Everyone has a cellphone now!

As I read Araba Sey's article about the trends of the mobile phone in Ghana, I couldn't help but reflect on the trends of mobile phones in Nigeria. From some of my previous posts you should have realized that was born and raised in Nigeria and I moved to the US for college in 2007.

This past summer, I was privileged to spend two full months in Nigeria and I will never forget my unique cell phone experience. On one very special Saturday, as my brother and I were out in town, I realized my cell phone was having major connectivity issues. I was late for a meeting and all I wanted to do was call to let them know I was running late. But I couldn't get through because the network was down. Usually in Nigeria, well the last time I was in the country (which happened to a year and half ago), people would have cell phone booths on the road, where you could pay a limited amount to make a call. These booths are usually everywhere. But on this Saturday, for the first time I noticed, these booths were no where to be found! What could have happened? Like Sey mentions in the aritcle, the cell phone was used as a physical asset to generate income. So what was happening? Didn't people want to make some extra cash?

Then it hit me! Everyone in Nigeria has a phone now. From the maid, to the guards...etc. Everyone now has a cellphone and so there was no need for those booths on the roadside. I know the concept of having a cell phone would seem pretty basic to a typical American reader, but in Nigeria a few years ago, the cell phone was a luxury, an asset that only the middle and upper class in society could afford. But today, almost every typical Nigerian regardless of what class you fall in society, can afford a cell phone. This is huge to me, because even though I was so frustrated that Saturday that I couldn't get a roadside payphone after almost driving for 20 minutes, I was pleased with this painful truth. Since more people have cell phones, more people can be connected as well as have the opportunity to be exposed to more information which is one of the goals of development communication.

Work-Life Balance

In this weeks article, "'We use it different, different'" by Araba Sey he discusses how communication technologies are incorporated in to different cultures and adapted to fit the needs of a certain population's lifestyle and communication goals.  What he finds is a strong caution to development workers today to constantly review their own assumptions and view points when beginning a development strategy.  I was amused to find that the fact that most Ghanaians found the mobile phone most useful to stay connected with family and friends (and not for use with business and work) would be surprising to development workers. Of course, if you are looking at the introduction of mobile phones as a way to increase economic development, it could be very easy to have your theories, your viewpoints and your assumptions revolve around this point to the obvious exclusion of other uses the mobile phone has. 

I found that Sey was uncovering a slight condescension, that this study group of low-income people would (or should) only be concerned/obsessed with work and business because of their socioeconomic status. Almost as if they didn't 'have time' for other aspects of their lives.  This is a very western, compartmentalized view of how to organize one's life.  "If you do not have enough money or are out of a job, you should spend all your time and energy focusing on fixing this situation."  I actually felt that the answers given by the study participants could have a direct impact on one's economic welfare.  Strong family and friend ties is the first 'safety net' in a state that does not provide welfare.  If you are down and out, who will you turn to?  Your family and close friends.  If you are closer to more of your family members because of use of a mobile phone, then your net is stronger.  Family and friends also have eyes and ears as well as your welfare in mind.  If an opportunity opens up, then they will be the first to contact you.  I think the very fact that study even separated family and work into different categories shows a difference in worldview.  Perhaps not everyone around the world has such a strong work/life separation as we do here in the west. I think the IC field has come a long way from the days in the 1950's when 'developed nation' meant 'white, protestant, western, industrialized nation' but the field must always work to be aware of how our own personal view of how the world fits together can affect how we view the rest of the world.

International Communication Broccoli Squid

In lieu of the usual blog post, and because I already have the required eleven blogs, I have opted for something completely different. I call it "International Communication Ryan Gosling Broccoli Squid." (More after the break.)

Coffee with a side of suspicion.

When the assignment was giving for us to write a blog post every week, I have to admit the idea scared me. What sorts of things would I have to say that anyone else might find interesting? What if people I don't know read what I write online and then make fun of me? I guess thats the point though, not to be mocked I mean, but instead to become comfortable taking what we have gleaned from the course, the readings and each other and then presenting it to the world (each other) for the purpose of comparing how we each digested the week's material. I am not certain that I will continue to blog in the future (it still weirds me out that strangers might be able to read this!) but I know that it has been a useful tool for me this semester.

