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 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.

Piracy in China

Early this year, Microsoft won a Chinese court case over pirated software used by a local insurance company. This lawsuit was Microsoft’s first against a large Chinese company for copyright infringement involving its software. For years, the pirated Windows system in China is sold for 5 RMB for each copy and it works well, but the legal copy will be more than 3,000 RMB. This totally gives Microsoft a punch in the face. However, software privacy is not the most serious problem in China now, rather, it is the DVD or music piracy.

Piracy has been a serious problem in China for a very long time (maybe long enough not to be regarded as a problem anymore). Chinese government has had a very tough and never-win battle with piracy. So, who is responsible and whose fault is it?

To those customers,

The cheapest price for a laptop in China is less than 3,000 RMB which equals to the price of a legal copy of Windows (not included in MS Office which is about the same price as Windows). The totally cost of software will be much more than buying a laptop; however, it is unacceptable according to Chinese people’s philosophy. Moreover, if one’s laptop is attacked by virus, it is very convenient and easy to reinstall Windows system by a pirate copy.

Another situation is about DVD or music in China. The average price for the movie tickets in China is about 60 to 90 RMB while the illegal copy is about 5-10 RMB (if download from Internet, it will be free) and the quality is usually very good (DVD-9 format or even Blue-ray). Additionally, due to the censorship in China, there are tons of good movies not allowed to be on show in theaters. It seems those pirate DVDs are the only access to those movies or music.

To those street vendors,

If you take a walk in Shanghai at night, you will find those people carrying a big black suitcase, standing in the corner of the street. And if you walk close to them, they will ask you if you want some illegal DVDs or software. I thought before that they made a lot of money by standing there all day but I was wrong. After talking to one of those vendors, I knew that they only earn less than 1 RMB (about 15 cents US dollars) for each DVD they sell, and they have to stand in great sunshine in the summer and strong wind in the winter all day. However, now in China, there are more and more DVD stores. It is really interesting, because almost all the DVD stores have a back room where you can find thousands of pirated DVDs and CDs. If the police come, they just close the door to the back room, so easy!

To those pirated DVD providers,

This group of people seems to benefit most from the piracy market. Their knowledge about pirating is updated enough; once there is a new movie on show no matter wherever in the world, less than 10 days later, there must be pirated DVDs in street. Also, no matter how software companies even Microsoft build passwords or keys, they can always figure out how to break them. Their capability to do this is totally based on the demand of customers and domestic market in China. However, the interesting thing is neither do they get a lot of money from this business. Some of them even volunteer to do this risk-taking job.

To Chinese government,

Chinese government has put tons of endeavors to crack down piracy market; however, as I said before, it is a never-win battle. March 15th every year in China is the Anti-Piracy Day. On that day, there are lots of news reports on TV about the local government burn fake clothes or crack thousands of illegal DVDs. Nevertheless, I wonder what the point to have these reports on show is, they change nothing!

Piracy problem in China is nothing but a dilemma. No doubt, piracy hurts a lot people and business, however, if it is completely cracked, more people will be hurt. How to find a solution and what the solution will be seems very difficult to predict!

Beauty in Diversity

Iwabuchi’s article on “Taking ‘Japanization’ Seriously” discusses the concept of mukokuseki, which literally means “something or someone lacking any nationality” (Thussu 2010). This refers to the erasure of racial – ethnic characteristics and removal of cultural context that is often seen in Japanese animation. The characters depicted then cannot be attributed to any particular country or culture, although they often tend to carry more Caucasian features. The lack of cultural odor in animation partially contributes to its popularity worldwide, as there is little that is outwardly distinctly Japanese about this particular cultural product. Although the Japanese are the main consumers of anime, animators refrain from portraying characters that are distinctly Japanese, or even Asian, so that their product will appeal to a broader audience outside of Japan. Although the fan base for Japanese anime is greater in East Asia than in Western countries, the fact that creators of anime cater to western audiences is very indicative of American cultural hegemony.

This has resulted in a shift in standards of beauty worldwide to reflect that which is considered to be beautiful in the western world – namely light skin tone and hair, round eyes, a slender but curvy frame for women, and a brawny athletic build for men. It is obvious that these particular characteristics do not reflect the majority of the population globally, nor were these considered to be the standard of beauty before the advent of globalization processes. I believe that the cultural hegemony that has resulted in valuation of these features as being most desirable is the same force that has made cosmetic surgery to adopt more western features (ie. double-eyelid surgery) so popular in countries such as Korea and Japan. In regards to the anime world, animation director Oshii Mamoru posited that “Japanese animators and cartoonists unconsciously choose not to draw ‘realistic’ Japanese characters if they wish to draw attractive characters” (Pshii, Ito, and Ueno 1996). For me, it is a shame that this devaluation of non-western physical characteristics has been subconsciously adopted by so many, because I think so much beauty is found in our diversity.

