Thanks bloggers for making me love the news

This week , our discussion in class proved that the argument that always goes in favor of past generations will never end. It was evident from our discussions that there are still comparisons between our generation's lack of reading newspapers to previous generations who seemed to enjoy reading the newspaper just a little more. You must have heard this argument... Because we aren't reading the newspaper anymore, kids these days aren't aware of what is going on in world, We are seeing an increase in lack of cultural competency from our generation. Some might even go as far as saying we have lower IQ's (claiming that this generation might not be as smart). The list could go on and on.

But hey, it's not our fault that we don't read newspapers, everything is on the internet! So 'our' counter argument is that instead of going through the newspaper, we get our news on the 'internet'. Having everything on the internet makes it so much easier and even eco-friendly (if newspapers go out of print eventually). But getting the news has gotten even easier us in this generation. We don't have to read news stories anymore. Someone reads the story and then all we have to do is read his/her blog about the news story!

My first reaction would be to right a thank you note to the bloggers out there who have somewhat made new stories easier to read. But, then could there be something wrong with this new phenomenon? Don't these blogs take something away from the objectivity that a good news story should have? What could be the effect in the long run of reading individuals opinions (which we get from these blogs) about what is affecting us and our society? It will be interesting to see in the next five years if there is a complete shift towards these 'blogs'. I wonder what this means for our news industry...?

So... Al Gore DIDN'T invent the internet?

I have to admit something. Chapter 5 of Hanson's book made me feel a little sick. As in nauseous. Why, you might ask? Was it the idea of the global divide? The fact that while the internet and everything that comes with it has benefited so many while leaving others behind, perhaps for good? Nope, that wasn't it (although, to be fair I am concerned with those things and will be returning to them presently). I simply don't understand economics, trade (global or otherwise), banking, MNCs, off-shore banking, you name it. And every time I think about it I get queezy because I know I really ought to get it. How can I study international anything without this practical knowledge? It's honestly driven me to search out books like "Economics for Dummies" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Global Economy"- although I couldn't actually get myself to purchase them. Let's face it. I'm still not going to get it.

All of this being said, I have to add (in the interest of fairness) that Hanson does do a stand up job of explaining most of these things fairly well. It's not her fault I'm a dunce. And that being said, I do understand that the point she is making with this chapter is not to try to teach her audience how companies operate internationally or how governments try to control their economies (apparently more and more unsuccessfully? Which I also don't get). She is making the point that with the Information Revolution, internet included, the world has made a shift into more integrated economies and technologies, and that very few things are actually contained within one nation state anymore. This, I can understand. The question we must ask ourselves is, what is this doing to the idea of the nation state? Does all of this flow of information, money and goods somehow undermine the authority of the state?  I honestly have no idea. I am a little ashamed to say it, but I just don't know. I get that all of these things are happening, but I have nothing to compare it to. How did businesses function in the "old days" before Al Gore invented the internet? Wait... what's that you say, Elizabeth C Hanson? It was actually some computer geeks who made something called ARPANET? Oh. Still though, I just don't see that the world was ever a collection of isolated, financially independent nation states. I mean, if you're going to go that route, couldn't colonization also be a part of globalization? Hanson defines globalization as, "widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of social life." (p 139). I mean, you could really fit a lot of scenarios into this definition. Columbus wiping out entire populations of native peoples in one foul swoop? Doesn't get much speedier than that.

Hanson, while discussing the ICTs efforts to bring the internet and connectivity that comes with it, describes people as either "optimists" or "pessimists" about the potential benefits of the programs to the have-nots of Indian society. I don't like just generalizations. I believe that they certainly exist, but I feel that distinctions must be made between optimists and idealists, and also be pessimists and realists. Hanson should know better. That being said, I think it would be interesting to see what the current data would tell us about these initiatives. This book was written in 2008, but already seems outdated in some ways. I hope Globalization for Idiots is a little more up to date. I'll let you know.

World Music?

While the all-too-popular, overblown rhetoric of “hyperglobalizers” like Thomas Friedman makes Colin Sparks’ skeptical piece “What’s Wrong With Globalization” laudable, I found many of the assertions made within to be questionable, if not downright wrong. I took particular issue with his rejection of the commonly held ideas that there is no longer just one primary media production center.