I also really enjoyed the presentations these last few weeks. The beginning of the semester was so heavy on theory that there were times when I couldn't imagine what the practical applications of "imagined communities" or how the arts can be forms of public diplomacy, or even how theater can help shape conflict resolution. I think the balance between theory and practical application was useful, and even more interesting, I loved seeing what my fellow classmates were able to make out of what we had learned together. We each took it in a separate way and I think it really helped bring the theoretical mambo jambo together.

All of that having been said, I am a little salty over the fact that I can no longer enjoy my morning coffee, oreo (or 2) and CNN/BBC/LeMonde without wondering how biased they are. Where did they get their information? Why did they chose that particular word to describe that politician? Are those photos of demonstrations exaggerated? Or are they downplaying a conflict? It's all ruined for me, thanks to this class. I might have to start adding in Al-Jazeera because I've been wondering about how I'll feel about their new stories. I'm terrible at the internet though, so I haven't been eagerly searching it out. 

All joking aside, even though I have always considered myself to be a people person, and a good communicator, I never realized how little I actually know about communications as a field. I feel like I am going to be like Sisyphus going up the hill, no matter how hard I try, I'll never be able to catch up with those damn lolcats. At least we'll always have broccoli squid.

You can call me Emiry.

Soft power, public diplomacy, memes- these were all terms I had heard before I began my first semester here (OK I'm lying, I had never ever heard of a meme before this class) but that I wasn't quite sure what they meant. The funny thing is, I was engaging in a form of soft power for years and although I was aware of what I was doing, nobody, even my boss had ever bothered to talk to me about what the implications of facilitating study abroad programs might be on a wider scale.

I guess I should go back a little bit. I was the Special Programs Coordinator at OU for about 2.5  years, and the assistant to the director before that. My job was pretty much to plan the study abroad programs of the students who came with various groups. Some students stayed for as little as 3 weeks, some stayed for 4 months. It was my job to figure out where they would live, what they would do in their free time, and coordinated their schedules. My main job, however, was the be the point person for these students while they were in Ohio. They couldn't find friends? I was expected to have dinner with them in the dining halls. Roommates who have sex while you're still in the room? No problem, I'll change that dorm for you! Needless to say, it was an exhausting, 7 day a week kind of job. The perk? Meeting all kinds of interesting people. The downside? Always having to be a polite, idealized version of an "American." My boss was always directing the trips to "typical American experiences" so that the students could go home and tell their friends, classmates, and paysanos how much fun AMERICA was. So, to Amish country we went. And to Cedar Point. Shopping malls. New York City. Niagara Falls. Washington DC (Japanese kids DO NOT like museums, btw). I took a group of Koreans camping in DC during the worst snow storm DC has ever seen. Why? They wanted to.

What does all of this have to do with soft power? Those students had the times of their lives. For the first time, someone was always there to help them with their problems- to find amusing things for them to do, to take them fun places and let them have adventure after adventure- and it wasn't their mother. They also liked that they could call me by my first name, and would usually scream "HI EMIRY" in unison every time they saw me. Those students went home and told their friends how awesome roller coasters are and how beautiful the statue of liberty is (even though few of them actually went out there- the lines were horrendous so they just zoomed in really close in the pics). We were discussing in class about how the results of soft power can be measured? For me, the test of my success was in the numbers. They kept coming, in greater and greater numbers. The universities arranged (at our request) to advertise for information sessions, and then let the students who had already come explain what it was like to perspective students. Although the attractions of cities and Amish people were tantalizing, when the new students came and I asked what brought them, they all emphasized that they too wanted to make American friends- they had heard how kind and fun the OU students were and wanted to meet some for themselves.

So, while I may not have had the terminology down, I feel confident that I've got the basics of the concept down. Here's a tip for those of you aspiring coordinators: De-bunk the beds. Save yourself some trips to the ER.