Monday, October 31, 2011

Technology and Networks

Social Media a Necessity?
This weeks reading Topologies of Communication focused on social connections, the formation of networks, and the way they are used to achieve social goals.  The reading suggest social networks can help do things such as find someone to house sit, to find a job, or get a new plumber. I couldn’t help but think the way the Internet has transformed the way we use social networks. If I needed a plumber, chances are I would use the Google network rather than a contacting someone in my social network.  Apple has recently released Siri—an iphone assistant that allows customers to use commands to do everything from setting reminders, placing phone calls, to finding the closest Indian restaurant. Can networks be replaced by technology, would you listen to Siri more than a trusted friend?
In another sense websites are making networks more and more perceptible. A new feature on Facebook invites user to separate their contacts into different networks, from friends, to co-workers, or family. Facebook user’s employ this network to organize events, share news, and maintain contacts. When a person leaves Facebook, its as if they have fallen off the network grid. Recently a friend of mine decided to leave Facebook, she felt frustrated by the large amounts of “weak ties” she obtained, where as previously these ties would have faded they are maintained because of the site. In order to disable her account she was prompted several times to explain why she was leaving, and after completing those actions she was finally shown pictures of her friends with text read so and so will miss you. Since she was a previously a user, she’s had to explain again and again that she is no longer on Facebook and that for events she can’t just “log onto Facebook". Networks are a series of relationships, and technology is not needed to facilitate these networks, although it will interesting to see how technology helps shape and facilitate these networks.

The Brand Value of Facebook Profiles

In a recent class discussion I pointed out that Facebook profiles are an excellent way for individuals to manage their brand. Whether a person is posting a video or updating a status, their activity on Facebook is a reflection of their thoughts. Additionally, it sends a message to the receivers or viewers that this is the perception that a person wants to give to the public.
As time progresses, communication is becoming less personal. Employers are choosing their employees based on social media profiles, students are earning degrees online and e-commerce makes it easier for people to purchase goods. Individuals are constantly striving to manage and maintain their credibility over the web.Facebook profiles give others the opportunities to learn about your interests, educational background and even career aspirations.Viewers can see your professional networks, personal friends and civic participation.
Managing your brand is critical. Some people view your profile way before they meet you. It is increasingly important to be conscious about the image you represent as well as the message you send.
Business and corporations have the responsibility of managing their brand as well. It is important for these entities to manage their brand by maintaining a presence. They can maintain a presence by disseminating news and information or providing deals on certain merchandise. Businesses and individuals are greatly impacted by their Facebook brand and must work constantly to maintain it's credibility.

Google: Key Actor in International Affairs

By now, most people in the United State and the world has either heard of Google or has had their life impacted by it in some way. As a U.S. company, Google represents the quintessential American company that evolved from humble beginnings to becoming a profitable organization. Google is a leader in information and communication technology. Google as a search engine is a useful tool for a myriad of industries, but more recently it has become the source for peacekeepers to track conflict in regions throughout the world.  For example, in 2009 the “Google Earth” application provided the U.S. State Department and humanitarian workers with satellite images of villages that were destroyed during the conflict in Darfur. These images allowed the foreign officials to avoid areas that were highly volatile as well as provide aide to villages with the most need.

I think that the service that Google Earth provides is exceptionally useful and necessary. I would like to see Google Earth play a similar role in America, by helping law enforcement stamp out crimes. Despite many who contend Google Earth’s surveillance capabilities I strongly believe that its technology is a great way to increase safety and security throughout the world.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

News Impartiality

The BBC posted a story yesterday detailing how the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee plans to review the station's news coverage of the Arab Spring in order to "ensure that it maintains the high standard of impartiality and accuracy that audiences expect." According to the article, the review will content analysis, audience research and interviews with interested parties.

My reaction to reading this story was that one of envy. When was the last time there was a serious, substantive review of American news media and the recommendations are actually taken on board? My feeling is that there would be an incredible opportunity to improve the quality of journalism in the United States.

Now before I go too fare down a naive and idealistic path regarding the media, there are obvious differences between the United States and the United Kingdom that would prevent a similar review from happening here. Firstly, the BBC, in spite of a large degree of autonomy, is still a government institution and thus, subject to the rules and regulations the government requires. Secondly, the constitutional right to freedom of the press would present significant governance questions to instituting a similar review process of private news media in the States.