Take the example of music. Recorded music is, in many ways, an ideal variable with which to analyze the globalization of communication. Long ago commodified, commercial music is widely consumed, yet has distinctly national origins. It’s safe to say we all “like” music. However, music not only serves as a type of entertainment, but also as a status indicator. The styles or groups one listens to function as social markers—they create distinct communities of listeners. If commercial music has undergone the same vast increase in global distribution as television and news media, has it also experienced the emergence of transnational communities of listeners?

Personal experience says “yes.” In my days as an exchange student, I was struck at the role music played in bringing a highly international student body together (and dividing us, as well). As it would in any other school, music functioned as a social filter—a status indicator, sorting us into groups by taste. More important, though, was the marked diversity in the origins of the music we shared. I, an American, found a fast friend in a Melbourner who shared my love for a group from Berlin. Vancouverites and Parisians bonded over music from the favelas of Rio. Certainly, we all knew the highly commercialized American pop groups, but they didn’t dominate our conversations. It was clear then that there is no longer one center of music production—with the help of the Internet, we drew from all over the world.

Of course, critics might say that this sort of “citizen of the world” attitude only arises among a certain class of people. Perhaps those who were drawn to an international exchange were more likely to listen to music from foreign locales in the first place.

Maybe. I would argue, however, that such people are simply “early adopters.” As access to high speed Internet increases, the ability of tech-savvy young people to seek out and enjoy music (and other media) produced all over the world increases as well. The trend can only spread.

When I grow up, I want to be Japanese.

There's always a time for American people when a new acquaintance the question, "so... where is your family from?" This question may sound simple, especially for people from other countries, but for Americans, it can be quite loaded. One must stop and ponder whether their new buddy wants to know if their parents went to high school together (mine did) or if they mean where is my family from ancestrally. It's almost like a game. People try to guess, based on the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose, from where your great-grandfathers hailed.

In some families, this question is to be taken seriously. My best friend growing up was half Japanese on her mother's side. Even though her Japanese relatives had come to America in the early 20th century, they frequently participated in Japanese cultural events and made special efforts to be involved with other Japanese-American people. In my family, on the other hand, my grandma was born a year after her parents immigrated to the US from Hungary in 1932. I always wondered why she didn't speak Hungarian, and she always just told me it was because they wanted her to be "American." I think this is a common enough story for most American people... some families clung to their culture and ways, while others shed them in favor of "Americanization," which they viewed as the ideal situation for themselves and their children.

The Karim reading on diaspora and their place in a nationalistic world was really fascinating to me because it is a subject with which most people can identify. Even though I personally do not feel that I am a part of this kind of sub-culture, I know many many people who do. When I was a child, my friend's family often took me with them to their Japanese festivals so I could watch my friend do the traditional dances she learned. I remember how much pride she took in being something special, in belonging to the group, and I often asked my mother how long it would take me to become Japanese (I meant physically transform). They did have cute robes and my friend's hair was so shiny (mine was curly and frizzy). My mom didn't tell me that I couldn't be Japanese because I was Italian, Hungarian, French Canadian, German and English. She just told me that I couldn't change who I was anymore than I could turn into a flower.

I guess the question from this weeks reading and class would have to be about what effect the diaspora will have on the nationalistic world. Do these pockets of diaspora somehow take something away from the overall nation state? I guess it depends on who you ask, but as far as I'm concerned... I think it makes this country more interesting. If I could go back in time and tell my great-grandparents that it would have been ok to teach their daughters Hungarian and they would still have had happy lives, I might. But then again I might not. My grandma and her sister were the first in their family to go away to college- at Ohio State, where my grandma met my grandpa. Perhaps if her parents had been a little more conservative about the ways of the so called "old world" I wouldn't be here today.

