Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Call a Spade a Spade

In class we discussed networks as a source of standards, and how part of a networks networking power is its gatekeeper ability to “block or allow’’ access. For networks to set common protocols paired with the power to exclude and include, prompts me to think about how this power affects individuals excluded of the network.  Richard Florida’s states that “communities are networks, not places”, if this assertion is correct than America too is a network , and also  has the power to set standards as well as exclude and include access to those outside of its network.
After Hayden’s class I began to think about my own personal account with networks and how as an African American I have many times felt excluded from powerful networks. This exclusion many times left me with feelings of powerlessness. I parallel a network’s “power” to, Peggy McIntosh’s, White Privilege. She speaks of White Privilege as an individual’s “weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurance, tools, maps, guides, code books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks”.  We as American’s within our network have been granted such privileges as knowing the common protocol and being included to the access of limitless opportunities that inhabitants of other countries are not.   McIntosh goes on to further state that, “whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility distress and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit and turn upon people of color”.  The American network, with is geographical location and wealth protects, Americans from hostility, distress and violence and in turn its citizens have also been trained to perceive non-American’s as either mediocre or a threat.
This obviousness leaves Americans under the facade of American exceptionalism  which is nothing more than the communication power of the American network at work. Because until we do, as McIntosh states, “ the world is not so free, one’s life is not what one makes it; and many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own”.

“Extratropical Cyclone”, formerly known as “Hurricane Sandy”

First, I hope everyone fared well during this weather, and my thoughts go out to those who were gravely affected. Seeing everyone’s post-hurricane updates and photos on Facebook and Twitter reminds me of our class discussions, and my previous posts, where we’ve talked about the increasing spreadability of content through social media.  At the same time, the likelihood of misinformation escalates as well. The growing presence of “prosumers” and user-generated content heightens the need for professional journalists to verify fact from fiction. Certainly, the picture above is a gross exaggeration, but not all the “fake” photos are quite as easy to spot. 


More photos and details of the verification process can be found in this article in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/sorting-the-real-sandy-photos-from-the-fakes/264243/

"The Connected City"

Professor Hayden shared a timely article with us concerning the topic of our class discussion last week: networks. In an interview with “Atlantic Cities”, sociologist Zachary Neal discusses his new book, “The Connected City”, in which he argues that cities aren’t simply places, rather, they’re made up of human networks. What define a community, Neil argues, are the relationships that its inhabitants develop with one another. Similarly, in her essay entitled “Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis”, Amelia H. Arsenault states, “network nodes are linked according to associations” which may manifest itself as  “interpersonal interactions” or “flows of information between and within groups”.

Neal goes on to say that neighborhoods without interactions among its residents are not communities. Communities aren’t necessarily rooted in particular places, for example,  “a book club with a constantly changing venue.” Within networks, physical distance can take a backseat to spacial relations created and maintained by communication. In “Topologies of Communication”, Paul Adams proposes thinking of the world in terms of “topologies—structures of link and nodes—rather than locations”. In this way, we can consider networks as communities that transcend the boundaries of physical location. Still, Neal warns us not to ignore the significance of distance, since it exists in three ways in a city—network, spatial, and social.  He describes network distance as the number of links between two people, or how some people are closer to those in their networks while other people are further apart. The shorter the spatial distance between two people, the more likely they are to interact with one another. Social distance is the tendency for people to associate with those who share similar interests. Therefore, if two people live near one another (spatial distance), and/or share similar hobbies (social distance), they are more likely to intermingle with each other, or have mutual friends (network distance).