That said, the "outrage" following Janet Jackson's Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction forced congress to act and consider new legislation governing what is considered appropriate television. Congress is not above mediating the media and has therefore set a precedent in this area. A substantive, unbiased review of national media in the United States is as least as important to the future of American youth as preventing them from seeing Janet Jackson exposed.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Would this work here in the US?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Basketball and International Culture and Footwear Purveyors... Oh my.

Following up on our in-class discussion last week regarding Nike's failed attempt to mesh Chinese culture and basketball, I saw this new commercial by Adidas featuring Derek Rose taking on Toreros.

I think it's interesting on several levels. Firstly, the timing is a little awkward given that Spain recently outlawed bullfighting due to animal cruelty. I would assume, given the popularity of basketball in Spain, that this ad was originally intended to air over there and I wonder if it still did (I doubt it). It's possible that Adidas decided to air the ad in the States in order to get some mileage from it and hopefully get some marketing traction from it. Given that the NBA season is expected to start at least a month late as a result of the lock-out, even that seems less likely.

Rose has grown in prominence in the NBA following a stellar college career, so it's understandable that Adidas would want to feature him as a star in the sport and a premier endorser of their equipment. Granted, Rose plays for the Chicago Bulls, but is a bull fight really the best concept to use here to highlight his talents? I'm not so sure.

Even if we assume that bull fighting continued in Spain - we should acknowledge the popularity of the sport in parts of Latin America as well - would the ad have been successful? How does it portray Spanish/Hispanic culture? What do you think about this ad? Does it make the same mistakes that Nike made? More to the point, would this ad inspire somebody from Spain to go out and buy Adidas sneakers?


I've really enjoyed some of the details in this week's readings. Maybe it's not even so much the details as it is the way that many of the details are missing.
Many of the conclusions reached, as with the consensus in class, state that there are blends between formal and informal networks. Businesses may, for example, use formal networks. At my current job (UPS) we use the same suppliers every week, we use the same drivers every week, we even serve a lot of the same clients on a weekly basis.
What I find immensely interesting is the fact that clients often rely on our networks to accomplish their goals; personal or otherwise. Especially in international situations, where addresses can sometimes be weird (I shipped a package to Mexico for a client and the address contained the phrase "between such a building and some other building"), senders and receivers are dependent on our ability to connect between offices to resolve issues.
In a typical example, someone within the formal network (ie UPS international) calls me and says that an address wasn't sufficient for delivery. I then have to do some detective work outside of a formal network and get a hold of the sender. Often times, I have to reach out a number of ways to establish contact. Phones go unanswered, emails unseen. Luckily the UPS store has a FB account and I am sometimes able to get a hold of the shipper that way. At this point, I'm even relying on another network to accomplish the goals set out in mine.
When I finally do get a corrected address (or recipient phone number), I have to call the international office back so that they can call the local office who informs the driver who then calls the recipient. The most interesting thing about this is that it isn't just the information that needs to be relayed, but physical goods.
To make it full circle, as long as I've done my job right in including the sender's information, a confirmation email is sent out upon delivery.

It is sometimes mind-boggling to realize that while I'm just some guy selling a service, I'm also greatly responsible for the success or failure of a transaction. So long as every node in that network is functioning, the circuit can be completed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Culture for Sale. . .Anyone?

In 2011, the term globalization is just as ubiquitous as the word travel, yet some take for granted just how globalized our world has become. In Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, he defines globalization as the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems, and telecommunications networks in a way that links them together. The interconnected elements that comprise globalization affect all parts of society including the economy, governance, and culture. The recent global economic crisis is a great example of the sometimes negative impact of a one world economy.
While some aspects of globalization are negative, others can be more entertaining. For instance, the U.S. primetime hit TV show, Ugly Betty was a spin-off from a popular Colombian telenovela called Betty La Fea. Before and during its time in the U.S., Betty la Fea was exported to 70 countries. According to Jade Miller’s text, “Ugly Betty Goes Global: global networks of localized content in telenovela industry,” Ugly Betty and other telenovela’s are widely popular with audiences throughout the world because they “combine universally appealing stories (rags-to-riches) and style (melodrama) with localizable specifics with which viewers can easily identify” (Miller, 2010). The telenovela industry in particular has witnessed isomorphism globally through the way in which television shows have copied its format.
Within the sphere of globalization, the process of cultural transfer is an integral component. Cultural transfer causes nations to adopt, enhance and alter things that are inherent to another culture. Television programming and fashion are two examples of cultural transfer. As companies expand their presence in the global public sphere glocalization becomes a norm that brings each of us together.

Topologies of Communication in D.C.