Friday, October 1, 2010

File sharing “flow” and IPRs

When I lived in California and the Internet was taking off, Napster and the lawsuits that shut down its model of free sharing of MP3s set off a lot of debates in my circle of musician and filmmaker friends.

Some of them thought that music should exist in a public space, where the information (music, film) was accessible (free) in the public sphere. This anti-copyright law movement reflected a desire to keep all media available to everyone. One of my DJ friends initiated a project where he asked composers he knew to make pieces that used samples from Beck. Since Beck bases so much of his music on samples already, it was a comment on the use of samples and how music should be made available to the public sphere.

For some of my other less experimental music friends, who rely on royalties to pay the bills, sharing music in the public sphere without compensation becomes more contentious. Sure, it makes sense to have your music up in sample form for people to get an idea of it. And I heard an excerpt on NPR (see link) last week about big hip-hop artists making long form albums that they release online for free, which the record companies allow because ultimately the publicity will, maybe bring more record sales. So, while the artists do share their music for free, their goal is also to make money through exposure.

And now with the peer-to-peer sharing sites such as Swedish company Pirate Bay and the torrent points technology, people can make downloads without being tracked easily. Pirate Bay has been shut down a couple of times and are in court this week appealing charges about IPR infringements and answering questions about making child pornography sites available. They argue that they do not post the content, and if they find a torrent that is not legal, they report it. They essentially don’t take responsibility for content since the users make the torrent points.

Siochru and Girard address the debate over Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in the chapter, “Introduction to National Media Regulation,” from Global Governance: A Beginner’s Guide. The Pirate Bay case is a good example of how it is hard to govern some of the media forms online because it is hard to find who owns the content, or who placed links to another person’s content without permission.

I don’t think that making media accessible should translate into making people’s work available for free. Obviously people need to be compensated for work. But when people get used to all the free content, who pays the content creators? The smaller, independent projects, unsupported by studios or labels (or Universities) represent diversity and need to be funded in some way. The structure of how royalties are paid out definitely favors the bigger studio and network supported artists.

ASCAP (one of the music composing rights organizations in the US) pays royalties based on what networks and less funded stations such as PBS can pay. So, if you write the score for a film that goes on PBS that is high quality and took 3 months to do, you will maybe pay for some groceries. If you write silly music for the background of a show on a major network or a cable show, you get paid a lot more. The producers of the shows on networks (and PBS) submit cue sheets to ASCAP and pay the fees. Since PBS is so underfunded, they can’t afford to pay as much. The same idea applies to radio stations (which is why most radio stations lack diversity in the music available).

The Internet opens up many other opportunities for musicians to gain exposure, and for music consumers to get choices! I think the whole transformation on the music industry (that is in the beginning stages) will ultimately place more of the governance and regulation of music media into society. This will mean more diversity and plurality in the music available.. For now, the regulation is still balanced toward the industrial, where governments and other bodies work with existing IPR laws and other aspects of the media as related to the economy.

Eagle Eye

One of the thing Siochru and Girard point out in "Global Governance: A Beginners Guide," is that one side of societal regulation is whether "the state has the right to intervene in and access the private transmission and communication in the general public interest. The balance of privacy and the public good is relevant to all media but is topical in the area of Internet encryption and whether the state should in principle be allowed to intercept and interpret encoded messages.”

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on an effort by the Obama administration to push through legislation next year that would subject internet services ranging from Skype to Blackberries to be required to and have the technical capability to 'wiretap' its users if served with such an order. "The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year," states the article, "raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation."

The United States is not the first country to consider the bill, nor are these potential laws as strong as some of those that already exist in other countries. For example, the Indian government demanded earlier this year that Research In Motion, the company behind the Blackberry phone, develop software that would allow the government to decode encrypted emails and transmissions and display them in an easily read format. They have also warned that they intend to extend that decryption to other email and web-based services as well. The overall concept of both laws is that terrorists and other people who are potential security risks are increasingly using the internet and other digital means of communication to make their plans and plot their plots.

A key question here is the debate over what is being sacrificed, and who should get the final say in this level of technological regulation, as in both cases the order is coming down from on high. As the first New York Times article notes, this move by the Indian government will likely have the possibility of scaring away business. Gone are the confidential memos, the back door deals, and behind closed doors mergers; once a public entity is given free access to the keys of the kingdom, it's pretty clear that someone will have an easier time of snatching them away and getting into places they're not supposed to be in. Considering the illegitimate and inappropriate activities corporations will pursue in order to get the leg up on their competitors, it opens up a whole new black market for information, and would likely increase the rate of data mining, technological sabotage and new and creative computer viruses. The imposition of this law would not completely remove the element of secrecy from business deals, it certainly would severely handicap them; after all, one could never be sure if one was being watched.