Life in the Diaspora

About five years ago, I became a member of a really interesting group. I usually would prefer to use the word ‘community’. I became a part of the community of Nigerians in Diaspora. When I left Nigeria, I said my goodbyes to my friends and family. Little did I know that maybe being so far away from home, won’t feel so bad. I soon found a community of other Nigerians close to me and connected with so many more in the virtual space thanks to facebook! I realized that I could still enjoy things that reminded me of home, even though I was no longer tied to the physical location of Nigeria. But one argument that always faces most members of Diaspora regardless of what country you originally might be from, is what do you need to do to show your patriotism to your country.

This is always an interesting conversation especially amongst my friends in Diaspora. Because one person follows as many Nigeria lifestyle sites or what we should call ‘gossip’ sites and hence seems to have more current information on matters going on in their ‘home’ country; such an individual is seems as more patriotic. Some other people feel you need to go to as many gatherings (parties, dinners discussions etc) that have anything to do with your country. Other feel you definitely have to have the African channel on your cable listings. The list is endless. I don’t think there is a right or wrong option. Being part of a Diaspora is for me a very advantageous because you have the opportunity to enjoy the community of others from your home country and at the same time appreciate your ‘new’ community of your present physical location. Being patriotic to your original home country can be expressed in different ways by different people. Nigeria’s Independence Day is next week- October 1st! I’m looking forward to that! Even though I can’t be physically in Nigeria, I am looking forward to connecting with other Nigerians in the area!

Karim and the Rise of "Mass Self-Communication"

What really struck me about Karim Karim’s “Reviewing the ‘National’ in ‘International Communication’ Through the Lens of Diaspora” was something I only began to realize as I reached the end of the piece. Certainly, the smorgasbord of communication technologies available to transnational diasporic communities today makes maintaining a national identity across national borders easier than ever before. As I read, though, I began to notice something about the works Karim cites—the most recent were published in 2003. A little sleuthing revealed that Karim’s piece is nearly a decade old!

In 2003, a tweet was still the sound a bird made, YouTube was still gibberish, Facebook was still a hobbyist’s project at Harvard and text messaging was just beginning its rise to prominence in the United States. Indeed, Karim’s analysis of the power of the Internet to hold diasporic communities together focuses primarily on chat rooms and web forums, those dirigibles of online communication, doomed to decay in the annals of collective memory. Only eight years later, chat rooms seem as quaint as the telegraph.
As Karim claimed at the time, “the intensification of globalising tendencies seemed to be making nation-states irrelevant.” What can the exponential acceleration of globalization, led by social networks, smart phones and pervasive wireless technologies mean for this assertion? Access and participation must surely have increased in diasporic communities, only multiplying the effect.

As Castells argues, new communication dynamics have changed the glue that holds the nation-state together. Crises of identity, in which people see their nations as increasingly divided into disjointed communities of interest, have given rise to reactionary “project identity movements” to promote a certain cultural idea, a particular type of nationalism. We see this in the rise of nationalist parties in Europe in response to immigration, and even among Tea Partiers here in the U.S.

Certainly, “the transnational spaces [diasporas] have created are leading to a self-reassessment on the part of the nation-state.” Karim’s reading of the situation has only seemed to become more and more relevant as the fracturing of societies due to globalization has intensified.

The Idea of Hawaii

In the islands of Hawaii there is a strong movement for Hawaiian Sovereignty.  In 1893, the US basically overthrew the Hawaiian Monarchy and pushed Queen Liliokalani off her thrown - making it impossible to stand up for the rights of the Nation of Hawaii.  Native Hawaiians have never held the same legal rights and as the Nations of Indians on the 'mainland', such as the Cherokee.  Many movements have constantly fought the US government's continued occupation of the nation of Hawaii. 
Actually, even the fact that Hawaii is the fiftieth state is largely contested.  Many believe that the US rushed a statehood vote through the houses and rigged the election, in response to new UN rules that would have lessened the ability of the US to control the colony of Hawaii.  The US could not afford to loose this strategic military and economic territory. 

People living in Hawaii are aware of the sovereignty movement to different degrees, though most probably through the music of Israel Kamakawiwaole (think Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Its a wonderful world).  I feel the Hawaiian sovereignty movement has been culturally industrialized and romanticized, with most people not knowing the real facts of Hawaii as an occupied nation. 

