Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Final update on the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel ceremony is on Friday, and as of now 19 countries have announced that they will be boycotting the ceremony: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

Countries that have confirmed their ambassadors' attendance include India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, and "all the Western countries," according to the Nobel Committee chairman, Geir Lundestad.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Participatory Educational Entertainment

Blog 12
December 3, 2010

Singhal and Rogers propose a theoretical framework in order to analyze Entertainment Education. They point out how the emotions that EE programs evoke can be far more effective than straight ahead information. They use the example of how if someone is attached to a character on a show, and that character suffers and dies from AIDS, the affect on condom usage will be more powerful than a straight ahead information ad. They also outline methods for methodology and measurements of how many people watch the shows and are affected by them.
I have heard anecdotal evidence from a person I interviewed who implemented radio education programs with the Peace Corps in Niger. He told me that one of the problems they had was in gathering data about the effectiveness of radio programs that they had made. One example was one he had helped to make about smoking. The women who was the voice actor on it told him that she was in a taxi one day and the taxi driver recognized her and told her he had stopped smoking because of the show. This kind of direct feedback is hard to gather in a comprehensive way (whether the show was heard and if it had an affect ie did it change behavior). The same can be said for EE programs. Singhal and Rogers suggest inserting “markers” into shows that are unique. This creates an independent variable that is easier to measure. However, In some areas it is hard to get surveys done because the work of getting them out requires transportation and people on the ground. There are now mobile phone applications for this kind of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of radio shows, so there are possibilities for more evaluation. And the people in the towns can be given phones in order to gather the data and become involved in the project in multiple ways.
In their conclusion, Singhal and Rogers speak about using the web to deliver more individualized messages. They also look at how some communities have used arts/crafts and participatory theater to help with education and behavior changes. I think a combination of mass media with participatory ideas can be powerful. One project I worked on in LA was with high school students in “south central”. They made documentaries about the neighborhood and video journals. We posted the work online and had film screenings. While the work was not seen by a large audience, the affects of these kinds of participatory projects are tangible. You can see how the kids gain confidence and enjoy working in a medium that is familiar to them as consumers.

The Rising Tide

Entertainment is the single most lucrative industry in the US. Wolf (1999), as quoted in Singhal and Rogers’ article, was spot-on in describing entertainment as a “rising tide” in the US. Unyielding and inevitable, entertainmentization has gripped society to such an extent a decade after the term was coined that the American public has been unwittingly consumed in the entertainment society, as much as we live in an information society. We demand entertainment in everything around us: elevators and cabs are equipped with tvs; with smart phones and ipods placing entertainment at our fingertips, there is never an idle moment. Materials meant to be informative or educational are evaluated for their entertainment value even where utterly irrelevant. The most ordinary aspects of daily life involving showcasing cakes at the local bakery, makeover shows, choosing your wedding dress, housewives, and large families are the center of reality shows for the public to feed on. Details of celebrities and other high-profile people’s lives are tabloid fodder to satiate the public’s desire for entertainment. This ties back to the idea of the paradox of plenty, where we are perhaps inundated by too many entertainment options that there is a sensory overload that makes it difficult to choose what to pay attention to, determine what is important, or what to indulge in next.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

E-E and infotainment

The Singhal and Rogers article asks whether "the educational function, if creatively incorporated, enhance[s] the entertainment function" (p. 124). In my opinion, not only is the answer yes, but people are always learning from entertainment - the question is WHAT they are learning. Even the crassest "entertainment-perversion" programming teaches you something, though that something may be of little value (anything on Jersey Shore). I think the quality of the entertainment goes up with the quality of the education. Would Jon Stewart be as popular as a comedian if his content wasn't of such high quality? Is there really a difference between E-E and "infotainment"? Infotainment is often decried for dumbing down current events, and throughout college I listened to my professors freak out that my age group was (allegedly) getting most of its news from The Daily Show. But I am not convinced that having Jon Stewart keep me updated on politics is fundamentally different from Big Bird teaching my little cousin the alphabet. What does everyone else think?

Confucius Institutes, Soft Power, Communism?

There has been a lot of talk recently about Beijing’s “soft power”, one initiative of which is the many Confucius Institutes (272 in total) around the world. Some people in Hacienda Heights, a pretty darn Asian neighborhood to begin with – don’t take too kindly to them teaching Chinese to their children. To this phenomenon, Daily Show correspondent Aadif Mandvi was there to talk about it.

Here is a funny and absurd video about people there’s attitude towards the teaching of Chinese there. Here is the link:


The reality is that the people opposed China brainwashing scheme are not just someone like the old lady in the video, but also including those most prominent protesters of PRC influence on the educational sphere used to be part of the Red Army.

I am not saying that Kai Chen the old lady in the video aren’t extremely paranoid, but considering the very filtered view of the world people get in China which due to the Chinese government’s heavy hand on information, it is not strange to wonder if the Chinese lessons from Confucius Institutes may be washed out too.

However, on the other hand, as the nature of language, culture is an important part of it which can never be separated. As a tool of government’s soft power, those Confucius Institutes are used to spread Chinese culture for sure; however, saying that teaching Chinese language equals spreading Communist concept may be not appropriate. In the first place, Chinese culture is not Communism; the former has existed for thousands of years while the latter was a product after the WWI.

Secondly, people have their own choice to learn Chinese or not; demand always comes before supply. In other words, people choose to learn language based on their needs and interest. They choose to accept and expose themselves under the influence.
In my point of view, Chinese is just like other thousands of languages in the world. It is a little bit of paranoid to think that people are using language as a tool to get to some political aims.

Edutainment Shows, What Kids Learn from Them

After listening to last week’s presentation about Sesame Street’s different versions in different parts of the world especially in China, how they succeed and fail, there are some points I want to make.

Edutainment is a form of entertainment designed to educate as well as to amuse. For those entertainment TV programs designed for kids, the culture implication matters a lot because it has influence on whether they can accept them, what they learn from them and how they precept the world. In my point of view, the attention and endeavor given to those TV shows can never to be enough.

In the case of Sesame Street, I think the main reason for its failure does not lie in the image of the Big Bird and other Muppets; although it is totally new to Chinese kids, it is still within the scope of “acceptance”. The main reason for the failure should be the content it tried to present to Chinese kids and the way it present it.
Here I would like to mention another TV program which was introduced in China from the States in late 90s – Beakman’s World. Beakman is a crazy scientist who is doing different scientific experiments using materials and facilities people can find at home with a crazy girl and a giant mouse with funny ears. The image of Beakman is scarier and crazier (dirty face and weird hairstyle like he was survived from the exploration) than the Big Bird. However, after Beakman’s World was on show in China, a lot of kids loved it and they started to follow Beakman’s instruction to do experiments by themselves. So why kids in Chinese can accept the crazy and weird scientist Beakman rather than the Big Bird?
In the first place, it is because of the content of the show. The content of Beakman’s World covers a larger age rank of kids (from preschool to high school). It is more challenging and interesting. It is something related to the knowledge from school about also different. Also, Beakman’s world gives kids a choice to participate, interact or not. Most Chinese kids do not like or get used to those shows require a high interaction. However, Beakman’s World gives them choice and if they want, they can create their own experiment and be more creative.

The second point comes to the way Beakman’s World presents the content. As I mentioned before, some of the experiments in this show are relevant to the knowledge from Science class at school. But the “lecture” format of science class can never satisfy kids’ curiosity and their eager to participate. In Beakman’s World, kids can do experiment by their own, they can be more creative which gives them a sense of achievement, also, it cultivate their ability of individual thinking and organizing.

