Monday, October 29, 2012

The New World's Collaborative Network

Our class touched on an article written by Ann Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, Adapting U.S. Policy in a Changing International System, to reinforce Manuel Castells’ definition of network-making power this week. Slaughter talks about how the world network has evolved into one where collaborative power dominates. While realists generally view states as the main players in network theory, Slaughter argues that the system is based on “a set of complex, networked interactions among many different government and social actors”. She states that the new network system is like a game of tennis: instead of choosing your actions independently, as in the game of chess, you must adapt and respond to changing circumstances. The world is now one of “diverse actors interacting with one another in many different ways and adapting to whatever circumstances arise as a result of that interaction”.
            This argument would fall under Castells’ fourth part of his explanation of network power, network-making power. This power includes those who convene and setup the networks. It claims that these actors have power over the rest of the network since they facilitate it. Slaughter proposes that a diverse network of actors in constant interactions with one another constitutes the network-making power. This is exemplified in public diplomacy today. Various actors ranging from organizations that facilitate cross-border exchanges to international news outlets and public diplomacy foreign service officers all have specific roles in maintaining the network of relationships between states.
            According to Castells, “networks have power in their capacity to construct meaning”. Along with network-making power, Castells defines the following as all working together to frame individual or collective minds.
Network power: as in formatting a letter; the standardization of the network, the protocols for how it is laid out.
Networking power: focuses on the actors in the network; the act of gatekeeping.
Gatekeepers are those who allow messages into the network; they control what information circulates through the network and how. For example, the average user of Microsoft Word can claim they know the program, but in reality only the creaters, the “gatekeepers”, know the coding behind how the program is shown on the computer and the processes it is able to complete.
Networked power: focused on the nodes in the network, how powers are situated as a node in a network of nodes; a node’s power is a property of the latticework it is in.
Castells reinforces throughout Communication Power that “networks have power in their capacity to construct meaning”. Each of these powers work together in the formation and maintenance of a network. The current collective state of network-making power, as Slaughter argues, is a force that countries need to tap into more. These networks made up of small and middle powers in combination with the large state powers create a stronger, more connected world better able to conquer all issues. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Media Perspectives

The interview goes over how different news media organizations organize and the difficulties of gaining an objective view without being co-opted. A comparative analysis of CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera are given and he demonstrates how different news organizations frame conflict in a different light. The type of news that the audience hears is dictated by who are sponsoring them, ratings and who the is the audience. He claims that news is no longer news and education, but news wrapped in entertainment, which dictates what the audience hears. An interesting point in the interview is how he demonstrates the way which western news and Al Jazeera differed in the way that they conduct debates and interviews. In Western news media organizations the debates are scripted with with professional  debaters who are slick "professional lobbyists." Al Jazeera, on the other hand, has people who disagree, but do not have canned answers and sometimes have to pause and think about the question being asked. The comments and debates on Al Jazeera are much more nuanced and less declarative. The interview goes over some key aspects as to who owns media, how media is framed and the challenges which peace media have going forward.

Our Dependency on Social Media

Reading an online article recently, one quote which struck me was a remark that "people will continue to adapt their behav­iors as new tools become available [and] com­mu­ni­ca­tion prac­tices and the ways in which we relate to one another will stay the same." According to Ms. Brooke F. Welles, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, this has remained true since the invention of the telegraph.  One could agree with this statement, by analyzing how much of a role social media plays today, in shaping our interpersonal skills, and social interactions. 

But, a question to pose to all social media users, is whether our dependency on social media tools is a good thing?  Recent research published by the University of Chicago, suggests that social media tools can "cat­alyze close, sup­portive, civi­cally engaged relationships."  As extensions transference tools, citing E.T. Hall, social media tools, are 

extenuating topologies of communication, which in turn is lessening in-person social interaction.  In the Paul Adams reading,  Adams defines the world in terms of topologies - structures of links and nodes, and not based on location.  

Adapting our behaviors to new social media tools, these topologies have become the bases to form social contexts, and engage in social interaction.  Creating a space bounded by communication, digital technology intrinsically poses a positive and negative risk in the development of social and interpersonal skills offline.  Through topological spaces, social media websites and tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. have created new network platforms for social engagement.  Nowadays, people feeling closely connected  with their online (regular) network, or closely connected through the 'space of social acquaintance', for example, having a mutual friend with another active user, are influenced by others to seek social interaction and engagement via digital social spheres.