The reading assigned this week dealing with topologies of communication draws interesting parallels between the social and professional relationships in Washington D.C. The author describes topologies as the structure of links and nodes. He begins by illustrating an example from Facebook.  Facebook allows you to view the profile of your friends and also see mutual friends that exist. By clicking on one friend, you can see their entire network of friends and draw conclusions about their social and professional connections. In essence, this makes Facebook, a small world.

After living in D.C. for nearly a year, I am convinced that D.C. is extremely small in terms of social and professional connections and ultimately your networks will overlap. In this case, size is not a matter of scale, but of connection (Callon and Law, 2004). Topological communication disregards Euclidean geometry and measures of space all together. Similar to Facebook, the connections and networks in D.C. are similarly aligned. For example, people with similar interests are going to “Like “the same pages, post similar blogs, and comment on similar news. This interaction slowly brings individuals together who share a common interest. After a period of time, members of these social networks begin to know each other informally and can strengthen their relationships and network based upon their online commentary. Similar to D.C., if you have an interest in international relations, you will see some of the same people at talks that occur at the Council on Foreign Relations, The State Department and the Center for Strategic Studies. After more frequent encounters, not only do the individuals attending these events begin to become familiar with one another, but they are also exposed to the friends and other networks that these other people may have. To further explain, Grovenetter expresses this idea in terms of weak ties and strong ties. Strong ties dominate the social network by linking us to friends, family, fellow colleagues and employers. Weak ties cross between clusters of strongly tied people, but reach separate places and spheres.  (Granovetter 1973). Professionals in D.C. use the power of strong and weak ties in D.C. daily. People use this strategy to secure employment, to gain information and even to be granted access to special events.

The topologies both on Facebook and D.C make our networks more connected. The more people you know in D.C. increases your chances of knowing or being informed about what is going on in the area. Additionally, it’s not only about the people you know on Facebook or in D.C. What matters most is how many of those people know you. The topologies of communication make our social and professional life closer than ever.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Power of Fan Nations

 Mark Deuze discusses the growing popularity of media participation, a process in which fans are taking a more active role in the media they consume. He describes how historically an audience had to rely on letter to editors, or hot-lines to interact with media, and the process was still a top-down system. The advent of the Internet has changed all of that. Watching television is more interactive then it has ever been, often times  viewers are given a hashtag to use when referring to the show, in order to streamline the conversation. I recently watched the Emmy award show, while observing the conversation on Twitter. The variety of comments ranged from award winners, to fashion, to fans supporting their favorite shows. Fans are now able to engage in conversation about there favorite shows. The buzz created about a show may attract new viewers.

Fan also have increasing power in reviving their favorite programs.  Deuze talks about the possible end of the “gatekeeper” regarding news, but this notion can also lend itself to entertainment programs as well. Shows that have large or dedicated fan-following have showed increasing power over studios—even after a show has been cancelled.

The popular television show Arrest Development, went off the air in 2006, after three seasons. Although the rating when it aired originally were less than stellar, it has garnered a huge cult following via the internet. Participatory fan bases are asserting their power, and that’s something we can all do the chicken dance too. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Simpsons: A Global Cultural Phenomenon

I'd like to open this post as a forum to continue today's classroom discussion on American media and its impact on global culture. We saw how badly comedy can get muddled in translation today with Nike's flop of a Lebron James commercial in China. Professor Hayden described comedy and irony as cultural traits that are the most challenging to translate, yet The Simpsons is a global phenomenon that has spanned two decades and translated into over twenty languages including Arabic as you see here.

So how is a comedy so popular globally though it clearly reflects American pop culture? Perhaps it is, as Iwabuchi describes, culturally odorless. Though it references American pop culture, the fact that it is a cartoon that largely plays on the comedy of family dynamics, it is those dynamics that make it popular overseas. It should also be noted that in global syndication, certain liberties are taken with editing and translations that make it more compatible to the local cultural norms. That said, I think there is still a clear cultural identity here and so does Hugo Chavez as the Simpsons was banned in Venezuela in 2008.

And Chavez is not the only critic of the Simpsons. Brazil and Australia were unimpressed with the depictions of their nations in episodes when the Simpsons traveled overseas. Interestingly though, when the Simpsons visited England, giving the country the same stereotypical treatment as Brazil and Australia, the same outcry was not seen. Perhaps this is because the country is used to it by now with similar episodes seen in television shows from Friends to Married With Children. Or is it a deeper question? Is there such close cultural ties between England and the United States that the English could appreciate the comedy? Was there - as I feel - a larger group who felt that the show actually reflected negative sentiments about America? This is highlighted when Homer get's stuck in a British roundabout (traffic circle). After hours of attempting to exit, he finally gives up and yells, "I'm getting out of this the only way Americans know how: unilaterally!"