Another very important point for the failure of Sesame Street and the success of Beakman’s World is the time when they were introduced in China. The Big Bird was introduced into China in 1983, less than 5 year after the Opening up Policy, when people in China were still wearing the clothes of the same color; when people did not know what pop music was; when kids were taught in school that the aim for studying was to contribute to the society and the Communist Party ; however, personally, I do not think it is the right time to let kids accept and like Sesame Street and actually it was beyond their ability to understand and enjoy it. Nevertheless, about 15 years later, when Beakman’s World came to China, everything was different. Kids are ready to expose themselves to something new something completely different from before.

Today, there are lots and lots of edutainment TV shows for kids, helping them learn knowledge and train their living abilities. But there should be another mission for those edutainment shows which is to cultivate their ability to accept something new, something different.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two-Way Communication and power

I was interested to read Power’s and Gilboa's chapter on Al-Jazeera's success in becoming a transnational political actor, not that that was its original goal. The fact that so many governments, in both the Middle East and Western countries have targeted Al-Jazeera, has actually given them more power.
One idea that struck me was about how Al-Jazeera views itself as creating two-way communication. I actually think it is more complicated than that. I think that they are allowing multiple voices to be represented because of both their internal and external agendas (giving a pan-Arab viewpoint, promoting democracy). I don't see the media in such polarized terms and reading their website doesn't give me the impression of a polar opposite view from western media. I understand that there is the symbolism in the idea of western/eastern ideas getting equal representation, beyond what the actual realities of daily reporting may contain. And I think that the work Al-Jazeera has been able to do on the ground in terms of access to images that western media does not get is important to expanding the dialogue in the public sphere.
I agree that the way that the Bush administration handled Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Iraq was very polarizing and alienating. It eroded the soft power of the US as well. As Nye discusses in his book “Soft Power”, the US public diplomacy efforts were very weak during the 2003 Iraq invasion, which was a mistake. Al-Jazeera gained its strength through its interactivity and innovation (p. 72, Powers and Gilboa) and was able to become a powerful influence in the public sphere. I’m not sure that I agree that this means it is actually setting the agenda. I think this is hard to trace and prove. I think they can definitely influence outcomes in policy because of their broad reach. And this is a form of soft power, where they can decide to pursue framing an issue in a way that will shift public sphere opinion and put pressure on political leaders to make changes. Of course, this is why political leaders across the spectrum have tried to shut them down.

Liu Xiaobo update

As promised, here's an update on the progression of the Liu Xiaobo affair since our group presentation on November 9. According to the New York Times, Beijing is continuing its campaign to get other countries to boycott the Nobel ceremony on Dec 10. So far, Russia, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan have announced their plans to boycott the ceremony, while 36 others (including the US, Canada and all EU member countries) have announced that they would attend. Predictably, the two lists reflect liberal  with a strong commitment to human rights on one said, and autocratic regimes with a strong commitment to national sovereignty (ie the right of states to abuse human rights) on the other.

While the Nobel Committee says that there will definitely be a ceremony, it is unclear whether anyone will be able to accept the reward since it is customarily only given to the recipient or to a close family member. The last time that the prize was awarded to someone who was in prison, Aung Sang Suu Kyi's son accepted the award and delivered remarks on her behalf. Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, remains under house arrest and his brothers are incommunicado due to the heavy surveillance to which they are subjected. The Chinese government is preventing Liu sympathizers from leaving the country, presumably fearing that they might be headed for Oslo, and there is no way that that they would let any of the Liu family exit the country.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ebb and Flow of Soft Power

Nye’s article on public diplomacy and soft power really resonates in its assessment of US efforts in this arena in recent years, and how our standing in the world has shifted in response to our foreign policy. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was absolutely right when he stated that “good cultural propaganda cannot remedy the damage done by a bad foreign policy, but it is no exaggeration to say that even the best of diplomatic policies may fail if it neglects the task of interpretation and persuasion which modern conditions impose.” This is reflected in the decline of America’s soft power ever since the initiation of the unpopular war in Iraq and the debate over Guantanamo, leading to the perception of Americans as warmongers and self-righteous hypocrites. I felt the impact of these negative perceptions especially distressing while studying abroad in 2006. I viewed my daily interactions with locals as an opportunity to change perceptions of the US through fostering positive relations on an interpersonal level, but at the same time understood my classmates’ reservations about broadcasting our nationality for fear of the backlash. We found that telling people we were from California elicited a much more positive reaction than when we introduced ourselves as being American, which inevitably was met by a more aloof attitude. California elicited ideas about Hollywood and American pop culture, which was still generally well-liked, but the idea of America brought forth negative feelings because of its association with unpopular foreign policy. However, ever since Obama assumed office, his far-reaching popularity has led to an improved perception of Americans around the world, as popular sentiment shifted and Americans began to be regarded as being progressive for having elected a black president. These trends indeed demonstrate the inextricability of foreign policy and soft power, and its resulting impact on the effectiveness of public diplomacy.

Parking garages and McDonalds Food

I just finished reading through the Sean Aday and Steven Livingston article (Taking the State out of State), and I'm a little confused.

Not about what Transnational Advocacy Networks (TANs) or as I'm assured, is an interchangeable term, Epistemic Communities are. I'll come back with my issues on that in a moment.

Aday and Livingston have a valid question; is the media, which is supposed to inform the public biased or been stagnated to depend solely on governmental sources for the presentation of their reports? What hangs me up is this though; what are they're talking about when they say media? Are they referring to "mainstream" media? National media? International media?

Their primary example is a 1973 study of The New York Times and The Washington Post, which found that those media in particular favored government sources over TANs, and was often limited in discussion to the extent that the issue was controversial within government. I'm going to presume they were talking about national popularized media coverage, particularly in the U.S., within the context of during and after the cold war. The chief problems as I see it with their thesis then is this: There are thousands of groups that fit under the authors' definition of TANs in the U.S. (many of them often founded here), but it's questionable whether that all of them would correspond to their own definition of Epistemic Communities. Even if they do, are they relevant?

If we go by the idea that Epistemic Communities are "networked advocates possessing particularly expertise," (Aday and Livingston, 103) we have to define what qualifies as "expertise" and whether or not it's appropriate to associate it "interchangeably" with non-state actors who "develop information that is transmitted, printed and broadcast around the globe." PETA is under this definition a TAN, but I would argue against the idea, based on some of their bizarre and extremist propaganda (not to mention actions), that they are necessarily as reliable and objective a source as other organizations like The International Fund for Animal Welfare on matters of animal protection.

Admittedly, that example was probably biased. But my point is, should news organizations start to quote TAN's on every issue that they report on, it requires a lot of work. Which TAN is an Epistemic Community on any given issue, and which one is not? Which TANs are a proportional counterpart/complement with something of substance to add to an argument and which ones are spouting talking points they read online or in other media? Within the limited amount of space in a newspaper column, who deserves a soapbox and who doesn't?

I'm not arguing against coverage of different views of an issue. All I'm saying is that the government position is orderly and reliable. TANs are not, and we may need a new model entirely before they can be made relevant.