It has also been argued that those in government are also not the best equipped to understand new technologies, much less regulate them. Several examples of this include the 1930 senate resolution to ban the dial telephone from the capitol building, to former Alaska representative Ted Steven's questionable understanding of the internet despite his leading role on a committee to regulate the issue of net neutrality in 2006.

As Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation states in the first New York Times article, “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.” Of course, these nation-states find themselves under somewhat legitimate potential security threats in a world where their enemies, as individuals and small groups are adapting quicker than the establishment. The question is whether the establishment can adjust their security procedures effectively, and what kind of impact a broad-ranging security bill like the one due next year will have on other aspects, particularly economic of the country and government.

Google vs. censorship

Tuesday's New York Times editorial about Google's Transparency Report service really resonated with me in the context of our class discussions. Google Transparency Report has two components: Government Requests and Traffic. Governments Requests tracks requests that Google receives from governments "for the removal of content or the disclosure of user data," while Traffic shows "whether or not [Google] services are accessible in a given country at a given time." A few key excerpts from the Traffic FAQ page (emphasis mine):

We believe that this raw data will give people insight into whether or not our services are accessible in a given country at a given time. Historically, information like this has not been broadly available. We hope this tool will be helpful in studies about service outages and disruptions and that other companies will make similar disclosures.

Interruptions in our services can have several different causes, ranging from network outages to government-mandated blocks. When the service is inaccessible for an extended period of time (beyond what is standard for a network outage), we investigate and draw conclusions based on the number of users affected and information we receive from local ISPs.

Not only is Google exposing repressive governments, it is also using its position as uncontested market leader to encourage other companies to do the same. I expect that moving forward, we're going to see some very interesting mash-ups from nonprofits, activists and scholars using this real-time map of digital oppression. Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, came to US at the age of 6 as a refugee from the USSR, and is deeply committed to human rights, freedom of speech, and internet freedom. He is also, by virtue of his position at Google, among the most powerful people in the world and certainly in the IC field. In that sense, he is a bit of an anti-Murdoch, choosing to use his considerable powers for good rather than for evil (I am revealing my biases here). Born in 1973, Brin is only 37 years old, and is definitely a big player in IC to keep an eye on.

Another interesting point is that Google does not permit hate speech in Blogger (see the Terms of Service). If Google receives a complaint about hate speech on a Blogger-hosted site, and deems the content to, in fact, be hate speech, the company takes the offending content down. There are a number of other restrictions, including prohibitions on child pornography, violence, crude content, copyright violations, distribution of malware, spam and illegal activities. Interestingly, Google frames its "content boundaries" as a necessary measure to preserve freedom of speech. As we discussed in class on Tuesday, this is the same reasoning behind the voluntary rating systems implemented by the film and broadcasting industries in the United States. It is also interesting to note that Google permits adult content on blogger, but requires it to be labeled as such so that it can be filtered out by parental control software.

Piracy in the 3rd Degree

After years of being subjected to a crusade against illegal downloading and file-sharing within a university setting, it was constructive to receive a different perspective on the issue through Mattelart’s article on piracy as a cause and effect of cultural globalization. He examines the use of piracy not for its criminal implications, but as a form of dissent against government-regulated media and as a way for the “have-nots” to access the same cultural products as those in major industrialized nations. While piracy is rampant in developing nations as well, since people will never cease to apply their ingenuity to “beat the system” and avoid having to pay for a product, the figures estimating corporate losses seem misleadingly large compared to the total income and net worth of these multinational, horizontally and vertically integrated corporations.

Mattelart astutely draws a connection between the development of the informal economy of piracy and the failure of governments and international organizations to provide access to cultural products. His statement “while piracy has connected Nigerians to ‘the globalized world, it does so by emphasizing [their] marginalization at the same time’, a marginalization which is reflected in the pictures marred by interference and scarcely audible soundtracks” indeed summarizes the state of affairs in cultural, technological, and information access in the developing world. Therefore, I feel that rather than attempting to eradicate piracy – which I think is impossible—a step towards more long-term corporate profitability would be to assist in ICT development efforts in Third World countries and the possibility of further opening these emerging markets. The ICT revolution will not happen overnight, but if standards of living are increased and the “have-nots” eventually have more readily-available access to information and international cultural products, media conglomerates will stand to profit from access to these markets. Piracy will never cease to exist, but perhaps given the option people will choose to obtain these legally, as their hands are tied from doing so at the moment.