The expansion of new social media platforms, and the decline of the Euclidean geometry of distance, as well as, conventional engagement has contributed to our dependency on social media tools.  Possessing the ability to join, or even create one's own network, and establish connections with others, has promoted a small-world phenomenon of cluster-groups.  Utilizing these cluster-groups as a basis for social interaction on a regular basis,  appears to have become the new norm in network theory, and people-to-people interactions. 

Works Cited:

Paul Adams (2009) Topologies of Communication in Geographies of Media and Communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

"3Qs: The social impact of social networks" (2012). Retrieved from

Facebook picture retrieved from

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Facebook ousted Mubarak but China still going strong

            I remember in 2008 when most people realized that Facebook had successfully overtaken MySpace and that social media would not only be around to stay but would have an impact on everyday life. Admittedly I was not so sold on it despite my young age; I remember telling my dad how ridiculous I thought Twitter was: “Who needs to tell the world that they’re going to go get a cup of coffee?”
            Alas, I was profoundly mistaken. While social media does satisfy the needs of teenage girls and boys talking about their quotidien, it does present serious problems for authoritarian governments such as the Mubarak regime overthrown in 2011 in Egypt. The “Facebook Revolution” essentially means an expansion of invisible networks that is difficult to stop. My question: how can certain governments, like that in China, prevent for such long periods of time revolutions that were capable of dismounting a powerful dictator – and what’s more a Western-backed dictator – in Egypt, Tunisia, etc.?
In Lim’s article, Clicks, Cabs, and Coffee houses, she correctly notes that social activism was popular even before the advent of social media on the Internet, but that social media was able to act as a catalyst to a growing disenchanted and disenfranchised Egyptian public in starting a revolution. The high “biographical availability” that Lim discusses has allowed the youth to use social media as a way of disseminating their views across a wide audience. It wasn’t that social media itself caused the revolution, but it surely helped. As early as 2004, social media was at work in Egypt: “The first anti-Mubarak movement in history, Kefaya … had neither physical headquarters not permanent meeting place.” These anti-dictator movements clearly don’t appear out of thin air and must me, as Lim suggests, the result of years of angry people. Social media simply facilitated the movement, having acted as a forum for upset youth to gather and say, “We’re not alone.”
Amelia Arsenault in Networks: Emerging Frameworks for Analysis briefly touches on the chicken or the egg debate: “Did the rise of technological networks facilitate networked forms of social organization? Or do technological networks mirror pre-existing social networks?” Arsenault later suggests that advancements in technology lead to human action (note: “Facebook Revolution”) which then produces a modification to the social structure.
What seems to be an answer to my question then is that the Chinese government is simply more stable and has a better grasp on its state than did Mubarak on Egypt.  I wish that Lim had provided a little more analysis on Internet governance in Egypt, since during my read through of her case study I kept asking myself, “Why didn’t the Egyptian government get a hint and do something about citizens’ access?”

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Collaboration and Public Diplomacy

Tara Sonenshine and Public Diplomacy:
Tara Sonenshine recently spoke on October 17th, 2012 at American University about collaboration and public diplomacy. She is the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs and was the first speaker for the new Public & Cultural Diplomacy Forum at American University. This week she spoke about the importance of public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and collaboration. She defined cultural diplomacy as “using cultural relationships to build trust overseas” and touched on some key issues affecting US public diplomacy today. Her talk started by pointing out the similarities between public diplomacy and Hollywood. Both Hollywood and public diplomacy are dependent on collaboration, teamwork, talking with each other while relying on partnerships to produce a viable product. With regards to national security she quoted Hillary Clinton that the world, “village”, must be intricate, interconnected and international.
                The talk gave emphasis to the importance and relevance of social media technology, where soon there will be six billion users. Social media create an environment where traditional diplomacy and nation state politics are limited by physical, social and financial barriers. The power of the individual is crucial where Tweets, texts and messages have a reciprocal relationship. This brings to mind a key point in the concept of social media information transmission, whether resending a message gives individuals increased agency, and whether social media allows the participant to be an agent. Tweeting, Facebook, Tech Camps, and i-EARN, creates a collaborative environment which brings the world together. I-EARN, for example, is a non-profit organization which utilizes the communicative power of ICT’s and consists of over 30,000 schools and youth organizations in more than 130 countries. The aim is to have students and educators work on collaborative projects to create common goals and currently have over 2 million global participants.
                Ms. Sonenshines highlighted collaboration and how, although portrayed negatively in the presidential campaigns and in new media, the US and China have invested in each other. She gave an example of the recent Chinese investment in Peach Tree, Georgia and the importance of “moving from a monologue to a dialogue and finally to collaboration.” She also pointed out a program run by Islamabad and MIT called the GIST, Global Innovation in Science and Technology. The GIST program is a tech based entrepreneurship, “to accelerate technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in the MENA and Asia regions through global networking, entrepreneurship skill-building, mentorship and strategic funding.” These programs create norms of reciprocity where collaborative diplomacy helps public diplomacy. Ms. Sonenshine also warned of how public diplomacy must avoid groupthink, the endless cycle of conversations without conclusions, and “recycled” public diplomacy. The most poignant point during this talk was the emphasis that we “must move away from ignorance to awareness.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Collective Memory

