Posts Tagged ‘Digital divide’

“Globalization is the process of interaction and integration among the people, companies and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology” (Globalization 101, 2014).

Globalization is all of that, and such a definition makes it sound very good but many would argue that there are downsides to globalization too.  Is this process an ongoing blending of cultures (hybridization) or is it advocating ‘sameness’ (homogenization)? Is every person, company and government included in this process; given its share of the deal, or are we witnessing modern-day imperialism?

Katrin Voltmer argues in ‘Comparing media systems in new democracies: East meets South meets West‘ that because different parts/nations of the world come from different cultures and different types of long lasting governing methods their transition into democracy and their handling of democratization is a product of their past experiences. She divides them into three different backgrounds; transition from communist oligarchy in Eastern Europe, military dictatorship in Latin-America and one-party dictatorships in East-Asia and Africa (she clearly separates these two) and explains how these previous cultural and power-asserting histories shape their take on democracy today.

This reading made me think how much people (like me) from liberal democracies expect the rest of the world to understand and govern democracy (or their countries) the same way as we do. When we speak of Asian countries we rarely show knowledge of their values that root in Confucian tradition and emphasizes social harmony, deference to authorities and discipline; we simply expect them to just ‘be like us’. And we seem to think that privatization leads to liberalization, but never do we stop to think that ownership can lead to monopoly, like in many Latin American countries where the media organizations have been dominated by wealthy politicians. This creates a class differentiation in these countries and leaves globalization just for the ‘elite’ and the ones that can afford to participate. Not to mention how we speak of a ‘global village’. We say that everyone is connected even though we know that there is a shortage of resources in many areas of e.g. Africa. I was actually just informed that in Burma only one if 5000 people has internet access, and that it means 15 years in jail to own a modem without permission (Khorana, 2014).

Such examples, I think, demonstrates how we think of globalization as well. It is thought of as a product of ‘the west’. We love for our culture to spread around the world, but are slightly reluctant to welcome another culture over our own borders. Homogenization might therefore be a threatening part of the process of globalization.

References:

Khorana, S 2014, ‘Globalisation and the Media’, Lecture, BCM310, University of Wollongong, 12th May

2014, What is globalization/Globalization 101, The State University of New York – The Levin Institute, viewed 13 May 2014, http://www.globalization101.org/what-is-globalization/

 

Technology today makes a lot of things easier, faster and more efficient. It is a long time ago since e-mails superseded the “snail-mail”, and we can see it again today in how business cards are being out conquered by online sites like the Professional Network of LinkedIn. In other words, technology makes it easier to establish and maintain networks. So why are networks so important to us?

In Afterword, Manuel Castells describes how networks matters in many ways to us. For example he mentions that by enabling us to connect with the rest of the world our cultures have met and mixed and eventually set off the issues of globalization, hybridization and/or homogenization. Castells also suggests that organizations that use the logic of networking outperform organizations which do not. By working through networks you have a “side-to-side” structure, not a “top-down” hierarchy, and it makes the organization expand faster and act more flexible. Networking between political institutions enhances cooperation and joint decision-making, activists are organized through networking and our way of socializing is even changing through social networking.

Networks and networking are growing to be our source for communication, socialization and information. Our public sphere used to be the newspapers, TV and radio, but as technology develops and we become more connected, information flows more freely. Looking at it from this perspective makes me realize the power of networks. But alongside with the positive development of a free and open public sphere, there is also a growing digital divide. Not everyone has the ability to connect. It can a physical, psychological, geographical or economical disability, and probably more reasons than I can think of. Networking and the online world has great powers for our society, but I am not sure if it gains all of our society or our public sphere.

We are surrounded by news 24 hours a day and it is impossible to pay attention to all of it. Most of us skim through the highlights and are informed of what goes on in the world, but seldom do we pay enough attention to each story to discover what happens to it in the media. I have, for the last three months, paid very much attention to the KONY2012 issue and how it has been presented in the media. Not only did I follow the issue but I reflected upon concepts related to the media; like manipulation, the public sphere and semiotics. This post is about what I discovered in relation to that.

The media is important to us, it is our public sphere, and it is where we share, receive and discuss information about the world and what concerns us. Unfortunately the media fails in many ways as a public sphere as information gets distorted in a swirl of bias, lies, facts and opinions. There are so many news broadcasters in the world today and they all filter the news to suit a specific audience. By tailoring the news according to their local audiences’ interests, many different views of one case are told to different people.