What do you think? What is it about The Simpsons that makes is a global success? Does it represent American cultural imperialism? Or does its success come from being culturally odorless?

Civil Society in the New Public Sphere

SPOILER ALERT: I touched on this question in my midterm exam, but it is a question I'd like to spend a little more time on.

This year we have seen several incidences where movement have arisen, largely through the grassroots (there's that word again). At the beginning of the year we saw this in Egypt and throughout the Middle East during the Arab Spring. From the spring and into the summer we saw the News of the World "phone hacking" scandal rock Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp. And most recently, the #occupy movement has grown over the course of the last month and has now "gone global."

The common thread between the three of these movements is that they have played a significant role in shaping the debate in the new public sphere without the help of civil society. In fact, traditional groups and organizations within civil society have, for the most part, been conspicuous in their absence. In Egypt, civil society was rigidly controlled by the Mubarak regime. The phone hacking scandal is actually old news that was largely ignored by the media and independent organizations until it was revealed that the tabloid paper knowingly impeded a police investigation in a high profile murder case. With the #occupy movement, there is a sense of suspicion and dismissal from the media coverage and only muted support from unions and organizations.

While you could perhaps argue with my characterizations of the participation of the civil society in these three cases, however, what is more certain is that in none of these movements did civil society lead the debate and shape it. Is this coincidence, or is it evidence of a developing trend?  Is individual public diplomacy replacing traditional groups in the civil society? Is this a good thing?

Assuming for a moment that this is illustrative of a trend in communications, then I am not entirely sure that it is a good thing. Civil Society is the go-between for the public and the government and it is far more challenging to individually create the awareness necessary to shift the conversation in the public sphere. That said, I appreciate that the evidence of this year suggests that it is increasingly possible for public to control the debate within the public sphere. It is interesting to see what happens next and I look forward to hearing from the leaders of the April 6th movement tomorrow and hear what they have to say about shifting the debate in the public sphere and inspiring change in their country.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The New Public Sphere

The public sphere is providing a more concrete avenue for civil society to be involved in the political process. I would actually argue that the public sphere is necessary to maintain an appropriate level of good governance. Providing a forum in which individuals can express ideas and debate issues is critical to democracy.

From its historical roots, the public sphere took the form of town hall meetings, conventions and tribal gatherings. These strategies required a more participatory approach on behalf of civil society. The ability to debate complex issues and influence policy was all done in person. Now, the public sphere has transformed to a more digital communication approach.

I think it is important for America to never lose the common touch. While I support the public sphere and its digital magnificence, I will remain committed to personal interaction when it comes to discussing important issues.

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, we should always remember what was accomplished without the convenience of technology. The MLK dedication this weekend reminded me that civil rights activists worked hard to use the power of the public sphere. They did not tweet about the March on Washington, nor did they post status updates about demonstrations. Yet, they were able to mobilize the masses for a clear objective and rely on the common touch to bring them the results desired.

The Decline of U.S. Nationalism

Throughout history, nations have helped cultivate feelings of common belonging among people. When groups gather to celebrate federal holidays, exchange ideas in the public sphere, or participate in civic society through voting and or volunteering, they are contributing to the ideology of nationalism. In the United States, citizens identify with the nation through a variety of symbols and rituals. For example, school-aged children are required to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag daily as part of their educational routine. In many ways, this act of socializing young children to self-identify with the nation lays a foundation for nationalism that in some cases lasts a lifetime.
Today, the status of nationalism in the United States is arguably in question. Since the dawn of the ‘Great Recession’ millions of Americans are without jobs. In fact last month, the U.S. unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent.[1] With millions of Americans out of work, government approval rates are rapidly declining. In recent months, thousands of citizens have relied on the public sphere to express their disapproval for the government. In New York City for example, protesters on Wall Street have taken their complaints directly to the institution they hold responsible for the economic crisis.
Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming amount of dissatisfaction among Americans toward their nation. Nationalism is built upon unity, shared culture, and pride, thus a threat to these elements ultimately threatens the nation. If the demonstrations on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C. are indicative of the status of nationalism in America, it is clear that national identity in the U.S. is in jeopardy.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

OK, What Gives?