        The 9/11 exhibit allowed politicians to dictate what emotions where conveyed. The administrators and curators took public opinion and political sentiment into account, aiming to manufacture a collective memory of the 9/11 events depicting images which evoked emotions of sympathy, disgust, pride, and unconditional support for leadership. Though the curators of the Smithsonian understood that the exhibit could not be “historical”, as not enough time had passed to gain an objective historical perspective on the event, the curators labeled the exhibit as being “commemorative”, allowing leeway for interpretations and opinions rather than facts and historical accuracy.
            The Smithsonian used emotional images of 9/11 to manufacture consent and foster outrage towards countries that were deemed a “threat”, justifying military action and gaining domestic support for an otherwise illegitimate and illegal cause. The curators deliberately used images of a tattered flag, objects dedicated to the “victims, survivors and rescuers”, and resilient leaders to evoke a sense of solidarity and strength.  The image of the tattered flag has represented American resilience since the foundation of the country.  From the “Star Spangled Banner” to the use of the flag as a rallying point for civilians and the military, the implicit power of the flag has a shared meaning and demonstrates solidarity with others who experienced the event. The Smithsonian used 50 objects related to 9/11 to encourage audiences “to pause, remember, and reflect- for each of us the bear witness to history.” Leaders, especially Mayor Giuliani and President Bush, were depicted in the exhibit as being strong and resilient while fostering the perception that they helped in the nation’s revival.

            The Smithsonian avoided context, analysis, and criticism and emphasized a personalized perspective in order to unite the audience to conform to the status quo, rather than question the images and the content being used to depict a historical event. Historical museums are a source of information to the public.  Although the curators and administrators of the Smithsonian were careful to make a distinction between “historic” and “commemorative” exhibits the audiences are unable to make the same distinctions.  The Smithsonian has institutional authority which legitimizes their perspective as being academic and a source of accurate information.  The Smithsonian and the 9/11 exhibit was used as a tool of the United States government in evoking emotions which justified the Patriot Act, impeding the liberties of US citizens.

            History is written by the victors, but the implication of writing history before the events can be fully comprehended allows for the United States to write their own history before the events can be fully understood.  By fostering the collective memory of the tragic events of 9/11, the Smithsonian was able to manufacture and legitimize an understanding from a uniquely patriotic and nationalistic viewpoint, which does not allow room for opposing perspectives.

Fried, Amy. “The Personalization of Collective Memory: The Smithsonian’s September 11 Exhibit.” Political Communications, 23:4, 389

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top-down v. Bottom-up

            Webster and Ksiazek, using media-centric techniques to measure audience fragmentation in modern media, have noted themselves that it is difficult to measure “how consumers move across these [media] options…It could also be that people consume a variety of genres across multiple platforms,” (44) despite the ability of media-centric techniques to detail what providers of these media platforms are the most popular. For example, huge number of people use Google, but a much smaller number use WordPress, TripAdvisor, and Yelp – but whether or not all the people using Google use one or more of the lesser used platforms is difficult to tell, and even more difficult to tell which users use which platforms.
            What this demonstrates is Siochru’s identification of societal regulation of media, the purpose of which is to sustain and strengthen social, cultural, and political roles of media and enlarge the public sphere. Societal regulators are able to do this by insisting on media providers to offer a variety of platforms such as radio, TV, and Internet to cater to a wider group of audiences and better disseminate information across all groups of people.
            It is no wonder, then, that Mark Deuze in Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries discusses the power of citizen journalism taking hold across major media corporations. He uses the examples of Bluffton and Amazon where the media actually took into consideration user opinion, a bottom-up strategy, to better their organization. With the increase in communication technologies it is not longer the media corporations acting on behalf of their interests solely in telling us the public what the media corporations want the public to know; with the advent of social media sites such as Twitter, people at the bottom can use their networks to disseminate information they believe is important. These hot topics or even “trending” topics as they are on Twitter can be picked up by media outlets and used to disseminate news – news they know will be watched since, today, it’s quite easy to see what topics are popular. Convergence culture allows consumers “…to enact some kind of agency regarding the omnipresent messages and commodities of this industry,” (455). It is the mix of top-down and bottom-up strategies, but consumers are no longer reacting to news, but offering media outlets what news to report first, then reacting. 

