often hesitant to cover legitimate stories about drug-related activity. Accordingly, people often turn to social media for real time reports about criminal activity in the country."

Groups like Amnesty International are stepping in the midst of the controversy, releasing a statement last month to encourage the Mexican Government to provide the accused, "a fair trial and freedom of expression. 
Although the verdict is still out on whether Vera an Pagola will spend the next 30 years behind bars, the controversy raises important questions about the intersection of national security and freedom of expression. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Can communication technology create a revolution?

Through out time people have always relied on technological innovation as a gateway to social change; but how much importance do we put on technological advances when the operator remains the same: the human race.

 December, 2010 marked the beginning of what became known as the Arab Spring, a series of demonstrations and protests throughout the Middle East.  The Egyptian revolution sparked in the advent of the Tunisian revolution to overthrow leader Hosni Mubarak. Social media has been crowned the champion of these movements; as many protestors organized rallies throughout the region using mediums like Facebook and Twitter. How much of an impact can communication technology have on social movements? And is this necessarily a new trend?  According to the Financial Times Mark Zuckerburg, the creator or Facebook commented on “overall trend” of greater sharing of information between friends and family online was “an extremely powerful thing” that was “fundamentally rewiring the world from the ground up”.

The sentiment of communications having an impact on population is not a new notion according to Daya Thussu, in “International Communication: Continuity and Change”. The use of radio during the Cold War is an example of the power of communication tools have on populations. In Egypt, British used the “Voice of Britain” as a tool for anti-Egyptian propaganda, and were countered by President Gamaal Nasser’s “Voice of Arabs” which promoted Pan- Arab ideology. Both of the radio programs pushed their own politically motivated agenda, the consumer’s only participation was through the decision to listen to the station. Thussu goes on to describe how the “The Cairo-based 'Voice of the Arabs' was an international service, which in the 1950s and 1960s became the 'pulpit of revolution', notably in the leftist revolution in Iraq in 1958.” [i]Communication technology has served as a tool of revolutions throughout history, but instead of just consuming information, social media creates an egalitarian approach to communication.  The user-driven content allows individuals to direct their own political message—as examples show throughout the Middle East. The interactivity of the internet allows for mass dialogue between creators and consumers, unfathomable in the days of radio. Yet one cannot use communication tools alone as the raison d'ĂȘtre for revolutions.

On January 28, 2010 under the order of President Hosni Mubarak, the Internet was shut down.  For a population that was mobilizing protests through the use of Facebook and Twitter, the intent was clear—to cut off this tool in an effort to thwart the revolution. Although this did not stop the protest, in fact it created an additional incentive to protest; without this essential communication technology the protests raged on—unbowed. Communication technology have undoubtedly aided social movements throughout history, although the will and vigor of the people has always been the driving force.

[i] Thussu, Daya. International Communication: Continuity and Change . Hodder Arnold Publication, 2000.