However that may be, the people of Hawaii today are deeply, strongly and actively aware of how the islands are different from the mainland US.  We do seem to be, in many ways, a separate nation of people.  Karim speaks of the idea of a 'nation' as something humanity has had even before there were nation states.  To him, the idea of the nation has always between groups of people and is re-legitimized through common belief, understanding and traditions, creating an imagined community.  Humans have evolved living, working and surviving in groups.  A 'nation' can be seen as an imagined community that is agreed upon by a group of people to support their cultural, economic, political, religious and militaristic goals.  Hawaii has a strong sence of culture, distinct traditions, music, history, language, stories, religion, gods, a different sense of space and time.  This makes it, in many ways, a completely different nation of people. 
Having a nation involves actively including and excluding groups of people.  This is where the idea of a 'nation' of Hawaii gets interesting.  Hawaii is very good at including and absorbing all sorts of people with many different backgrounds.  So, does "the Hawaiian people" include only decedents of Native Hawaiians?  If so, to what percentage? Does it include all the Asians and Portuguese brought over over the past almost 200 years to work the fields?  Does it include the missionaries and white settlers and ranchers that arrived over the past 100 years and now consider Hawaii their ancestral home?  The people who move there and stay because it is gorgeous?  In this blog, I have used the term 'we' when I speak of people from Hawaii, but I only arrived there at the age of 5 because my father was stationed there as a member of the US military.  To many, I most definitely AM NOT a part of the people of Hawaii, to others I totally am because I can answer the question "From where you grad?" - "I went grad from Kaiser in Hawaii Kai.'

I definitely feel the 'idea' and 'experience' of Hawaii is very real.  Whether it would be a "nation" of people, I suppose depends on how you look at it.  Is it a nation occupied by the US?  A strong distinct part of the US ? (Way to round it out to the big 5-0 Hawaii!)  It is true that Hawaiians never loose that part of themselves when they leave the islands.  The Hawaiian diaspora is easily seen.  "You can take the boy from the island, but not the island from the boy" to quote a famous Hawaiian singer Justin Kawika Young.  This is present in almost every university through the Hawaiian clubs on college campuses across the US.  There are pockets of Hawaii in LA, Las Vegas (cheapest flight to the mainland!) and Seattle.  The Hawaiian identity is without a doubt rapped up in the nation of the US, but at the same time stands completely separate.  It has a different history, a unique make up of people not found anywhere else in the world.  It has a lot of tensions, but that is part of its identity and we have even more Aloha.  The Aloha spirit does prevail more often than not.  "One ting I went notice 'bout this place, all us guys we tease the other race, it's amazing we can live in the same place!"  As referenced in one of my favorite songs (if you don't mind humoring may be an aquired taste): 

To Be or Not to Be: Nationalism and Diaspora

The connections between all the readings on the media’s influence on nationalism and transnationalism for this week were profoundly interesting. In particular, how media helps to nurture civil society’s rituals and interpretation of nationalism, and how diaspora communities use media to help reignite or distinguish their “identity”. Similar to my fellow group member Emily, I have a morning routine. First coffee, then reading the first section of the Wall Street Journal front to back, followed by visiting the website of my hometown New Jersey paper to see what is going on in my town. The same routine happened when I studied in Australia. Reading the news on the Internet is a medium that has the power to foster a, “…global civil society (that) has the technological means to exist independently from political institutions and mass media…”(Castells, 14). Whether it is reading from traditional media outlets, or finding your news through a regional blog or opinion page, technology allows us to follow our ritual of transmitting information, while transcending barriers previously imposed by regional borders.

After being in Central America for a summer with minimal Internet access, I picked up an appreciation for telenovelas—which are amazing Spanish soap operas. I am only one of the many individuals who (still) actively consume transnational media to identify with another ethnocultural group, even if I am not directly from that nation. One of the things that I am curious about as Karim has stated, for those people who consume transnational media in order to, “...engage in ones one rhythms,” is their cultural media consumption an indicator of where their feelings of nationalism resides, like where they belong? Or with the constant ebb and flow of diaspora community's intake of this media within another nation's borders, is it a symbol of nationalism at all?