Despite the infinite capacity of the internet (which is a whole different can of worms, but we weren't talking about that medium), I'll get off the soapbox now, and let somebody else have a turn.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Modern art as CIA weapon

A few weeks ago I came across this article in The Independent (UK) about the CIA's use of modern art as a "weapon" during the Cold War. In brief, the CIA's covert public diplomacy activities (ie propaganda) toward the Soviet block focused on putting out an image of the US as a free, creative society where artists, dissidents and counter-culture thinkers were free and encouraged to express themselves and participate in the social sphere - everything that the USSR was not. Unfortunately, American public life at the time featured a number of loud voices that contradicted this idea, notably Joe McCarthy, and the majority of Americans were quite conservative. So, the CIA decided to promote modern art as a way of marginalizing Mccarthysim. Thought the article doesn't explicitly make the connection, I think in many ways this "long leash" policy was a precursor to present day public diplomacy in its recognition that in order to be compelling to international audiences, a country's image needed to be diverse and even contradictory, presenting a mosaic of viewpoints and forms of expression. Indeed, people and institutions in a position of authority gain more legitimacy from a robust opposition than they do from suppressing it, as my group discussed in our presentation on censorship and public diplomacy in China this week.
The dilemma of how to deal with voices in the domestic public sphere that are unpalatable to international audiences is very much in play today. If anything, this is more of an issue now than it was in the 1940s and 50s because technology and global information flows make it easier for ever before for international audiences to get information about the US, even if this information is inaccurate or incomplete. For example, earlier this fall when the pastor in Florida wanted to hold "National Burn a Koran Day," the US Government was deeply concerned that this lone voice would have disproportionate resonance in the Muslim world. This is why it is so important for US public diplomacy efforts to publicize the successes of American Muslim communities and the tolerant, cosmopolitan segments of our society, which hold much broader appeal to key global audiences than the Tea Party and nativist movements do.

Listening and Forgetting and Public Diplomacy

Hansen’s article on “War and Peace in the Information Age” brings up the important point that one of the failures of US policy in its attempts to win favor in the Arab and Muslim world came about because the US government did not take “the first important step of listening to the targeted audiences and trying to understand their values and worldviews.” (p. 118)

The US is seeking to regain credibility in the world. Many people hoped that Obama would help in this cause, but the wounds from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, combined with other polices, run deep.

How do you create a culture of listening in the front-lines (soldiers, diplomats, business people) that can effectively be translated back into policy decisions? And the government does have the primary goal of serving its own citizens. So if the government is hearing messages that don’t align with those goals, they are not going to try to appease another population at the expense of its own population. And even if those policies would help its own population in the long-run, the perceptions of the home country are equally, or more, important to politicians. But, with this concern aside, what does a culture of listening look like?

Some of the ideas that make sense to me include creating an effective data gathering system for:
students who are abroad for studies
International students in the US
Peace Corps volunteers

Government workers in the State Dept and US AID
NGO workers who are abroad
Private citizens working/living overseas

The challenge is to figure out a way to gather all of this information in a useful way for policy makers. It seems to me like we don’t lack information or resources in terms of people who are overseas and have access to other publics. I think what is lacking is a way to organize all of the knowledge to help improve listening. The other problem in the US government and public sphere is that we forget so quickly. Most people don’t follow the daily decisions of their representatives. And I do agree that the way the media frames news does not help improve retention of information. (I also think it comes from our approach to education). The problem with forgetting is that then all the listening gets lost.

I come back to listening the media and public diplomacy. How can the media incorporate listening? Citizen journalism? Blogs, comments, discussions? Does this increase media credibility and help media outlets to create effective frames (that stick) for issues? Does this then mean that the public is better informed and able to make better choices? If the media can succeed in empowering citizens through better listening and dialogue, then maybe conflicts can be resolved without the devastation of war.

Tool of the state or of the people?

Aday and Livingston make an important distinction between the different roles the media can play according to the type of event that is being covered – whether the media functions as a state apparatus, or if it provides a wide range of viewpoints that challenges statist discourse. Though the media can certainly serve as a government mouthpiece during extreme circumstances such as state emergencies, or in political environments such as censorship in China, one cannot ignore the role of transnational advocacy organizations in framing, supplementing, and sometimes serving as a foil for official discourse. However, I would like to add the capacity of local citizens and grassroots movements in contributing to the discourse on the more personal, local level as well. Though they are not necessarily part of an epistemic community considered experts on particular issues, the authenticity of those who live in the reality in question lend an authority that cannot be disregarded.

This is perhaps seen most clearly in the media attention generated by news of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize. That the news spread even amongst the Chinese people who are under heavy censorship and state propaganda may be attributed in large part to citizens who utilized social media to subvert the state media apparatus. This affair also demonstrates how “[transnational advocacy organizations] are able to overcome the ‘deliberate suppression of information that sustains many abuses of power’. They can ‘help reframe international and domestic debates…when they succeed, advocacy networks are among the most important sources of new ideas, norms, and identities in the international system” (Aday & Livingston, 2008). Thus, IR theorists and media scholars must reconcile the different functions of global media based on the circumstance, and recognize the power of citizen journalism and activism to impact global discourse as well.

Expo Dismemberment Censored

CDT's latest in their ongoing translations from the Chinese blog the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee reveal a list of eight prominent news items that the Propaganda Department doesn't want "hyped" in the Chinese media. Among the typically sensitive subjects of murder, death, promiscuity, etc., there is a more bizarre missive: "The retention or abandonment of World Expo pavilion buildings."

The dismemberment of the pavilions has thus been deemed simply too painful for the people to watch. Everybody knows that the government spend billions of RMB to build them and advertised the Expo for more than three years; people who visited Expo had to wait in line for more than eight hours in order to see one pavilion. They have a very strong feeling about the Expo and of course those pavilions.

So what is to become of our absurdly expensive beloved pavilions? The interesting thing is when I searched information on line about how government dealt with those pavilions; most search results have been censored. I tried different key words, until I exchanged the words "demolition of expo" with "fate of expo." Keeping with the holy personification above, apparently we're dealing with a broader destiny here, not just pretty hunks of metal and wood.

Interestingly, according to one CCTV report, the reason China won’t be keeping some of the more pricey pavilions like Japan or Saudi Arabia is that they can't afford the intellectual property rights regarding technology used during construction required to own them! So instead, they're either selling them off (Most recently sold: the Taiwan Pavilion for 97.2 million RMB ($14.45 million USD) to Hsinchu City in Taichung County, Taiwan). The price tag includes the design of the Taiwan Pavilion's day and night view, LED screens and the flying-lantern platform, the globe-shaped theater, logo, and its metal frame), auctioning them off for charity (if you bid for a piece of UK pavilion on line, the money will go to charity), shipping them back to their respective countries, or of course dismantling them for scrap.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Free speech

One of the things that struck me when I was looking at the Al-Queda Media Nexus article by Daniel Kimmage was a screenshot of the "Al-Ikhlas jihadist forum" (page 4). The reason it stood out was because it looked, at least by the picture that it use phpBB, an open source, free software package for creating message boards that's distributed over the internet. Now even though the phpBB website advertises its software under the friendly tagline, "Creating Communities," I doubt that facilitating branches of Al-Queda was what they had in mind.

The internet has given an incredibly powerful open arena for 'free' free speech whose effect and range could only previously be achieved with pirate radio, and by word of mouth before that. Moreso, the software is incredibly easy to pick up and use, given the right motivation; phpBB is one of the more common types of software used for internet forums. If you've ever been a member of any internet discussion forums in the last 10 years, there's a good chance it was run on phpBB. Terrorists or would be terrorists are also getting fairly creative in adapting forums for 'free' free speech in ways that are confidential and almost untraceable. For example, the five American Muslims who were arrested in Pakistan last year kept in contact with their handler through a free Yahoo email account. Rather than sending emails to each other though, all six of them had access to the same account and would leave messages in "saved drafts" of email messages. As nothing was actually being sent, there was nothing that could be intercepted.