In terms of cities, the way it’s designed can facilitate the networks that develop. The proximity of houses, or gated communities, the structure of roads and highways, the placement of schools and parks, and so on and so forth, can determine who interacts with whom. A city’s street network shapes the distribution, circulation, and flow of people. Although Neal’s book focuses on analyzing urban networks on micro, meso, and macro level, his evaluation of social networks from the individual and communal level is relevant to our readings and class discussions.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Media and the Berlin Wall

From Newseum's Two Sides, One Story.
This weekend the IC program took a trip to the Newseum, which offered many interesting communication topics to peak interest and entice further exploration. The Berlin Wall exhibit caught my attention in particular, because I had not considered before the many ways that communication played important roles in that conflict. It is interesting to take a further look at the conflict of the Berlin Wall in terms of the media.
After WWII, and prior to the construction of the wall, the media in East Berlin was controlled by the soviet government, and in West Berlin the media was privately operated. The Newseum website states that in East Berlin, where the government controlled all of the economic activity including the media, “News is a teaching tool. People are supposed to read it and learn what the government wants them to know.” The political conflict of the time led to a clash of media theory in terms of the purpose, control and use of the media. This in turn led East Berliners to seek news from West Berlin sources, via radio, television and newspapers, although it was illegal in East Berlin to do so. Then the wall was built. History.com states that,  “The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western "fascists" from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West.” Another consequence of the presence of the wall was the halt of the flow of information between the two areas. It was harder for information to spread, as the wall intended to prevent West Berlin’s news and media from entering East Berlin. However, even after the wall was built, information continued to spread across the border.

Concrete is strong, but no match for the strength of human curiosity. News finds a way to get over, around and through the Berlin Wall.

Hungry for information, many East Berliners break communist law to get and spread news from the free west.

This is a network effect: the networks of journalists, reporters, and individuals brave enough to smuggle and carry information across the borders allowed reports of both the reality of life in East Berlin to make it to the West, and news from the West to enter into the East. They used the technology available at the time to pass the information along the networks and to the other side. Amelia H. Arsenault states that, " Networks are thus, flexible, scalable, and survivable because they constantly adapt to changes in the environment, deleting and adding nodes while maintaining a unity of purpose - the survival of the network." (Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis, page 16). Although the wall was strong enough so stop the flow of people across the border, it was not sufficient to stop the flow of information, which is a demonstration of the strength of information networks as well as human desire to spread and share news and information.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Argo" and Political Network Activism

This weekend, I went to see the movie "Argo". It tells the true story of the CIA operation that got six U.S. State Department workers out of Iran in the wake of the 1979 take over of the embassy in Tehran. Though the movie is predominantly about the execution of the operation and the cooperation -- or sometimes lack thereof -- between the U.S. government departments involved in trying to resolve this diplomatic and national sovereignty nightmare, it also subtly highlighted the use of media technology by both the Americans and the Iranian revolutionaries.

 What particularly struck me were the scenes depicting the Iranian students' use of live television and radio broadcasts to both to alert the world to their views and demands and to keep the movement alive. It was a clear of example of "activists... historically [relying] on media outlets for purposes of mobilization, validation and scope enlargement." ("The Whole Online World is Watching"; Harp, Bachmann, and Guo, International Journal of Communication 6 (2012): 301). Above is an ABC news report from Nov. 11, 1979, just six days after the hostages were taken. Though not from the students' perspective, it does show how they would utilize the media attention they had garnered from their initial act to perpetuate their movement. Like the Egyptian activists of 2011, those who took over the U.S. Embassy were utilizing all the latest media technologies(particularly the growing satellite networks of news broadcasters) at their disposal to reach the entire world with their demands.

Merlyna Lim argued about 21st century Egypt that "[social] media were not the only or even the principal source of information of political mobilization", and the same can be said of the Iranian Revolution (Lim, "Clicks, Cabs, and Coffee Houses", Journal of Communication, 62 (2012): 244). The media were just the brokers of connections between groups that were already fired up over the perceived injustice of the U.S. granting asylum to the Shah after what he had done to their country, and the means to globalize (possibly unintentionally) a domestic movement (Lim, 244). We should all be impressed they managed to keep fervor for the situation alive for 444 days without having a Facebook, Twitter, Blog or texting campaign.