What kind of questions are we asking?

I am really excited for the fall TV season. I was away in Nigeria all summer, so I missed all my favorite summer shows. I like to indulge in one or two TV shows, just to keep my sanity in the midst of all the readings and school work that I have going on. I promise this post is not a confession of my favorite TV shows. But as you might have noticed, we have some returning shows and a host of new shows this fall. Some of these new shows will be lucky to return for another season, and unfortunately, some of them will be canceled after the first season. So why do some shows keep coming back even though we already have a thousand singing competitions? You would think some organization should be formed that will come to a consensus on the number of singing shows that should be aired. But with every new TV season, you can expect to have a new ‘singing’ show on the list.

The theory of ‘Hegemony’ might be able to explain why we continue to see a string of shows with very similar patterns. The theory of hegemony explains that this happens when mass media functions to propagate and maintain the dominant ideology. The aim is to appeal to the widest possible audiences which will be able to generate maximum advertising revenue (Thussu, 52). So maybe the question I need to ask is, ‘what ideologies do we have’, because these competitive shows seem to be feeding into it.

Last week in my IC class, we talked about how a campaign after 9/11 fell flat because the campaign was asking a question no one was asking. It made me start wondering if the increase and success of certain TV shows must be answer to questions that viewers out there have. With the increase in competitive shows returning each TV season from singing, to cooking, to adventure, something in these shows must be answering the questions of some viewers out there. But when you take a look at the kind of shows out these days and analyze the content of shows e.g Basketball Wives or Flavor of Love, I can’t help but wonder, what kind of questions is this generation asking? Maybe I need to ask, what kind of answers are we looking for?

Coffee with a side of CNN

I am a morning routine person. If I don't get to go through my routine when I wake up, I spend my whole day feeling just a It's not a complicated scenario, and it goes like this: I wake up. I make coffee. While the coffee is brewing, I turn on my computer. As soon as that coffee is ready, I check two things online. My email, and the BBC. I read every article that seems important or interesting in each global area, then I change to CNN. After CNN comes the NY Times- and then maybe if I'm feeling adventurous I'll look at the Korea Times, Le Figaro and Le Monde. I may have a second cup of coffee. Only after I finish my "morning paper(s)" can I go on to get ready for my day.

My news obsession began the first time I left the United States in 2006. I was studying abroad in France, and staying in a home with no computer and no internet. They did have a tv, but the only station they got was one that played reruns of a show called "Charmed". I found myself strangely cut off from the rest of the world. I had a phone card, and I called my parents about once a week, but if I wanted to check my email or go on Facebook, I had to use a local internet cafe... to the tune of or 5 euros per hour. It also took me a half hour to walk there, assuming I didn't get lost (I usually did). It was the first time in a long time where I wasn't being inundated with tv... radio...advertisements... and I also went weeks at a time without having any idea what was happening in the world. As a result, every time I actually made the trek to the cybercafe, I found myself almost hypnotized by the world I found at my fingertips. CNN wasn't just an annoying tv channel my grandparents had blaring 24/7... it was a window to home. The language, the news. These were places I knew, I understood. I found myself drawn to the cafe not for Facebook, but for the local and national news.

The readings this week discussed different theories of communication. In the Carey reading, he discusses transmission communication as "the giving of information to others...for the purpose of control." This is not a new idea for many people. In  fact, in class we also discussed the idea of propaganda, which is, for better or for worse, to control which information is released in order to achieve a desired effect. What was new for me was the idea of ritual communication. Carey explains that "a ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs." One of his examples of this is the newspaper. Carey talks about how reading the newspaper is akin to attending a mass. It is a way of bringing together the members of a society, to reinforce ideas already present, and keep everyone on the same page. Carey explains that news isn't actually anything "new", and that readers are not surprised by what they read in the headlines, but rather that "news is a historic reality. It is a form of culture invented by a particular class at a particular point of history..."  What Carey is saying is that people don't read the news every day because they have no idea what is going on around them. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is true. Every once in a while there is something out of the ordinary, but usually the news includes financial news...there are good days and bad days. Some people did terrible things, and a smaller number of people did something good. There are mining accidents, banks with problems, floods, earthquakes, etc. Perhaps it really is the "hunger for experience" that drives me to wake up and read the news every morning, even if I am late for an appointment.