What is the cost of free open-source, and 'free' free speech? Simply from a benefit analysis, there's no argument; the vast majority of people using this software are not doing it with hostile aims or to communicate aggressive ideas. Still, in an age when a great deal of people depend on the internet and new media for information, the news and political affirmation, it does conceivably allow for an effective counter to the US' public diplomacy and political spin machines, and a valuable coordination and communication avenue for terrorism.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Global Crises: To be or not to be?

While I would love to agree with Beck that the magnitude and sheer numbers of global crises must unite us in cosmopolitan realism, I believe Cottle’s criticism of that argument holds truer of the reality of globalized news today. He argues that the emphasis of national media on that which is relevant to its domestic audiences cannot be underestimated, as news received through this lens undermines a cosmopolitan outlook that might otherwise transcend national identities. Chouliaraki’s work complements this assessment, as her case study of the disproportionate news coverage on the western victims of the 2004 tsunami demonstrates. News outlets shape what is salient in the minds of the people through setting the agenda of what events to think about. When we watch the news, there is the implicit assumption that it will highlight everything that is worth noting of current events. Such is our reliance that if something is not given media attention, then the world continues to revolve as if nothing happened.
The media is indeed inherently selective in portraying news in a way that will resonate with local audiences, whether that is engendering shock and outrage, sympathy, or a sense of distance from a crisis. Events that constitute a global crisis are determined by the media, who hold the power to “dramatize or minimize, transform or simply deny according to the norms which decide what is known and what is not.” Cottle makes an important point that the media exercises its power as an agent of legitimization not only on the audiences that depend on it for knowledge of what is relevant, but also on the field of research and academia as well. The framing as global crises of more supposedly “immediate” issues, such as the war on terrorism and climate change, has generated much research interest, while ongoing crises such as starvation and disease have faded into the background, due to the persistent nature of these issues. I believe that in order for these other crises to be properly addressed, the media must do its audiences justice in bringing these less sensational, but equally important occurrences, to the fore.

Does the Internet increase the effectiveness of Activism?

In this blog, I will define activism as individual acts such as letter-writing, phone-calling and participation in gatherings of protest. I also include giving money to groups for causes in order to have lobbying power and to stay informed.

In 1992, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and took a year off from school. I got a job canvassing for an environmental group called, “Clean Water Action.” I can still recite the 4 sentences that I said at every door that I knocked on (when they opened it anyway). Every weekday afternoon, we would meet at our office in the Tenderloin (depressed neighborhood in SF) to practice our talking points in pairs. I learned to shake my head up and down and make sure that sentences did not end up in pitch like a question. Then we would pile into vans to go knocking and ringing bells in neighborhoods all over the Bay Area, in the city and suburbs. Our quota every night was $120. Sometimes this happened with one simple check (only $10 a month!). Most often, it was the result of $5 and $10 and change buckets emptied out. We were gathering our membership base, getting signatures, and asking people to write letters about issues to protect wetlands in California (from developments like the ones we were often canvassing in....). We would ask people to please write letters (about bills in Congress) and then leave them outside their doors and we would pick them up at the end of the night. I met about 40 people a night.

I looked them up online and found out, they are still doing this work - in fact, there is a video all about why you should join their canvass team.

I think that people join groups such as Clean Water Action(CWA) because they do want to be informed and to hold politicians accountable. These groups gain political leverage by lobbying congress with a membership base in numbers to back them up. Letter-writing campaigns and phone calls do get tallied in offices in DC. The impact of these public campaigns varies, but I know that some of the legislation efforts in California to protect wetlands did come about from CWA and other groups efforts. I don’t think that the Internet and mobile technology change the impact of groups such as CWA in significant ways. People aren’t all of a sudden going to join because it’s easier online. The groups still have to do the face to face grassroots exchanges to build a strong base that can make a large enough membership to have some power in its lobbying efforts. In fact, CWA canvassers still gather most of the revenue (about $10.5 million out of 10.8 in 2008). The network of environmental groups hasn’t significantly altered how governments are making policies about environmental regulations of the private sector. There have been some steps, but not big ones, and I’m not sure if any of them are because of the Internet and mobile technology. Maybe messages got out faster, but I don’t think that speed helps people to organize more effective issue campaigns.

I know that this example is very different from the more urgent organization of protest groups mentioned in our readings. However, I think that all activism does have to start in face to face settings in order for them to have any true long-term significance and effect.

Texting here and there

Skylar's post on texting earlier today really resonated with me - so much so that what was meant to be a comment turned into a full-fledged blog post. Texting is a really great topic, and not one that we've really touched on too much in class so far (other than freaking out at the Android text notification, which I'll confess creeps me out more than a little).

Between my bicultural background and general geekiness, it's no surprise that I'm fascinated by cross-cultural comparisons of text messaging. Texting is a relatively straight-forward technology, easily replicable across language barriers and with a relatively low cost to entry. You'd think that people would text the same way all around the world - but you'd be wrong. Based on my personal experience, observations and conversations with texters from all overall the world, I've concluded that while some differences are culturally based, most are actually grounded in the structure of the overall ICT environment, notably the comparative costs associated with different modes of communication.

When I got my first US cell phone in 2002, text messaging was almost non-existent here, even among teenagers and college students, who tend to be pioneers in new modes of technology-mediated communication. In contrast, in France text messaging was extremely popular. The explanation was in the pricing: voice calls were MUCH more expensive in France, whereas texting was cheap, while the opposite was true in the US. Texting didn't really take off here until phone companies started to offer text message "bundles" (for example, mine is $5 a month for 200 messages). Now, I would say that use of text messaging is about the same in France and in the US, though Americans are still much more likely to have long conversations on their cell phones than the French are - again, because voice calls are much cheaper in the US than in France.

One practice that is very common in France but nonexistent in the US (as far as I can tell) is "beeping," or calling someone and only letting it ring once before hanging up. Usually this means "I'm out of cell minutes but I want to talk, so please call me back." Friends can sometimes use it as a pre-arranged signal for "I'm outside." "it's time to check the grill" or "You're really late and I'm seriously pissed" (I have personally "beeped" to convey all of these messages). A few years ago, French cell phone providers started offering billing-by-the-second in response to consumer groups complaining that it cost twice as much to make two 30-second phone calls as it did to make a single 1-minute call. Airtime is relatively expensive in France to start with, making consumers price-sensitive, but in this case there's also a cultural factor: there is no such thing as unlimited local calls in France like we have for US landlines, so people are not accustomed to talking on the phone just to pass time. Thus, the phone is for the transmission of information, not for communication in the ritual sense.

Other differences that I've observed include the use of email vs texting, different approaches to chatting online, whether emails are more like phone calls (US) or like letters (France)... It would be really interesting, I think to try to tease out which differences are attributable to the ICT environment (price, regulations, availability of services, etc) and which are cultural. Thoughts, anyone?

Get Your Text Messages Today?

When I was buying my first cellphone here, “unlimited text massages” became one of the most important reasons for me to choose Virgin Mobile. I had a record of sending more than 1,500 text messages one month when I was in college. Like it or not, text massage has already been part of our lives and changed the way we communicate with others. There are several characteristics of text massages.

1. Interactive
Most of time, we use text messages to chat. The roles of sender and receiver are changing all the time. It can facilitate people’s interaction with each other.

2. Easy to access.
Since the first text message was sent in 1992, the text massage service is growing at an amazing speed. The total amount of text messages sent in China in the year 2006 was 4,300 BILLION, and the number is still growing. More and more people can afford to buy a cellphone and every cellphone can send text massages which are cheap and fast. The characteristics of grass-rooted and easy-access make text message widely accepted as a new way to communicate.