So I finally got around to watching "Capitalism: A Love Story". It was heart-wrenching. Politics aside, it was horrible to watch people thrown out on the street. It was difficult to sit and watch as the stories of a few rock-bottom families developed along side the tales of clever corporate schemes to horde money. The fact is, though, that politics were not aside. I'm doing some reading now on topics that the movie covered (ie - Reagan economics, modern housing markets, congressional jurisdiction and the voice of the people ignored). I don't have to read for long to find that Moore's fact-checking is right on target. Everyone should see this movie. It was unreal.
I know that in class I tend to come across as negative, but it's really just more of a skeptic thing. After all, my middle name is Thomas. I think it is so important to check credentials and to do some quick fact finding before we swallow information whole. Who's putting the news out there? Who sponsors this website? Whose manifesto is being pushed between the lines? Especially in an age where "information is so readily available" (a feature of the internet we hold in highest regards), it is vital that we know our sources.
One of the reasons I think we should care so much is that we NEVER heard about any of the back-door dealings that took place before, during, and after our financial crisis. Did you know that the top members of the financial firms essentially held congress down to get them to pass the bailout (after it had initially rejected it)? Or that memos were published within Bank of America that openly discussed ways in which the top 1% could effectively RULE the other 99%? I didn't. My point is - what is going on? How did we not know? Why did it take a few people so much digging in order to find out? We are communications majors here. What is happening to our field?
This just keeps feeding into other questions: How did we get to this present situation? Why are so few able to suppress so many? Why, when those of us willing to shout gather in NYC and DC, do the rest of us look on in apathy/amusement/judgment?

Click Here For A Look At "Capitalism: A Love Story"

Global Media and Culture: An example of violence?

             Robert McChesney in the article The Media System Goes Global, writes about the growing effect the global media system has on cultures. McChesney goes on to write about how a global marketing can sometimes have benefits—such as minimization of stereotypes in order to not alienate global populations, an example being portraying Arabs as evil or the antagonists. Although this maybe be a positive effect, the downside of the global media system are much more severe.
            McChesney writes how action films garner a lot of popularity in foreign markets. From personal experience I notice films with a lot of dialogue do not always translate well, humor has wide variety of interpretation according to languages or cultures, but action does not take a lot of explanation. Major film studios produce these films and because their wide distribution, they have a global reach. Many of these films have gratuitous amounts of violence, with little to no consequence.

               McChesney  writes that “Violent fare also has a certain de-evolutionary logic to it. Over time, films and TV programs need to become ever more grisly to attract attention.”  Film studios claim to be catering to an the audiences demands but at times there are real world consequences to these images. The book A Long Way Gone author Ismael Beah, describes his life in Sierra Leone as a child solider.  He explains how he was given drugs and was shown images of violent movies, most notably Rambo, he is told to behave like Rambo and kill others. He describes how his fellow child soldiers would compete to see who could complete Rambo moves better than the other; the consequences—hundreds maybe thousands dead. This statement was echoed in Liberia. In the film The Redemption of General Butt Naked, former warlord, General Butt Naked, (now known as Joshua Milton Blahyi) shows Jean Claude Van Dam movies to the child soldiers he recruits as an instructional video on war-fare. He also tells them their life is like a movie, and they will come back to life in another movie, in order for them to fight more fiercely.  These are the unintended consequences of a global media system’s wide distribution.

               I don’t want demonize action movies for their influence of war-fare globally—of coarse they are not solely responsible for these horrid events. To blame them alone would be over simplifying the all the issues in the respective countries, and world wide, but this is a chilling example of how global media can influence culture in a very disturbing way.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs and his Impact on International Communication

Steve Jobs has significantly transformed the way in which human beings communicate. His impact will forever be remembered and his legacy will continue to live on for generations to come. In a recent class discussion, I asked the professor his thoughts on how the life of Steve Jobs impacted the field of International Communication. After much reflection, I concluded that Steve Jobs revolutionized the process of obtaining employment and raised the bar for most people in the workforce. Although he didn't know that what started in a basement would shape history and pave the way for the future, Steve Jobs has undoubtedly shown the world that a single dream can impact the world in a great way.
As technology advances and as new communication devices emerge, candidates seeking employment must display proficiency in whatever tools that the employer desires. Steve Jobs has raised the bar for job-seeking applicants. Long gone are the days where individuals could gain employment by just knowing how to read, write and analyze information.Now, thanks to Steve Jobs, applicants must know how to use and navigate Apple products. This invention has not crippled America, but has caused workers in America to obtain new skills and tangibles. In a very competitive society, it has become increasing important to be up -to -date and in the loop with all new technology.
One cannot really imagine a world without Steve Jobs. Therefore it's even harder to imagine a future without him. The end of his life has signified a new chapter in the global landscape. One has to wonder if new computer technology will now become stagnant, or if this event will give rise to some new technological genius. These concerns are too early to be addressed, but still contain much validity. Now is the time to honor a man that has impacted the field of International Communication and has raised the bar and qualifications for the global workforce.