I think it is important to also note that just because the news may or may not be an important aspect of ritual communication, it does not mean that there isn't also transmission communication at play as well. After all, there are editors and news teams out there deciding which of these stories make the websites and which do not. Giving information and withholding other information? Hm sounds like information control to me. However, even armed with this information that I have fallen right into this information overload, and am being subjected to the will of the people with the monopolies of power, I still have every intention of waking up tomorrow and enjoying my coffee with a side of CNN. At least now I can tell myself I am participating in our societies "digital mass".

The Ritual of Communication

I was particularly intrigued by James Carey’s definition of communication: “A symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed.” According to this definition, all communication—news, entertainment, social networking—is, effectively, propaganda. Communication is propaganda in the sense that, intentionally or not, it serves to promote and maintain a particular—and, until recently, collective—idea of reality.

This communication-cum-propaganda has played a vital role in the construction and maintenance of the nation-state; it has been instrumental in fostering the “imagined community” that is an essential ingredient in uniting disparate peoples who happen to fall within politically determined geographic borders. We are symbolic creatures, and communication has “produced, maintained, repaired and transformed” our reality with national and societal symbols. Flags, events, wars, disasters—each can act a symbol that helps define our perception of the nation-state. Mass media have thus far been the vehicle for diffusing these symbols. As Bernard Cohen states, “Media doesn’t tell us what to think, but what to think about.”

However, over the last few decades, media have fractured more and more in an effort to cater to specific communities and groups of interest. Social media have increased the ability of niche groups to communicate and organize, and thus encouraged our natural tendency to gravitate to others like us. Increasingly, we seek out others with like views on the Internet, watch TV stations that cater to our particular political disposition, and read blogs that reaffirm our own views. More and more, we no longer share the same symbols. We no longer “think about” the same things.

If the existence and maintenance of the nation is so dependent on the collective consumption and acceptance of symbols, and our repertoire of symbols is less and less uniform each day, how can the nation-state as we know it continue to thrive? If we’re each subject to our own, specialized propaganda machine, how can we sustain our societal bonds?

Social Media Ruling the NewsWaves

Bernard Cohen’s agenda setting theory ceases to amaze me in its how largely it affects the circulation of various news outlets, especially today with the use of social media and the Internet. In the good old days when major newspapers needed to have someone on the ground to confirm that an event was occurring, what happens now when the news is found all over Twitter, Facebook, and their competing news websites? A news station cannot leave it unreported and left with untimely news events, so they engage in the bandwagon effect, where one breaking story sets the fundamental “agenda” for others to follow. Even though major news companies still have their own unique, distinct feature stories, this seems to be the repeated occurrence. Two major stories that broke this past summer, and turned out to be false, are good illustrations of how this has impacted the information that we consume. The Gay Girl in Damascus, which happened to be a 36-year-old man living in America, and the supposed Virginia Tech shooter that was sited by children there for summer camp. No one had ever confirmed either of these stories (summer campers don’t seem to be an accurate source) but they were repeatedly referred to, for different reasons, and through the salience effect were made of interest to the American public. Castells said that we are not an information society but an ever increasingly networked society, and those networks that we weave seem to be extending beyond who we are personally connected to.

Where does it all come from?

When I began teaching an honors American history class to a group of 25 seniors, the last thing I expected was to need to hand-hold them through the process of doing research for a simple 5 page paper . These were the brightest of the bright!  These students attended a wealthy, well funded public high school in Colorado.  I will never forget the first time I walked them down the hall to their incredible library for time to complete research for their paper. 

The students walked straight to the computers, ignoring the online catalog which organized multiple rows of fabulous books and resources and also ignoring the online databases the school paid for.  Straight to Wikipedia they went, straight to the Google search engine, choosing the first site it brought up.  They had no discernment.  They could not tell "good" sources of information from "poor" ones.  The students didn't even know to ask the question.  They had too much information.  I realized they had completely grown up when information is constatnly bombarded into your personal space, when you want it, but mostly when you don't. 