3. Private and indirect.
Different from face-to-face communication, text messages are more indirect and can keep more privacy. People are not necessary to know who the sender is and other people will never know the content of the text message unless the receiver wants to let people know. Also, if someone does not want to say something directly, he or she can use text message to express his or her feelings.

4. Butterfly effect
It is very easy to deliver messages by text message. A gets a message from someone, and forwards the message to B, B forwards to C, then C mass texts it to D, E, F, G… Two days later, A gets the same she sends to B from Z.

Two years ago, there was a boycott to Carrefour in China, I got a text message from a friend about it, and I forwarded it to another friend. To my surprise, he told me that he had already sent this message to more than 20 people. Text message helps to deliver and share information in any network and enlarge networks at the same time.
Due to those characteristics, text messages are making communication more and more convenient; however, it brings problems at the same time.

The reading material mentions the case of SARS in 2003 in China. Text messages helped to inform people about the real situation of the disease. However, at the same time, some people were using text messages to broadcast negative and unreal information which caused panic among people and disorders even chaos in the market. Also, some people are illegally selling clients’ personal information which causes people receiving lots of spam messages every day. Personally, I think there should be regulations on text messages from government just like regulations on any other markets; however, those regulations should never harm people’s freedom of speech. It is no doubt another problem brought up by the development of communication technology to the government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I spoke about what Sean Aday calls "External attention" a little bit in a previous post, where I referenced the entire internet going around and turning their avatars green as an attempt to show solidarity with Iranian protesters in 1999. What drew me back to it this week was when someone mentioned that users of a certain message board on a site titled "4chan" had collectively searched for and outed the identity of a person in another country from that in which most of the users were located.

I will not link to 4chan here; it's easy enough to find with a quick Google search. I will warn that certain message boards of the site will undoubtedly disgust and/or be "not safe for work," although others may delight and amuse. 4chan, based originally off of the Japanese message board futaba-channeru (2 channel or more commonly, 2chan), is essentially a message board with the key point being that everyone is completely anonymous. There is no connection between one "post" and the next by any user, unless the author makes it known (and even then, could possibly be lying about it). Through the opportunities for chaos that this anonymity creates, 4chan has often been directly or indirectly responsible for the creation of most internet memes, internet "raids" on people/businesses that earn their ire, and as in the case above various human flesh searches, dispensing "internet justice."

Some of the recipients of this "internet justice," it could be said, deserve being brought to justice in some form or manner. For example, Anonymous (users of the internet community generally, sometimes connected through 4chan or other networks) received a lot of attention with their "Project Chanology," an ongoing campaign of real world protests against Scientology which brought a lot of negative attention to the practices and potential criminal activities of that international organization. In another example, some anonymous internet users, possibly in some cases connected by 4chan's message boards recently began to "troll" (baiting someone to get upset) an 11-year old for posting a video laced with profanity. This eventually lead to the posting of her information online and dozens of prank calls and pizza delivered to her address.

It should be noted that I don't believe that 4chan as an institution of new media is responsible for either of these things, no more than twitter is responsible for the success or failure of the Iranian revolutionary activities. The network is a means to an end, building a sense of identity between common individuals, connected by how successful they are at creating global appeal for the issue. Everybody wants to catch someone who mistreats animals, or to point out the flaws in a corrupt institution. And unfortunately as an aspect of human nature, there are a lot of people who will want to ridicule someone who they think is acting stupid or silly.

In the case of the Iranian revolution, Aday argues, "the limits of internet solidarity are also clear." But is that also the case in societies where the media is not or cannot be restricted on the same level? Where other institutions in a variety of different context are also hopelessly intertwined with the internet? And where does morality and concepts of jurisdiction fit in?

I guess what I'm wondering is whether the internet truly reached the limits of the "internet justice" that the global community could inflict on a corrupt Iranian government, and the extent that those actions, even if more effective are justified. Even if there is a positive result to those actions, does the global community have a right to take them? When are actions like a human flesh search warranted, and at what point is global solidarity towards or against the actions of an individual, organization, government, or nation 'appropriate?'

A note to all readers: This is a response to and reflection of Sean Aday's report "Blogs and Bullets." If I have misrepresented the concept of Anonymous or 4chan in any way, please let me know. This is merely meant to inspire a discussion/thought on the concept of communal activism and action through the internet, its limits, and what it should/should not be allowed to affect.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Social Capital, Framing, and whose story will win?

Ok, so I lived in LA and worked in the music and film industry. Social capital and networking are definitely how you get jobs. You go to events, you perform, and you “frame” yourself to see if your story will win. Will your music be chosen? Will the image you have created be viable? And, it is all about business and what will sell.

But, then there are those moments when you see that all that noise is distracting and not necessarily productive. In fact, it becomes counter-productive.

But, what projects and stories do get heard and why? Many times it is the most sincere and grassroots efforts that will ultimately resonate with an audience. The shaky camera citizen journalist images that will break through the noise, giving the audience a perspective that is refreshing because it is raw and real. The home recording of a simply produced but poignant group of songs that launches an independent artist.

This is where the noöpolitik idea is so powerful (you’ll see the connection eventually, really). The Arquilla and Ronfeldt article, “The promise of noöpolitik” reflects the optimism of the 1990s about the possibilities coming from interconnectivity. Non-state actors will be able to participate separately from the state in terms of building power through relationships and knowledge. This power will give non-state actors more power to pressure states to take actions. Non-state actors will be able to take actions separately and above traditional forms of power (such as the Kumar Google Maps example). And individual actors have the potential to reach audiences through knowledge networks in order to make changes to social and other structures. (No wonder the music industry freaked about how independent artists could potentially bypass the big recording industry companies). And independent media producers can frame stories that shed light on a political situation that speaks to a transnational audience and gains more coverage. These changes from the grassroots and individual level that are sincere can make changes happen in other organizations as well.

Government agencies, such as the State Department, are making changes that consider these new networks of non-state power. But, if the public diplomacy efforts don’t use frames that are sincere, they will most likely be sniffed out as propaganda. Probably the most effective way to build soft power would be for the US government to truly provide funding for the arts in the education system, in grants, for international exchanges, and for the State Department. And to have a cabinet member - Secretary of Culture, as many have suggested. The State Department does fund a number of artistic and educational exchanges, but it does not receive enough funding. If Diplomacy is going to shift to include more non-state actors, then non-state actors who create the tools of public diplomacy (music, dance, film, other media) need to be supported and valued as not just as creators of products of commercial enterprise, but also as part of our diplomatic and public policy planning. (But, then that would shake up the the WTO debate about how to have media and other cultural products considered with the same laws as other products.)

An example of a project that is non-state actor initiated is America's Unofficial Ambassadors, a new project with Creative Learning http://www.creativelearning.org/ambassadors.html. There is a survey you can take to join, if you have worked or volunteered in a Muslim majority country. They are gathering information to put into a book. They are also building a community and knowledge base. Citizen diplomats have more flexibility in terms of how and what they can communicate when they do go abroad.

I do think it still boils down to who you know, how you present yourself, and if your story sells (as in if your communication is effective and resonates). But all of these ingredients must have authenticity and sincerity mixed in for effective and successful diplomacy (in terms of communication about a nation-state and its ideals) and other products (media).

What has Google Earth found so far?

Recently, Google Earth announced that they added ocean photography to their service. Now, people can see streets, ocean, and galaxy on Google Earth, how interesting. But wait, these are not magic enough. Let us see what else Google Earth discovered which are tagged the label “Unusual”.

