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.

"Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop"

On November 18th, police on the UC Davis campus pepper sprayed students staging a peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest. Images of one police officer walking casually, pepper spray in hand, down a line of students writhing on the ground spread like wildfire, and it wasn't long before a meme appeared—"Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop." Shown, as might be expected, casually pepper spraying famous scenes such as Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and John Trumbull's 1819 painting Declaration of Independence (pictured above), the "cop" meme became an instant sensation on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and Twitter.

While it's natural to make light of such a terrible situation—and the meme undoubtedly helped spread knowledge of the event itself—it's unfortunately difficult to see much positive impact in its diffusion. It isn't much of a stretch to draw parallels between the brutality of police efforts to break up Occupy protests and the Kent State massacre in 1970, when four unarmed students protesting the invasion of Cambodia were shot by National Guardsmen. (One Occupy Seattle protester, for instance, was beaten and pepper sprayed by police and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.) Of course, UC Davis students and faculty immediately called for the resignation of the university chancellor who ordered breakup of the protest. However, the chancellor has yet to resign, the officers involved have only been suspended, and no discernible national movement has arisen in protest. It seems that the events at UC Davis are doomed to be forgotten in the rush of our 24/7 news cycle. After the Kent State massacre, in contrast, a nationwide strike of four million students closed hundreds of universities and strengthened public opposition to the war.

So, why no university closures? Why no public movement in solidarity with UC Davis and other Occupy protesters brutalized by police? Putting political divisions aside, I believe the spread of the "Pepper Spray Cop" meme is a symptom of the perverse desensitization that a sensationalized media system has cultivated in our society. To see such shocking events on television was a relatively new phenomenon in 1970, and it mobilized massive national protest after Kent State. To modern eyes, it's just another sensational headline, just another viral video, just another drop in the 24/7 media flood. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the spread of the "Pepper Spray Cop" meme even discouraged protest—not only does it make a mockery of the situation; it also grants a sort of catharsis through humor that might have been sought via protest in another era.

Source: Know Your Meme

China-U.S-Australia: Soft Power

In Nye’s article on soft power, he mentions how the U.S. was once infamous for their credible and long lasting relationships, but overtime these relationships have gradually declined. The media has paid a lot of attention to the shift within the world’s relationships and the rise of new global powers. In particular, their depiction of the “rebirth of the sleeping tigers” or the emergence of China and Asia as newly integrated powerful international players. A lot of this has been the result of China’s soft power being used to persuade and attract the world to see the new economic powerhouse in a positive light and garner credibility. One example of China’s use of soft power was illustrated in Obama’s recent visit to the Pacific to discuss the U.S.’s new influx of troops with Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It sent an unsettling message to the Chinese. So in turn, they fought against the newly established relationship using soft power to try and reestablish their Pacific partner. Chinese Innovation Minister Kim Carr pushed soft power by establishing $9 million of funding for Australia-China research collaborations. The fund, announced in August, is a joint venture between Senator Carr's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, to support joint virtual research centers. This is where Nye states that good public diplomacy goes beyond propaganda initiatives, and creating exchange and collaborative programs over a particular field such as science, can help to establish long term relationships, in this case China with Australia. I think that it will be interesting to see how the world will view China in the next decade. They have made huge attempts to regain a credible reputation in the world by creating these new types of relationships and making a new “harmonious society”. Whether these efforts will outweigh what the world previously knew of the human rights abuses and harsh history within the country, will be interesting to see unfold.

Great Firewall Putting Out Fires

Meng writes in his article "From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse, that, "Not unlike Marx and his contemporaries, who used the 'underground languages' of parody and irony to evade censorship in the 19th-century Germany, e gao is a stylistic means of 'smuggling ideas past a censor' for Chinese internet users."  Meng discusses how social commentary in the form of irony, sarcasm for entertainment is absolutely nothing new in the literary or media scene.  He sees them has powerful tools to be able to get at the heart of what is happening in China with regard to the censorship of media and the internet. Pieces such as e gao and other social commentaries in our past (A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift as stuck strongly in my mind since high school) are effective because these works take dense, tightly packed information with complicated, sensitive contexts and make them refreshingly easy to understand and digest.  It allows people to lightly pull all the pieces together in a fun and entertaining way.  It also has the added benefit of allowing the author to conceal what they may really mean to authorities who do not 'understand the code'.  

As Meng discusses, trying to fight e gao only feeds the flames.  The moment the Chinese government clamps down on one, many more pop up to take its place.  The moment one word or phrase is banned others come into its place. Does this widely available technology and media mean a change is in the future for China?  Perhaps not, as Meng also discusses the elaborat 'dispersed responsibility' to be sure that content on the web fosters society and community, as the government puts it.  This responsibility to counter questionable content is laid on the sholderes of web companies and domain name holders who then basically do the work of the government to control and censor information.  Fear and uncertainty also lays the responsibility on individuals themselves who may censor themselves more than necessary because the government is intentionally vague on what is objectionable material.

However, communication, an act human's are particularly good at, will find a way to happen, as Meng states e gao, "represent innovative strategies for articulating social critque and fostering societal dialogue" in a country that is rapidly trying to counter the 'decentralizing' effect of the internet.  The communities within China are utilizing technology and social media to push boundaries and forge new ways to communicate.  Will China continue to run around putting out fires one by one?