Twitter a New Form of Diplomacy?

A recent report released by the office of Republican Senator Richard Lugar suggests that social media sites such as twitter should serve as a platform for enhancing relations with Latin America.  The report stated, “At a time when U.S. political influence is waning in the region, it is clear that U.S. driven technological trends could redefine relationships with many countries in Latin America." As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Lugar has a unique perspective on U.S. diplomacy and his push for “twitter diplomacy” is in alignment with the global effort to enhance technological infrastructure in the developing world.  

In the same way that past inventions like the printing press and telephone changed the way civil society communicated with government leaders, social media has proven to be an equally significant contributor. Websites like twitter and facebook are vehicles for sharing ideas about improving society. Although it may be years before tweets are quoted in the pages of international covenants, tweets and facebook posts alike are effective ways to begin a conversation on how we all can contribute to making the world a better place.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Protecting the Information Environment

Livingston poses the question,

"How does the nature of an information environment alter the nature of governance?"

But is the real question is how to protect the information environment.

 I believe we are living in a time where the governance boundaries are constantly being re-defined. Private business and corporations are often times leading issues in Internet governance.

The Internet’s power is undisputable—the information super-highway allows people from all over the world (well, those who have internet access and computer literacy) an equal playing field. Livingston provides examples of how the use of technology has empowered people to act from a grassroots level. From the Ushahidi project crisis mapping technology, to the blogosphere, that provides an alternative perspective to traditional media, the Internet is a huge platform. But will the hunger for profits end this free flow?

Net Neutrality—the FCC and legislators are constantly battling over how to govern the Internet. Last year the Daily Tech reported on a leaked proposal that would change customer on the number of web pages they visited, or charge customers per megabyte used. The information leaked also reported a plan to create their own social media sites and allow people to access these sites for free. This would obviously create more incentive for users to use the “Verizon social media site” for free, rather than others.  Imagine how your usage would change if you had to pay for each website you visited? Imagine how your research would be limited based on finical concerns.

When I lived in Kenya, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I had to pay per megabyte used. I would purchase a scratch card with a certain amount of megabytes “top-up” via my cell phone and plug in an external modem that accesses the cell phones companies network. When I used all my megabytes the Internet would stop, and since the Peace Corps pays you the average wage of the country you serve in—I couldn’t afford a lot of megabytes. This changed my Internet behavior; I turned off all images on all websites because pictures used too many megabytes,(Facebook with no faces, only book) forget about Skype or Youtube (well the connection was too slow to access either site effectively) which use a lot data. Upon returning to the U.S. I was blown away at the possibilities a non pay-per-megabyte system and a fast connection afforded me.  I have found so many online resources that would of enormously helpful during my service that I could never afford.

So far the FCC has erred against these changes, but it’s important to protect the information environment that has created a global platform for so many.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Public Interest vs. The Public Interest

In the increasingly interconnected information (and communications if we listen to Raboy) societies, there more pressure than ever on the media to provide news for the public interest. There is so much information out there to consume today that it is impossible to take it all in and we rely on news outlets to curate much of our information for us. Siochru and Girard discuss, in general terms, how governments can create legislation to control the media in this regard, but in doing so, we run the risk of imposing a single view of society and creating censorship. So again, much of the determination as to what is newsworthy comes down to what the news outlets determine is "news worthy."

The problem with relying to heavily on the news media for these determinations is that they have an obligation to sell advertising time. They are therefore concerned with ratings, or more specifically, providing the public with the information they are interested in.

On Monday night, Brian Williams, host of the NBC Nightly News was on Letterman promoting his new show and during their interview, they started talking about Amanda Knox. For those out there who do not consume news from any major source, Amanda Knox is a young woman from Seattle who was convicted of killing Meredith Kurcher, a 21 year old British exchange student, in Italy four years ago. For whatever reason, this story captured the public imagination and interested reached its pinnacle on Monday when Amanda Knox's conviction was overturned, she was released and allowed to return home to the United States.