1. Palm tree island

Google Earth found a giant size of palm-tree-shape island in Dubai. The island’s total area is larger than 800 football pitches. The crown is connected to the mainland by a 300-meter bridge and the crescent is connected to the top of the palm by a subsea tunnel.

2. Ship in the city

Seems there is a cruise liner crashed in middle of a city. Actually it is a big shopping mall built in the shape of a cruise ship called the Whampoa Boat.

3. Airport graveyard

The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is situated outside Tuscon, Arizona. There are more than 4,000 military aircrafts are dismantled here.

4. Guitar-shaped mansion

This is a mansion located near Birmingham, AL, USA. It is owned by former COO Larry House of a scandal-hit healthcare company. Built on 27 acres of land, the property has 21 bedrooms and 22 bathrooms; a 13-cars garage; a 25-seat home theater and a wine cellar for 2,000 bottles.

5. GOD??!!

Post-modernist philosophers claim is dead? If you visit Google Street View over a lake in Quarten, Switzerland, you will see God. Some one claimed that the image is most likely to be the result of some sort of light distortion or lens flare, and Apple fanboys claim that it cannot be God because it was not wearing a polo neck and jeans and was not carrying its magical iPad…

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When North Meets South

The case study on how the citizens of L’Aquila, Italy mobilized in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that destroyed their city and their response to the G8 summit was of particular interest to me given my knowledge of the Italian language, culture, and society due to the time that I had spent studying and traveling there. Putnam characterizes L’Aquila’s low level of civic engagement prior to the earthquake as due to the lack tradition of civil society in the southern regions of Italy. I agree with Padovani’s assessment that Putnam’s heavy emphasis on historical determinism ignores the regional and cultural differences between the north and south, and is insufficient in explaining the development of other forms of political organization that do not fit the democratic mode. Despite unification under one banner in 1871, Italy has long been geographically divided along cultural, social, economic, and linguistic lines. The wealthier, more industrial, more cosmopolitan, standard Italian-speaking North has always operated differently from the more rural, feudal, dialect-speaking South. Therefore, cultural reasons for the reluctance of citizens from towns outside of L’Aquila to take a politically active part within the mainstream of reconstruction is unsurprising, as many Italians do tend to identify more strongly with their town/region than with their national identity. However, the emergence of citizen activists using ICT to garner international attention indeed challenged traditionally accepted notions of the provincial south. This may be explained by Bennet’s observation that “personal digital media offer capacities for change if people are motivated by various conditions in their environments to exploit those capacities…[these] are more the results of the human contexts in which the communication occurs than the result of the communication media themselves.”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Revolution will not be Tweeted

A quick, probably unrelated to my previous post comment that I was just thinking of.

Social Networking Sites. In particular, Twitter; a site which by it's own language encourages you to "follow" your friends and be "followed" in turn. The act of following suggests that someone has influence over you or that you have influence over them. In a sense, this is true. Once you've started to develop a Twitter network, assuming that you read updates and your followers do the same, exposure to the other's ideas can potentially have an influence on each other's thoughts and actions. But there's no specific quality of the network that causes this. You could have a lot of followers because you write exquisite poetry, because they were people you met on the train, or because you're someone famous.

As time progresses, the media becomes less important than the potential of connections and ideas it represents as a network. CNN now creates news stories out of Twitter tweets; this adds to the vitality of the network, not because of the structure that Twitter provides, but because more people want to develop connections with that node (in this case, individual) and incorporate it into their network.

What Twitter also represents is the strength of the imagined community. As the network widens, the individual node connections become less important than the whole. Twitter isn't giving any one of Stephen Colbert's million + "followers" a legitimate connection with him. Colbert is not even legitimately a node in the network; he follows zero people, and likely maintains the account through a hired intern. The network being created is that oriented around the product of Stephen Colbert and the million other nodes in the network who influence each other in their discussions of that product.

The term Social Networking Site is a misnomer. Twitter is a physical network in the sense that it facilitates communication between the nodes of preexisting social networks, but it does not establish these networks. Even strangers who are brought together by the power of twitter are not brought together because of what Twitter is, but rather what it does. Following a person's tweets in and of itself does not define power relationships within the network (as some celebrities seem to think), as the person with the most followers becomes a symbol of the network rather than the biggest node.

Anyway, I don't know if that made sense, but it just came to mind randomly when I was out walking before, so I wanted to get it out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Network is Down

My orientation into SIS was heavily focused on networking. This ranged from the encouragement to take advantage of a valuable opportunity like 'You're in D.C.! Think of all the connections you could be making!' to the imperatives  'Make business cards and pass them out to everyone you meet." The latter was followed with instructions on how to get the UPS store to print them out for you with AU letterhead, perhaps promoting what networking had done for American University and UPS. Everything about DC, about graduate school, and our future was suddenly utterly dependent on who we knew or didn't know.

Networking though, as one quickly discovers is extensively cutthroat and (at least at AU) culturally exclusive. For example, the majority of School of International Service "networking" events are "happy hours" in loud bars, often advertised first on Facebook before anywhere else. In other words, "networking" in an official SIS capacity requires that one drinks, or at least can tolerate being around drinking and a bar atmosphere. To be 'in the know' about it also requires being a member of the networking site Facebook. This might be what Arsenault calls a "Formal" network; one that reflects high organizations and sets standards that all members must abide by to be considered part of it. That's not to say informal networks don't also have standards; drinking was often a prerequisite of socializing when I was in Japan, and even in the US being the only one who is drinking (or not drinking) creates a disruption unless your reasons for doing so are adequately explained (showing that you're not rejecting the standards of being part of the network).

All aspects of our lives are heavily governed by networks and the information they provide. This "informationalism" as Arsenault explains "is the currency of our network society," and without it people lack the ability to manipulate the network "according to their needs, desires, and projects." But to what extent can they manipulate the network, and to what extent must they allow the network to manipulate them?

Towards a [new] global culture?

Like many American college students, I spent a semester abroad to fully experience what it's like to be foreign. I wanted to improve my Spanish, and I wanted to get out of Europe, so off to Latin America I went. When I got to Chile in 2005 I was struck by the popularity of sushi among fashionable Santiaguinos. My host mother explained that the sushi craze had begun shortly after "Sex and the City" had started to air in Chile. For me, this is a very concrete example of the dynamic described by Miller and Iwabuchi, whereby contra-flows are at their most dynamic when "relying on the power of Western media" (Iwabuchi, IC READER p. 420). Thus, it would seem that Chileans didn't like sushi because they associated it with Japanese culture, but because they associated it with a "world culture" that looked suspiciously like Euro-American culture.


As a child, I used to spend a lot of time in airports, shuttling back and forth between France and the US. I would entertain myself by playing "Guess my nationality," a game my brother and I invented. We would scope out the other passengers waiting to board international flights, and attempt to discern which flight they would be boarding and what color passport they would be presenting, based solely on their clothes, personal belongings and body language. We got to be very, very good at this. Now, the game is almost impossible as visible aspects of culture converge more and more, at least for the relatively affluent, cosmopolitan people I stare at in the international departures lounges at Dulles, Charles-de-Gaulle and JFK. The world - or at least the bits of it that I inhabit - has become more similar.