As I stated in class, a network doesn't have to be formulated around the Internet. People have been forming networks for thousands of years; it's what we do to expand our capabilities. But what the Iranian Revolution and the more contemporary Egyptian revolution highlight is that technology has accelerated networking and subsequent political activism. Whether it be through TV news broadcasts or through Facebook, media are just another means to connect to networks that will extend our voices and our ideas, helping those who wish to utilize them for political ends achieve their goals in a shorter time frame with wider involvement.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Globaloney: No, the world isn't flat

We've previously hypothesized about the fading relevance of national borders in this ever-globalized world. In response to our many class discussions the extent of globalization and internationalism with Professor Hayden, a reality check from Professor Pankaj Ghemawat, an economist and professor at IESE Business School in Spain:

In his TED talk, which centers on a few key data points, Ghemawat chalks up the popularity of talking about the “world being one” and how “the world is flat” to lack of research, peer pressure, and "exaggerated conceptions of how technology is going to overpower—in the very immediate run—all cultural barriers, all political barriers, all geographic barriers.”

He acknowledges how he is often confronted with questions about Facebook’s role in connecting people across borders. “Theoretically,” he says, “[Facebook] makes it as easy to form friendships halfway around the world as opposed to right next door.” However, he poses, “What percentage of people’s friends on Facebook are actually located in countries other than where they are based? For all this talk about how flat the world is, Ghemawat highlights how approximately only 10 to 15 percent of Facebook users have friends that are not geographically located in the same country in which they live. This amount—although not negligible, he admits, indicates that although “we don’t live in an entirely local or national world,” the level of globalization in the world is “very, very far from the 90 percent level you would expect.” 

So, he argues, extreme views of globalization propagated by authors such as Naomi Klein and Tom Friedman (for whom the game of golf is an inspirational source) is pure baloney, or as Ghemawat puts it, globaloney!” 

He goes on to say that:
Globaloney is very harmful to [our] health. Being accurate about how limited globalization levels are is critical to even being able to notice that there might be room for something more, something that might contribute further to global welfare. Avoiding overstatement is very helpful because it reduces and in some cases even reverses some people’s fears about globalization.” 
His data supports such assertions. Taking an extreme view of globalization does seem at worst, naive, and at most, dangerous. Erring on the side of caution is best. Overestimating how interconnected our world isand how inclusive it is, in Castell's sense of the wordputs us as risk for pigeonholing our perspective of the true effects and the short-, medium- and long-term trajectory of communication. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Communicating American Exceptionalism: An Interruption to Progress?

More often than not, U.S. citizens are likely to carry the notion that the United States "excels at everything," as a recent op-ed by Scott Shane in the New York Times points out. (Click here to read the piece.) Why is this the case? Broadly speaking, perhaps mainstream belief in American exceptionalism is a mixed result that stems from the writing of history (especially after World War II) and the predominance of mass-media, agenda-setting, and the hunger for revenue in the business of communication. 

Illustration by Ji Lee, photograph: Zhang Jun/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS
Some new facts is sure to sell over others. Shane highlights the U.S. presidential campaign as a key example of how both candidates seem to neglect mentioning certain news facts. He writes:

"IMAGINE a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers.
What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility."
All this truth-telling, Shane concludes, wouldn't get any U.S. presidential candidate far--regardless of their party affiliation. Such a truth-telling candidate "is, in fact, all but unimaginable in our political culture." He explains this is saying, "Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary." In short, American culture demands to have its greatness validated over and over again.

But what happens when there is room for improvement? As Shane highlights, there is, actually, much room for improvement. If politicians play a significant role in Michael Billig's theory of banal nationalism--and their presence, impassioned speeches, and actions reinforce some national sense of value, community, and cohesive identity--how would their behavior and rhetoric motivate the public to do something about the high incidence of child poverty in the United States? 

Communication is intrinsic to political awareness. If political leaders continue to primarily focus their rhetoric on America's greatness, how are they to motivate or jolt the American public into action to improve the country's national standing in preschool education and infant mortality? 