During the interview with Williams, Letterman asked the news anchor about this story and noted how it was a leading story on the major networks, trumping news about the protests on Wall Street, President Obama's job creation proposal, and the Republican primary campaign. Brian Williams acknowledged that he learned from one of his predecessors, Tom Brokaw, that the most important part of a good newscast is to balance what is in the public interest with what the public is interested in. (Here is the link to the interview. Unfortunately, there is no way to get the specific segment of the show from the CBS website, but the interview with Williams is in the third segment)

Williams acknowledges that it is difficult to ignore how, during a time when one in ten Americans is unemployed, the media is focusing so intently on the fate of one woman who's future will have almost no impact on the overwhelming majority of the country, but he has an obligation to the viewer.

With that in mind, I'm posing a series of open questions: is this an argument for increased regulation of the news media? Should we have more stringent rules on what networks provide in their newscasts? In the United States, we have laws requiring networks to provide a certain amount of programming in the public interest every day, do human interest stories like Amanda Knox's qualify? Or is this yet another reason for individuals to take ownership of the curating their own news?

Examining the Evidence

In my last post, I had commented on the fact that we all need to be more critical of cliches and buzzwords that are thrown our way. I was pleased to see that, in reading some other posts on this blog site, the attitude was reflected.
I did some reading last night and this morning that made me realize that this trend of ours (to just latch onto something and run with it) runs deeper than just catchphrases. We seem to do this with concepts, as well. How many of us got swept up in the awe of the internet's might during the Arab Spring? We cheered Egyptians on for harnessing communication technology to overcome authoritarianism. It was cool. It was really heartening.
What we need to realize, however, is that this was such a rarity. Authoritarian regimes are nothing new. This battle of Good vs Evil (Information vs Suppression), is a big misconception that we Westerners have dreamt up. That's not to say that it has good roots. When the East German government broke apart from the West, many citizens along the border (ie Berlin) were able to enjoy western TV programs. The wall went up and cable transmission stopped until those East Germans, hell bent on watching their shows, learned to angle satellites to pick up stations. After efforts to stop this consumption of western media, the Eastern government realized that it just wasn't worth the time and headache (yes, MANY Germans complained about not being able to watch the American soaps). Moreover, they discovered that consumers of this information were less likely to demonstrate against the regime and find outlets to release politically charged frustration. Why? Because from 5pm-9pm there was an escape; a way over the wall. So here, on a silver platter, the Eastern Regime was given a seemingly free way to pacify its people. We thought we were showing the commies what they were missing out on and therefore charging their drive to break free. We were just giving them what we had always had: mindless, captivating TV.
This same trend has been noticed in several other regimes as well. Russia, although not nearly as paranoid as the GDR, has actually welcomed the net because it understands that youtube can occupy the minds of a populace with empty media. Given a choice, the people want to think about recent plot developments on a sitcom, not domestic economic policy.

"The internet has provided so many cheap and easily available entertainment fixes to those living under authoritarianism that is has become considerably harder to get people to care about politics at all."

"Unless the West stops glorifying those living in authoritarian governments, it risks falling under the false impression that if it builds enough tools to break through the barriers..., citizens will inevitably... rebel against repressive government."

- Evgeny Morozov (The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom)

This also runs beyond TV, however. We have started to figure out that introducing the internet to countries under close state watch has resulted in search topics dealing mostly with porn. Surprising? Humans are humans, I guess. If you give a wired computer to an up and coming generation living under, what we could consider, out-dated social norms, the internet provides a clear vent for pent-up sexual frustration. We can refer to Mazlow's levels here to reinforce this image (no pun intended).

We have got to stop assuming and start working with the actual results of this living phenomenon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Business News: The State still holds a Monopoly on Violence

I read the article about the differing views on globalization and its many theories. I really enjoyed the counterpoints that were posited against some of the more common beliefs (ie - globalization means that there are no centers of power, the state is falling away...). I think that the vast majority of people, and I can count myself among them, have sometimes forgotten the very intricate relationship between government and firms. Especially in America, we should always look to the interactions between these two fronts to determine the real nature of "globalization." This country was, after all, the land of trust-busters and then, quite conversely, the supporter of private sector enterprise through means of tax legislation and bail-outs.
In the end, I think this particular theory of industrial imperialism and the fading of the state was killed totally and utterly by the subtle reminder of Max Weber's definition of "State." Radical though it may seem, he noticed that the State was the power which held a monopoly on violence. How's that for business terms? A monopoly on violence. This is the ability to wage wars, subdue riots, jail citizens, sentence inmates of a certain caliber to death. From a business standpoint, all these actors (other nations, rioters, criminals, inmates) are smaller firms trying to get a foothold in the market of legal violence. This is, of course, absurd. The State will in every case squash rivals and protect its territory. Based on current affairs, I'd have to admit: the State (still in the terms that we are used to) is not going anywhere.
It's a short response and I know I'm mostly just commenting here, but I think there's some good literature out there that reminds us to examine evidence. I know I'm guilty of it too, but it is far too easy to throw around sexy terms like "globalization" and then spend an academic career positing its many working parts and implications without doing any real investigation.
It was refreshing. I thought so, anyhow.