This semester, I'm facilitating the TALK program through International Student and Scholar Services here at AU. Once a week, my co-facilitator guide a group of international and domestic students, randing in age from 18 to 30ish, through a series of exercises and conversations designed to enhance their awareness of other cultures and cultural sensitivity. It's also a forum where international students can work out their culture shock. When the topic of an emerging "world culture" came up, the group was about evenly divided between those who believed that more similarity was good for world peace, as Levi's and Lady Gaga would give people something common to talk about. Other students argued that the blurring of visible differences would make it easier for people to forget about the deeper, more important differences between cultures, thus making it more likely that conflicts would emerge. Classmates, what do you think?

The Singularity and network power

As we discussed in class, this idea is about how technology will have greater knowledge than humans and the interactions in the network will be beyond the control of everybody. I know this idea has been driven into the ground and stomped on by science fiction as well as conspiracy theorists. But isn’t that what makes the Internet (a “free” and “open” one anyway) and mobile technology so compelling? I mean, the fact that we can so easily find knowledge and networks of knowledge so easily. And it does matter who controls the flow of information, as when Castells notes that blockages in the network stop the flow of information. But, there are always those individual nodes who find ways to work around those blockages (and may then receive punishment for those acts). But, the constant pushing against those boundaries and blockages comes from individuals desires to join into the network without restrictions. And while it’s true, as Prof Hayden said in class, that the way the network operate may be below our level of consciousness, there is still a level of agency in the individual and group actions (of nodes) in the network to open up the blockages.

Christian Barry said his introduction to the talk by David Singh Grewal about his book: Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization”:

“in many cases some agents are voluntarily participating in a process of globalization, and thereby showing that, in a sense, they think that they will do better by this, and yet they can still feel legitimately that they are not gaining a fair share of the benefits being provided by this process.” (page 1)

So while people may feel that they are not benefiting from the structures of the Internet and the network society, they can still make the decision to have agency and participate. Later in the talk, Grewal does conceive that agency and structure can work together and can therefore be compatible. What is ironic is that when people participate in creating norms and standards, the network effect has the potential to eliminate alternatives. However, this is what makes network analysis have the potential to be so powerful. When people take agency to track flows and think about who is controlling and influencing information flow, as well as what the content is of that information, then it empowers sectors of society who may not have been empowered before the current form of our network society.

Perhaps this is where Arsenault's call to “integrate theories about networks as subjects of analysis with studies of nodes embedded within those network.” fits in. And the fact that the network society has created less hierarchy in how organizations and institutions are structured does create a more complex dynamic for International Relations. Back to the singularity, while I don’t think machines will take over the world as some artificial intelligence, I think the part that resonates with me is that the whole of the network does contain more intelligence than any one node. (And I’m skipping getting into the politics of who can access the network or not)

Social Network and Guanxi

One of my friends decided to work in China one year ago, I asked him if he could take only one book with him, which book would be the lucky one and he told me the book called “Guanxi”. Guanxi is a Chinese concept which equals to social network in western culture. However, the difference exists with can reveal the differentiation between two culture and philosophy.

A social network is a social structure made up of individuals or organizations called nodes, which are tied or connected by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.

Guanxi describes a personal connection between two people which one is able to prevail upon another to perform a favor or service, or be prevailed upon. The two people need not be of equal social status. Guanxi can also be used to describe a network of contacts, which an individual can call upon when something needs to be done, and through which he or she can exert influence on behalf of another. In addition, Guanxi can describe a state of general understanding between two people. The relationships formed by Guanxi are personal and not transferable.

I believe the biggest difference in these two norms lies in the Trusting relationships. A defining feature of trust is the willingness to make oneself vulnerable to the other person despite uncertainty regarding motives, intentions and prospective actions. The Chinese word for trust is “xin-ren” (信任), the first character refers to the trustworthiness of a person, with an emphasis on sincerity; while the second one refers to the person’s dependability or reliability.

The dominant part of trust in Guanxi in Chinese culture is related to family. Chinese culture is a very high context culture which is characterized by collectivism. Among a very collective country under the great influence of Confucianism, family are highlighted and rooted in the culture. There is a term called FAMILIAL COLLECTIVISM which is used to describe this phenomenon.

In a collectivism oriented culture, it is social network which we call Guanxi has several characteristics as following:

1. Mutual dependence
2. Hierarchical power structure
3. Dominance of family interaction over other relationships
4. Preference for extended family structure.

One key feature of Chinese familial collectivism is that individuals are mutually dependent on each other not only for instrumental resources but also for socio-emotional support. To understand Guanxi, it is very important to understand this socio-emotional exchange. For example, making friends in China, one should involve in sharing meals, giving gifts and socializing with each other’s family.

However, network theories commonly assume that individuals have an implicit relational capacity and that the cognitive and emotional costs of maintaining relationships put an upper bound on the number of relationships any individual may effectively maintain.

The difference between two models of relationships often leads to the failure in business, political or interpersonal communication. It is good to know those theories about the difference, but even more interesting to make put theories in practical use and to see how it works.

We Are The World

While the media no doubt has the power to arouse spectators who sense human tragedy and injustice, there is a strong argument that the news produces little more than a feeling of sympathy for suffering amongst its audiences. There are few apparent options for action for spectators, who must be moved to an extraordinary extent to act upon that which was witnessed, given the surplus of sensationalized news received. Instances in which this occurs is rare, since the news seeks to provide “info-tainment” through startling images and plotlines, yet protects audiences by presenting tragedy in a manner that dehumanizes the affected group so as to maintain emotional distance from the event. Emotion is indeed scarce, which news outlets are well aware of in their choices as to which stories to highlight to elicit emotion from viewers. My heart is stirred by scenes of suffering on the news, but there is also a sense of desensitization and helplessness to counter injustice. However, Chouliaraki makes an important point that if visibility of an event is managed by global media in a particular manner, fueled by NGO activism and authenticated by first-person documentary, the international community can indeed be united in action and solidarity. A current example would be the earthquake in Haiti, media coverage of which I might liken to that of the tsunami in 2004, where incessant news coverage supplemented by citizen journalism awakened global awareness and assistance. Despite the powerlessness I often feel while watching the news, the outpouring of support after this catastrophe provided many options for action. As described by Chouliaraki, by “[presenting] the West with spectacles of human vulnerability, of the world as a small, fragile and finite place…a form of moral agency [is issued] that can make a difference in the lives of those who need it.” Many of you may have seen this compilation recorded by over 80 artists from around the world as a means of raising funds and showing solidarity with the people of Haiti in the midst of their tragedy: We Are The World

Friday, October 8, 2010

Don't Download This Song

Or watch this music video.

I reacted to an argument in favor of IP piracy in class the other day, partially because it was one that I've often heard before and partially because it's one I've personally used in past arguments on this topic. Essentially the argument went that piracy exists as a reaction to high prices set by the music and movie industries for their product. If not for those high prices, more people could afford the product, and would be more tempted to spend money on it.

As I mentioned, I used to support this argument, with my former status as a mostly-unemployed undergraduate who would make, on a good month, about $150. Which, at the time was fine. The local network gave access to whatever other students were willing to share with the campus, ranging from wide arrays of recent blockbusters, full seasons of TV shows, terabytes of music, and emulated video games. This was before Hulu and before Netflix had become widely accepted on college campuses, so the common belief was that if you lacked the money to pay for these products anyway, it was a victimless crime. Indeed, the idea that the losses of the industry were based on "potential" market earnings helped spread the concept that organizations like the RIAA and MPAA were greedy bullies, which was backed up by the exorbitant lawsuits they inflicted on helpless college students who were easy to sympathize with.