In the KONY2012 debate this was very clear. The western audiences have a certain interest in economy and power and so the western media reported on money, facts and the intentions of The Invisible Children. On the other hand, media broadcasters with a different target market, like Al Jazeera who wants to be “a voice of the voiceless”, talked about the Ugandan people, justice, empathy and real experiences. It took over a week before these important views were presented to us. My blogpost “Filtered News” goes more in depth on this.

Of course, social media is now also a big part of our public sphere, and here we have an opportunity for a more democratic sphere, but we also face the problem of a greater digital divide.

In addition to this, manipulation is a keyword within mainstream media. The Invisible Children, either if you think it was exploitive or genius, knew who they were targeting and that is why their video was so successful. Given that they planned to release the video online they knew their biggest audience would be teenagers, and this is why they made a video and not a streamed lecture. Other noticeable tactics were the simplifying of a complex issue, starring of young people and children as key-figures. Playing on emotions and empathy was a clear strategy of The Invisible Children.

While I am on the topic of manipulation I want to bring up George Gerbner and his cultivation theory. He argued that the media, in the long-term, lead people to believe the social reality portrayed by the media, also called “the mean world syndrome”. When Jason Russell had his public breakdown, mainstream media decorated their headlines with words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” and “car wrecking” leading everyone to adopt this point of view, hashtages like #BONY2012 was all over Twitter short after. It goes to show how much influence the media can have on us.

Probably the most interesting part of the KONY issue for me was the relevance it had to semiotics. This is a complex concept, but basically it is about the reading of images and how we interpret them differently due to ideologies and experiences of the world. In KONY2012 there was an American organization which told the story of a long and complex issue in Africa to the whole world by the use of videos, pictures and text. Depending on where in the world we are from, we carry different histories and different experiences and therefore we view the world in different ways, our understanding of one story will be very diverse from others. While I saw The Invisible Children as a caring and thoughtful group who wanted to help, the Ugandan people reacted with disgust and felt the Americans were victimizing their race.

When we are dealing with global issues we should take notice of where other people come from and their history to gain a better understanding of their opinions. I think we often take for granted that everyone else should “see what we see”, we very often miss to see the reasons for other peoples actions because of this attitude.

Also other topics like moral panic and causes and effects are helpful when analysing new headlines. Our public sphere has become a complex space of ideas and information, and we must become active listeners to get the information right. News-reading changes with these concepts in mind, and can help us think before we act.

It is funny with the public sphere. It is supposed to be a “space” or “place” where everyone are free to say their opinions and express themselves, somewhere where we all can debate on issues that are of concern to us and make the rest of the world conscious of our concerns. That is the ideal public sphere.

Where is this place? Is there really one such place where everyone is heard? Obviously there is no physical place in the world called the public sphere but our intentional sphere is in the media. Mainstream media are supposed to act as a news channel that listens to the public and share our views with the rest of the world. Is it really the case though? Do the media pick up on everyone’s concerns? Is everyone really being heard? I find that mainstream media fails as a public sphere. Rather than bringing other people’s messages across borders the mainstream media is promoting tailored and nicely packaged world views to us. Instead of informing us, they are teaching us, turning our public sphere into a monologue rather than a dialog.

When The Invisible Children released the KONY2012 video a lot of questions were raised in the world. There were different reactions to the video, its message, its content and the whole world wanted to discuss their concerns. The western media served us a mixed tape of news playing specialists opinions about money, facts and intentions. It took a whole week before they picked up on Al Jazeera’s view about the Ugandan people, empathy and real experiences. So the mainstream media is not doing a good job serving the public sphere, it basically fails to pick up concerns outside the western world.

Luckily, thanks to the internet and social media, we now have an opportunity to shape a new public sphere. By using Twitter, Facebook, blogging and vlogging members of the public sphere can take the responsibility in their own hands and share their concerns with the rest of the world instantly. There are no filters, no gatekeepers, only the voices of the public sphere. I find this sphere much more enlightening and informative. I believe that with social media our voices are stronger and more clear to the rest of the world. There is still a problem in this public sphere though; Digital divides. The picture below is meant to demonstrate the interest in the Kony-issue by region and date, but can it also be a demonstration of the digital divide in the world?

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Not all citizens in the public sphere have digital access, some people lack digital skills and others lack money to access the digital world. We must struggle to find a way to solve this digital divide. I think having a citizenship in the world of social media gives us a strong voice and helps us having a true public sphere.