Ten minutes after bringing them into the library, I watched one student copy and and paste an entire passage straight into his own paper. I knew we had to call a time out.  This student, a bright, engaged learner was not quite sure why I told him he could not do that.  I brought the class away from the "computer corner" and back to the tables nearer the rows of books.  I told them (amidst protesting  groans of disbelief) that they were going to have to do their entire research project and give their presentation using only hard copy books and resources in their own school library.

Now, I know that their future is not filled with doing research soley with books and hard copy journals.  I didn't want them to only use books because I thought it would be better than the internet.  I am fully aware of how much fabulous information and resources exist online.  I wanted them to be confined to their one library with its books because I simply wanted them to SLOW DOWN.  I wanted these students to think about where their information was coming from, search for it, consider it, compare it.  I wanted them to learn how to use a library catalog and  how to use the index and table contents of a book.  One young woman, with a straight face, complained she would have to go through a 400 page history book page by page to find anything on MLK.  At first, I thought she was joking, but no, they had no clue how to use an index or table of contents.  

In Communication Flows and Flomations, Paul Adams quotes Daniel Sui who argues that "Many studies have indicated that having access to unlimited amounts of information is not necessarily beneficial to an individual or an organization."  (2000)  In the case of my class, this was defiantly true.  They had the brains, the drive, the curiosity and the access to information.  What they needed was to be taught discernment, critical thinking, to consider the speaker, the motive, the culture, the time period from which this information was created.  The question for the next generation is not where and how to get information, but how to critically consider where their information and where it is coming from.  Our children need to be taught the tremendous skill of critical thinking and given the tools to sift through the mass of information that bombards their lives in multiple mediums.  

As for the research projects, the presentations on MLK, WWII, the Gilded Age and the role of women in the Revolutionary War were fabulous.

Losing Our Listening

“We are losing our listening,” says Julian Treasure, a British sound expert.

He doesn’t mean those of us who can hear are losing the ability. In his July 2011 TED Talk, “Five ways to listen better,” Treasure defines listening as “making meaning from sound.” To him, “listening” is a synonym for “paying attention.” It’s this construction of meaningful understanding from meaningless building blocks—hearing a melody in the cacophony—which Treasure warns is at risk in our noisy, inattentive modern world.

To Treasure, the way we listen is important. Our brains use extraordinary techniques, such as pattern recognition and differencing, to pick out what’s relevant from the noise. More interesting, however, are the filters they use—culture, language, values, beliefs and even intentions—in choosing what to “listen” to, verbal or otherwise. Why are these filters important? As Treasure says, “they actually create our reality.” They determine what we pay attention to and what we discard. Our cultural background and values can determine what we listen to and understand.

But why, then, is our listening at risk? First, methods of recording (writing, audio and video recording) have diminished its very importance. As Treasure puts it, “the premium on accurate and careful listening has simply disappeared.” When you can turn to Google for an instant answer, what need do you have for careful listening? Technology has turned what was once a culture of conversation into a jumble of “personal broadcasting” bubbles. When everyone has his headphones on, can't look up from his cell phone, or is glued to the TV or computer or iPad, “nobody’s listening to anybody.” The media have to sensationalize every story just to grab our attention, and “conversations” are reduced to sound bites and 140-character exclamations. What Treasure laments, then, is our inability to appreciate nuance—the subtleties of meaningful interaction. “Conscious listening,” says Treasure, “creates understanding.”

Without a doubt, this intellectual detachment goes far beyond aural perception; the trappings of modernity can isolate us vocally and otherwise. As we well know, and as Treasure notes, the cacophony of the modern world is not only auditory, but also visual. Even our brains function differently under the flashing lights of the modern world—ever-increasing numbers of ADHD-diagnosed children are a testament to that.

More than anything, it is sobering to imagine the effect our collective loss of metaphorical "listening" could have on international communication. As Treasure makes clear, we spend 60% of our communication time listening. Cultural and social filters already make communication between nations difficult; if we can’t pay attention to one another, how can we expect to communicate at all? As Treasure puts it, “A world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed.”