The Permanent Relevance of Globalization

In a recent class discussion, I pointed out that globalization will always be relevant. The term is so broad in nature that everyone from bank investors to foreign policy experts use it at leisure. I don't think their will be a day in the next 15 years that the term globalization will not be used to describe some type of world phenomenon or interaction between foreign countries. Using globalization as a term has become so convenient to the point that it's not getting its adequate academic credibility.
Hansen described 4 conditions to measure globalization. These measurements included the intensity of communication, the total number of interchanges, the impact of interchange and the velocity of interchange. It is no doubt that globalization is not confined to these 4 pillars, however, there must be some type of framework to justify a world occurrence being deemed an impact of globalization.
Globalization will continue to redefined. Depending on the context it's being used and who frames the term, globalization is a term that will always remain relevant.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Social Media for Social Good

Last month the United Nations Foundation hosted the “Social Good Summit” in New York City. The event was well attended with more than 1,600 participants. Guests included bloggers, journalists, world leaders, and government officials. One of the co-hosts for the event was, a blog-turned popular news site that is gaining respect in the world of information and communication technology.  Mashable’s steady traction in the social media world is no surprise given its popularity among techies. Mashable’s partnership with the UN however, is quite unique considering the UN only recently launched an initiative to communicate its work to a broader audience through social media. “Our mission is to help the United Nations tell its story,” said Aaron Sherinian, spokesman for the United Nations Foundation. “Power is shifting, and we want to help the U.N. break out of its walls and engage with the people who want to engage with them.”[1]
As an organization that is dedicated to helping people from all demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds, Sherinian’s point of using social media to help the UN “ break out of its walls and engage with the people who want to engage with them” raises the question of who exactly the foundation is targeting with its social media presence. It seems as if the UN foundation’s social media presence online will only widen the gap between the haves and the have-not’s or better yet, the voiced and the voiceless. Although social media is becoming a standard tool for engagement in the developed world, more attention needs to be given to eradicating the digital divide among citizens in developing nations who do not have access to these technologies. Shouldn't they be engaged too?


Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Unwatchable Global Conversation

Globalization has had a huge effect on the spread of communications, but does it always play fair? A recent discussion in class revolved around the role of globalization and communications, and its effects on international politics, and social change. 

A report from U.S. Institute of Peace, named Blogs and Bullets, reported that during the Arab Spring uprising 75% of links about the protests were accessed outside of the Arab world. This outside attention helped fuel the global conversation about the revolutions.  While uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were followed closely other like in Bahrain are largely ignored.  Many site U.S. interest in squashing the revolution as a possible reason, but how do these trends in global conversations start? Is it possible to incite a global conversation or is it organic.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, has faced years of war over the conflict material (cassiterite, wolframite, coltan,and gold) used in the production of cell phones and lap-tops. Rape has become a tool of war, it is reported that 4 Congolese women are raped every 5 minutes. Many advocacy groups have tried to draw attention to the plight of these women, but it has not garnered a lot of media attention.

A U.K. group Save the Congo, in an attempt to spark media attention created a film The Unwatchable, a short film portraying violence that occurs daily in Democratic Republic of Congo, but transposes the setting to rural England. The film depicts an attack on a British family by militants; in the film members of the family are raped, dismembered, and killed. It is disturbing, and truly unwatchable.

I can appreciate the social commentary, implying that the media largely ignores issues in Africa, while this behavior would never be tolerated in a Western country. I get it, but somehow I know this film misses the mark. Sensationalizing the violence in the Congo is doing injustice to the complex issues surrounding the conflict.  Inducing fear into an audience will not create sustainable change. There should be a middle ground when trying to spark change, or garnering media attention.

The Internet has changed the conversation about globalization. The popularity and discussion of social issues on a global scale has an enormous impact. No wonder these organizations are desperately trying to capitalize on it, but there has to be room for actual discourse and activism, not just a sensationalized scare tactic approach.