Something about Nonverbal Communication

Being a part of intercultural communication issues, nonverbal communication also occupies an important place in our everyday life. However, what is the exact definition of nonverbal communication? According to Wenzhong Hu, nonverbal communication is a means of communication without words, including hand gesture, body gesture, facial expression, body contact and body distance. Basically, nonverbal communication consists of send-outers, receivers, culture, and environment.

The first problem comes to that how culture influences nonverbal communication. Similar to verbal communication, culture stands in an absolutely dominant place in nonverbal communication too. Culture and nonverbal communication influence each other mutually at the same time. Understanding the cultural background should be the cornerstone of running nonverbal communication smoothly. Culture and nonverbal communication are inheritances of countless generations; they are social habits decided by history and tradition, interwoven and influence every aspect of social life subconsciously. Nonverbal communication is the result of a long-time cultural acquirement.

Nonverbal communication consists of a wide range of contents and lots of scholars have tried to make catalog about it; however, at a point of view of intercultural communication, we can classify it into four catalogs in general. They are body gesture, vice language, objectifiable language, and environmental language. Body gesture includes people’s movements, hand gesture, facial expression, and body contact and so on. Vice language consists of taciturnity, switching of topics, and sounds without a specific meaning, like most of the onomatopoetic words. Objectifiability language includes decorations on body, such as jewelry, perfume, make-ups, as well as cars and furniture. Etc. Environmental language consists of spatial information, time information as well as sounds, lights, and different kinds of signs around.

The content of nonverbal communication diverse a lot, and in most circumstance, it is used with verbal communication at the same time. It is in very rare occasion to run nonverbal communication alone. By repeating, stressing, making complements, the aim of the words becomes clearer and clearer, and the effect of the communication becomes better. For example, when welcoming someone, we usually reach out our hands with a smiling face; when we feel dissatisfied with something, we wrinkle up our foreheads and shake our heads; when we are telling others that something is on the table, we point at the table itself. Nevertheless, in some occasions the content of verbal communication and nonverbal communication carries an opposite meaning. For instance, if a person is freaked out by something, he or she may pretend that he or she is at ease and says “I am OK, I am fine”, but his or her body and voice trembles all the time; if a boy breaks his arm in front of a girl, he may say “it’s nothing”, but he covers his arm with another hand tightly with his face turning pale gradually.

In the following content, I will show some specific difference in nonverbal communication among different countries which is very interesting.

1. The difference in choosing time for visiting or dating.
Usually, Chinese people feel like visiting friends on weekends or during holidays, because when they get together, they usually have dinner which takes a long time. However, people in America or Europe do not like visiting friends or being visited on holidays, they regard holidays or weekends as very private time which should be spent with families, so they usually keep company with them, having a trip or doing some cleaning at home rather than hanging out with friends. They will be very unhappy if being invited or visited.

2. The difference in smiling habit in different cultures.
People here smile a lot, even to strangers, which is seldom seen in China, and to people in Russia, they always feel Americans smile inopportune or inappropriate; on the contrary, people here always feel Russians are too cold and detached because they seldom smile. American people consider the expressions on listeners’ faces as very important response to what they are talking about, so they want to see different kinds of expressions, such as exciting, astonishing which indicate that the listener is intrigued by the conversation; however, Chinese people hide their emotion a lot, they seldom show exaggerate expressions on their faces. Although in some cultures, direct eye contact is impolite or threatening, people in the U.S. like looking directly into eyes of the listeners when they are talking, if they cannot get the eye contact, they may feel they are not attractive enough or listeners do not like them. On contrast, Chinese always avoid eye contact in order to show respect, politeness and subordinating.

3. The difference in some hand gestures.
When Chinese people make wishes, they close their hands in front of their chest, while Americans and Englishmen cross their index finger and mid finger to say “wish you good luck” or “I hope so”.
Russian people put their hand in front of their neck in order to tell they are full after dinner and cannot eat any more, which means chopping off one’s head in Chinese culture. However, in France, people raise their hands to the space between mouth and nose to indicate they are full while Canadian put their right hands up above their foreheads.

4. The difference of hand signs.
In America, raising hands above head and clapping suggests the victory and the pride of the war, which means friendship in Russia. When President George Bush visited Australia, he thumbed up at the airport to show his satisfaction about his trip which caused hug disagreement in Australia because this gesture is of wretched appearance in Australia culture. Chinese and Japanese Usually scratch their heads and make “si…” sound when they are confused. However, this gesture will never be understood by people from European countries, when they see this, they get confused themselves.