(See video above. Captions available in 30 languages.)

Do we still appreciate the first mass medium- the Printing Press?

I really doubt that John Gutenburg knew that his invention – the printing press with moveable type, would go on to be credited to have brought about one of the greatest social and political impacts of our time. The invention of the printing press expanded the reading public and helped bring about a standard of uniform languages which had a great impact of the European political structure at that time according to Elizabeth C. Hanson (2008, pg 15). Understanding the historical impact of the printing press helped me appreciate the printing press as a mass medium.

Since Gutenberg’s invention, there have been various technological changes which have made communication of ideas around the world much easier and faster. I just find it ironical that the printing press which will always have great impact across various sectors will be struggling to survive in our generation because unfortunately, the reading public is reducing. Yes, it is true if everything is on the internet, why would anyone need to buy a book or a magazine? I do appreciate the big shift towards having everything on the internet is saving our planet. But my only fear is that because everything is now on the internet, kids are not reading anymore. I need a whole new post to comment about what is being posted on the internet. I think years ago when the printing press was invented, those who came behind us understood and utilized the printing press. I just hope that with everything moving to the internet which seems to be threatening the printing press as a medium for printing written work, our generation will still understand the impact reading the right material can have on an individual and even greater society.

International Communications, and, er, Development?

I have read a lot about the origins of the international communications, and it always ceases to amaze how the Western world’s “information imperialism” evolved over time. One of the topics relevant to this that always catches my interest is the laying the transatlantic cables. The map of the British undersea cables illustrates how they strategically placed these cables, and the progressive intersection between the private sector’s capital investment to serve the government’s global interests. As the article mentioned, “The cables were, in the words of Headrick, ‘an essential part of the new imperialism” (7). This sounds to me dreadfully familiar case to the most recent laying of broadband cable lines all around the continent of Africa…

I briefly discussed in class how, through my internship, I began to change my mind about the role Information and Communication Technologies for Development, and this is part of the reason. Not because technology may help the efficiency and effectiveness of international development missions and field workers, but rather, whose interests they were truly serving. Are they trying to truly improve the socioeconomic conditions and the lives of Africans, or are the private corporations and government leaders (who usually have a huge stake in the country’s telecommunications company) just looking for a new niche market? I may sound like a capitalist cynic, but international communications does play a huge role in international development, especially in who controls the information to those in the "third world". So is the burgeoning of Internet access a new form of Western capitalist imperialism, a form of true betterment for those in need, or a combination? Let me know if you have the answer because I'm still trying to work it out myself.

Information Revolution Mania

I have spent much of my academic and professional careers studying how ideas are spread and received around the world, from propaganda during WWII to how certain countries are portrayed by the media across the globe. The amazing thing is, I had never actually stopped to consider how those ideas/words were actually transmitted before these various readings on the "information revolution". I have always thought it was important to remember that all information on CNN and the BBC comes from somewhere and someone, and that real, live people decide what is included in the news and what is left out. I just never put it together with the fact that governments and private entities alike have been struggling for control of information since printing press.

From a linguistic prospective, the fact that the printing press forced publishers and writers to choose one particular dialect over others, which would naturally then weed out the others as the written form became the "norm" in the region is fascinating. More importantly, however, is the fact that this led inevitably to the greater division of peoples; if suddenly all of the people in a certain region speak this language, and therefore can read the same information, but the people in the next town have a different language and set of information at their disposal, it creates division but also a greater sense of identity within each group. Hanson states that this led to the rise of nationalism, although it probably took a few centuries for that to happen.

I am not very good at memorizing specific dates and the names of the people who invented certain radios or television parts, but I do see the benefit in understanding when (relatively) and how these tools helped people (and governments) communicate both domestically and internationally. It is interesting to ponder how different the dynamic of the American "melting pot" might be if our immigrant ancestors from the 1800's to  the early 1900's had been able to call their families in the "old countries" on a weekly basis. I think that people my age have a tendency to take for granted that we can keep in touch instantly with people on the other side of the world, without understanding what it took for that to happen.


"The best way to say anything is just to say it." Johnny Cash