"They Will Never Take Our Freedom!": Separatist Media and Scotland's New Referendum Agreement

On Monday, October 15th, Parliament gave the a-ok for Scotland to hold a referendum in 2014. But this is no ordinary referendum. In fact, it could potentially show that the Scottish people do in fact want to separate themselves from the United Kingdom for good. After nearly 400 years of "unity" with Britain and Wales, we may by the end of the decade need to show our passports just to go from London to Edinburgh. (See the Al-Jazeera video that explains the situation pretty in-depth: "Scotland's Independence Referendum Deal Inked")

The implications for just a cessation would be huge on the international political arena. If a state like Scotland could separate from its long-time overloads (hence the quotations around unity above) and feasibly make it as an independent nation on an international scale, could other states like Kashmir and South Sudan viably do the same? Of course, a region like Kashmir, due to a half-century of violent upheaval, does not have the same infrastructure in place that Scotland does; having been a member of one of the premier world powers for so long has done a lot in the way of giving the Scots a political, economic, and cultural system that could support itself on the world stage.

But what Scotland does have in common with those other regions fighting for independence from larger powers is that the movement has stayed in the minds of its people, especially through the use of media in the last century. Lets look at big-budget movies for an example. Who doesn't know of Mel Gibson's iconic speech in Braveheart and learned about the independence movement for which William Wallace so desperately fought? Less well-known would be the Bollywood hit Dil Se which dealt with tensions in regions of India that are so far removed from the administration of Delhi, both geographically and culturally. But even regional films, such as some produced for Tamil speakers, keep a different cultural identity alive within the greater context of a nationalism based on one idea of the nation.

Dil Se Movie Poster

There are many more examples of film I could give (Mary Queen of Scots comes to mind), but what I do not know is to what extent social media, the Internet, satellites, and other recent technology innovations are keeping separatist movements alive around the globe. It certainly would be interesting to find out, since a lot of the digital technologies would also allow for more freedom of expression. The ease of access to it (versus, say the access to a printing press 300 years ago) and the sense of anonymity it can afford could potentially allow for stronger separatist movements to form. Besides, it would be hard for a government to police the Internet for every single blog post about independence. We have seen social media work to form the Arab Spring, so why not apply it to Scottish Independence?

Overall, this is the same conversation we have heard in our readings regarding diasporas. Forging a new identity within the context of a nation with which they do not necessarily identify. What the potential independence of Scotland shows us it is not just migrants who are using media to keep alive identities (or sometimes forging new ones). Communication scholars need to also look within nations, and discover what media is being utilized by separatists to both spur independence and keep a different national identity alive.

However, one cannot help but wonder what the implications of producing such media are today versus twenty years ago. For now, globalization means the eye of the world can be on this media production, and nations not directly involved in the struggle for identity can now participate in and shape the movements (Darfur anyone?). The whole world could now potentially take up the battle cry of these regions/ethnic populations, all because media circulated their message of "never taking their freedom".

Mel Gibson in Braveheart

“Prosumer” as Second Nature

In class last week we talked about how the linear conception of sending and receiving information is evolving. In his essay entitled “Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries”, Mark Deuze discusses the “convergence of the cultures of production and consumption of media” within creative industries. He states that the distinction between producers and consumers of media content are blurring, creating a “prosumer”. He remarks that these “collaborations” have always existed in the past, but are much more visible and ubiquitous within the age of the Internet. This is certainly true as well outside the world of creative industries he focused on in journalism, games, marketing and advertising.

With social media platforms, and the rise of participatory and interactive media, “prosumers” can exercise an increased amount of control over what they see, hear, watch, etc. It seems like being a prosumer has become second nature to us. We like to share information through blogging, status updates, sharing links to articles, posting videos and photos, liking, commenting, tweeting, re-tweeting, following, etc., without really thinking twice about it. For example, the virtual responses to the presidential debate last week manifested themselves in the form of websites, Tumblr pages, memes, to name a few, which became news headlines the following day.

We also discussed the participatory nature of platforms such as social media through the lens of the ritual view of communication, first proposed by James Carey in “A Cultural Approach to Communication”. These platforms are a way of shaping the way we belong, reinforcing our sense of community within the virtual world. There is a strong sense of individual agency being fostered, where we are now potentially more inclined to determine where, when, and how we consume media.