However, the flaws in the "expensive/greedy" argument are that it is very self-oriented and that it presumes that the vast majority of consumers engaged in piracy - including non-Americans - do so for the same motivations. Saying that something is too expensive is a subjective analysis and presumes that all media is equal; i.e. a recording of a guy playing the saxophone on the street is worth the same as one from an internationally recognized artist. Conceptually and objectively, they may be. However, from that standpoint, price should be a non-issue. The radio offers diverse, as well as free programming (ignoring satellite radio). One is not pirating to protest having to pay money for music, but because in their mind, some music is more equal than others. The question is not about what the media costs, but what one is willing to pay for the satisfaction of their subjective needs.

On this note...
It's important to recognize that artists and corporations are not making a product to entertain the user. They're making a (hopefully) entertaining product that the user will buy that will also promote a successful formula (not to mention investor funding) to continue to make profits. Personal satisfaction in one's work is an essential factor for success, but goes hand in hand with needs of survival. Indeed, lots of experiments in regards to letting the user set the price for the product may be dramatically lower than what the product needs to be worth to be profitable. Of note would be the independent video game "World of Goo" and its' 'pay what you want' experiment in 2009. The game sells at a $19.99 price point, but the most common price point for the "user's choice" experiment was $0.01 which equaled a negative profit with administrative fees by Paypal and bandwidth costs. In addition, U.S. downloaders were often less generous on average than other global users with dramatically lower state-GDP per capita figures.

It is within this context that I'm inclined to agree with Mattleart that piracy is less of a reflection of price as it is of increasing globalization. "One of the main attractions of pirate video networks," He explains, "was that they
offered, at reduced cost, easy access to the images of this transnational entertainment culture." (313) People have developed a yearning for these representations and extensions of Western "culture," portrayed in dramas like "Sex and the City" and "One Tree Hill," and want to be exposed to the images they offer. They want to be part of the global community at any cost, even if it's not a community they're supposed to have action to. "One of the main factors explaining the spread of video to countries of the South and the East from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s," Mattleart states, "was also that it gave people a way of bypassing state political control of the communications media." (314) People want this media and what it represents and are willing to pay for it, but have less of the means to.

Why are Brazilians willing to pay, on average $0.40 more on an independent video game than Americans, despite having half the per capita income? While one cannot, ipso facto, draw a causative connection, an argument can be made that it's more about the product's perceived representative, rather than perceived financial worth.

Liu Xiaobo Wins 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Earlier today it was announced that imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. While Liu is, I am sure, a controversial figure in China, within Western human rights circles he is known as a Tiananmen Square Square protester who is currently serving his fourth prison term relative to human rights and democracy promotion in China. His current imprisonment relates to his leadership of the Chart 08 movement, "a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written in the style of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and for free elections" (Wikipedia).

According to Wikipedia (Side note: while I don't normally rely on Wikipedia for this kind of information, the news is extremely fresh and this post is due in 15 minutes), the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned the Nobel Committee  not to give Liu the prize, which probably tipped the scale in his favor, and the news about the award is currently completely censored in China (again, according to Wikipedia). The Chinese government has issued statements condemning the award, calling Liu a criminal and maintaining that giving him the prize "defiles" Alfred Nobel's memory. They even called in the Norwegian ambassador to lodge a formal protest (his response: the Nobel Committee is not controlled by the government of Norway). In other words, they are not pleased.

So how does this related to IC? As I was reading the McChesney article last weekend, I was struck by the its strong condemnation of "free-market" journalism. For McChesney, while media outfits owned by MNCs are capable of producing "first-rate journalism," the self-interested conservatism of the media giants tends to shut down reports of controversies with real social impact, and instead play up high-drama, gossipy stories that titillate the audience without risking the masses to demand social change. In my view, there can be no other explanation for all the Levi Johnston coverage. For McChesney, capitalist domination of the public sphere has negative repercussions for society, and for democracy in particular:
Just how bogus commercial journalism is, when measured by any traditional notion of the communication requirements necessary for a democracy, becomes especially clear when one looks at China. There, a full-scale dictatorship with a long tradition of suppressing dissent or prodemocratic political viewpoints has no problem with business news or tabloid journalism, the two main products of the so-called "free press." (IC READER, p. 210)
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in a corporate newsroom in China today, as editors and publishers debated how to deal with this announcement. Report the facts objectively, or risk losing precious business in China, and possibly facing even graver repercussions?  It will be fascinating in the days ahead to track the media coverage in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia, as well as the meta coverage-of-the-coverage pieces that are sure to come out very soon.

I know that there are many students in the class who know much more about China than I do, particularly our Chinese colleagues. I would be curious to hear your perspective, both on Liu's Nobel prize and on the role of the media in Chinese society.

Plurality of media in Senegal

In “Global Mediations: On the changing ecology of satellite television news”, Mugda Rai and Simon Cottle explore theories of international communications research relating to the way news is made available and accessed. They look at not only where certain satellite 24 hour news stations are available, but also at what kind of content those stations provide.

One of the interesting points they bring up is that non-Western countries may actually have more pluralized media access than the US. On page 63, they make the point that CNNI is available in almost “every Indian household with a satellite television”, but that in the US, it is very expensive and hard to get the ZEE News from India. Thus, the Western countries are actually “dominated by their own channels with few non-Western choices.”

When I lived in Senegal, we watched the local news and the BBC news on the cable television. I would agree that the news I consumed there was both more local and more international than the news on equivalent cable channel access in the US. In my experience, this definitely affected the way that people could have informed debate in the public sphere. While I watched CCTV when I had cable in the US to get more information about Asia, I don’t know any other people who do. In Senegal, the majority of conversations quickly turn to issues affecting the public in politics, both local and international, and everyone is informed. The local papers and TV local news stations give information from all angles of the political spectrum about the politicians, religious leaders, strikes, reasons for power outages, high-profile conferences, international aid projects, and the list goes on.

In the US, my experience has been different. Unless people are studying politics or it is their profession, I find that conversations don’t turn to politics as often. I also find that people here tend to be less engaged and informed about the decisions politicians are making on a daily basis, which weakens the debates in the public sphere. While Senegal is a lot smaller, and I lived in the capital city, even people who lived in the small towns were informed about issues, both local and international.

When I lived in California, I once heard a girl born there ask if New Hampshire was a town in Connecticut. In Senegal, a man from a small town who had never left Senegal, knew where New Hampshire was in relation to Boston and even knew the capital city of Concord. While this reflects also on our lack of geography education, it spoke to me about how informed and engaged people in Senegal are, and I think it is definitely related to the way media is presented and discussed.

I don’t see any contraflow of the kind of media I saw in Senegal making its way back to the US. However, it is easy to access the local newspapers from Senegal online. This is how most of the diaspora community from Senegal stays in touch with the news from home.

I also definitely noticed a preference for local content from people there. When there was news coverage or sitcoms in the local language of Wolof, everyone watched it. The local channel also showed films made by students, both fiction and documentary style, and everyone watched those as well. The equivalent media here would be only seen at film festivals and private screenings.

I think that many of the articles we have read fail to give enough credit to audiences in the “developing world” for their ability to analyze the content they watch and make informed decisions about what they are watching and how it fits into their cultures/selves. It is not as though the cultures in non-Western countries are static. I can see how some theorists lament the way that non-Western countries emulate negative aspects of our media system. In fact, some of the papers in Senegal have started to use the Western commercial style of reporting, focusing on more sensationalist topics. But, some media companies in Senegal see the economic potential and want to have a part of this lucrative industry. And, reporters adapt the style and topics to fit into the local framework. While I did see this trend, it had just started in the last few years. I do think that the plurality of access allows for a richer public debate, but it does not necessarily empower people, but that is a discussion for another time.