Intellectual Property Rights, Up Close & Personal

The class discussion last week reminded me of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues that I witnessed on a practical level during the ten weeks I spent in Bangkok this summer. Thailand has been included on the Priority Watch List of the annual Special 301 Report conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for the last 18 years since 1994, and was again listed this year as a Priority Watch List country.

Everyday on my way back to the apartment, I passed by street stall after street stall selling various boldly displayed pirated DVDs and counterfeit products. Giant shopping centers were filled with countless vendors selling everything from illegally duplicated cell phone chargers to hard drives packed with the latest films. Through my internship in Bangkok I learned that IPR violations not only steal the jobs of those devoted to their industry, but can even take a deadly turn. Counterfeit medicine can harm those who were misled by labels deliberately made identical to a globally recognized brand. Fake tires claiming to be of quality proven by a brand’s legitimacy cause fatal accidents that take the lives of unsuspecting victims. Of course, IPR protection is not an issue only Thailand struggles with. But my time in Bangkok this summer gave me a glimpse of the practical manifestations of IPR violation and brought to surface three issues inextricably linked to finding a solution to protecting intellectual property: identification, enforcement and accessibility.

As I briefly mentioned above, many victims of faulty counterfeit goods are unaware of the illegitimacy of the product. As IPR violations spread to the likes of pharmaceuticals, car parts and even small mundane items like batteries and chocolates, no longer can we simplify the issue as an attack on a deliberate downloader. Methods of effective identification must be implemented and exercised by everyday citizens for positive progress to be initiated on the issue of IPR violations.

Enforcement and measurement is another issue. Regardless of the countless policies and initiatives a government can undertake, enforcement at the practical level must be strategic and effective for the policy to hold water. Occasional raids that only chip at the tip of the iceberg and better serve symbolic publicity purposes must be improved. Methods of measuring results and progress within a broader, national context of the issue are undoubtedly critical to improving enforcement effectiveness.

Finally, addressing the issue of accessibility will prove to be another hurdle in making progress toward IPR protection. For those whose only source of watching a show they’ve been dying to watch is the streetside vendor selling pirated DVDs, and even more so for those whose major source of relatively reliable information about the world beyond their borders is through pirated channels, the issue of Intellectual Property Rights becomes complex and murky territory. To what end, and for whom must Intellectual Property Rights be protected and enforced will remain a lingering and controversial question, and recalling my experience in Thailand has only confirmed that I too am far from equipped with cure-all answers. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A sea of global business, media, and brand-images

The average American, or individual walking downtown in any major city in the U.S. is bound to come across, or pass a number of conglomerate chain restaurants, stores, and corporations within one block, or a few hundred feet away from each other.  This depiction of common chain industries, such as McDonald's, Starbuck's, JP Morgan Chase Bank have become a visually common or typical city landmark, whether you are walking down the streets of Paris, Tokyo, or Sydney. 

Growing up in the 21st century, these major chain industries to the uninformed observer might be viewed as well-established companies within these cities outside the of the U.S.  However, those whom have grown up prior to the 1980s,  are much more aware of the significant increase in the global commercial system, which has led to the increase in not only in global businesses, but also media networks expanding across-borders.

The impact of global businesses and media networks today plays a significant role, if not originally intended, in representing cultural aspects of a country and creating brand-images that have become universal symbols.  These symbols specifically assist in providing corporations with a face-identifier to the products and services provided by the corporations international chains.  While the examples previously mentioned are all American restaurant and bank owned corporations, American businesses and media networks are not the only influential corporations with internationally-based locations. Presently, Kinokuniya Bookstores (Japanese-owned), Caffe Bene (Korean-owned), or the world's largest state-owned bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) 
are modern-day examples of non-Western chain industries that have increased business and expanded their visibility abroad, by opening internationally-based locations.

Generally, the success of many conglomerate companies is determined by not only their
market value, but also by their brand-image, visibility to their targeted audience/ customers (via advertisements), and number of domestic and internationally-based locations they possess.  But, while the sea of global businesses, media, and brand-images is increasing exponentially, it is important to note that the number of wide-ranging cross-regionally based businesses remains moderately low.  Competition, and obtaining global appeal, which can transcend any culture is essential for competing in the globalized market.  In looking at which regions lack global brand-images, it would certainly be worthwhile to see conglomerate chains emerge from areas, such as the Caribbean or Southeast Asia region.