Monday, December 3, 2012

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

Engagement, Interaction, Conversation, Dialogue. These are some of the words that I found repeated in the readings this week describing public diplomacy in the virtual communication age. As the readings indicate, how we do diplomacy is changing because the ways in which we communicate are changing; where diplomacy used to be a one way ‘conversation’ with foreign publics, it is now becoming more and more a ‘multi-way’,  interactive and engaging conversation. The state is taking a larger role in communicating via the networks where people are actively having conversations. This shift represents the idea that to be effective in diplomacy efforts, the government has to “…become a part of the conversations, to go out and engage with people wherever they may congregate in the real or virtual world.” (Innovating Public Diplomacy for a New Digital World, 2).  

However, there are challenges that come with this shift to heavily relying on virtual communication and technology for the diplomatic conversation with foreign publics. For example the message could be misunderstood, as Comenetz discusses in his example that the“…digital diplomats have convinced their enemies abroad that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism” (5) through a miscommunication of their message via virtual communication. Is it the case, as Comenetz speculates, that the State’s “…enthusiasm for technology has surpassed its understanding of it” (5)? Matthew Wallin concludes his article The New Public Diplomacy Imperative with an interesting point, stating that in the information age with the advances in communication technology and their increase in power with the public “has caused policy makers and practitioners alike to lose focus on the message and instead focus on the medium.” (34)  We must be careful to understand the technology and its implications when applied to public diplomacy. Wallin reminds that “… media are merely tools, not solutions to a messaging dilemma.” (30) This would support the argument that technology should be used in addition to, and not in the place of, physical face-to-face interactions when approaching public diplomacy goals.

A great example is exchange as a means of diplomacy as Dianna discussed in her post regarding Sister Cities International. There are many benefits of using new ICT in exchange –reduces cost, adds physical practicality in terms of location and time, increases access. Use of this technology may in fact have the ability to reach an audience that before was unreachable. However, this does not mean it should be the prevailing method used. There is still a significant place for the ‘old school’ methods of face-to-face interaction. There may even be a greater result when used along with ‘new school’ methods of connection, interaction and conversation. So I agree with Dianna’s points regarding reintroducing the importance of Sister Cities International and similar organizations like the NCIV who have historically promoted face-to-face cultural interaction and exchange. Most likely these organizations will benefit from utilizing communication technology to accompany or strengthen their programs, while still maintaining the ‘old’ public diplomacy tool of face-to-face cultural interaction. These programs may be a part of ‘old school’ public diplomacy, but they are still very relevant even with the ‘new school’ thinking.

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