What are we are missing out on?

Tonight’s presentation on Ethiopic language and its inclusion in Unicode presented an important element about the global digital divide because it asks the question: how can, even with access to information communication technologies and internet access, someone utilize technology if it is not available in their native language? In short, they can’t. This is an important element to consider in regard to technology and the reality of, to borrow from Laura DeNardis’s description, its architecture. As the group described in their literature related to their case study, the architecture of something has the power to include and exclude. The analogy we have used in class in class is that of bridges that are built low enough to prevent busses driving under them. In the case of Ethiopia, technology was created in a way that excludes the nation’s 90 languages because American companies created the technology in English with a western cultural perspective. Further, their commercial interests drive their actions, and there is no financial incentive to include languages in which there is no commercial demand.

Therefore, not only are these groups of people excluded from the benefits of technology, we are also denied the benefit of their knowledge. As the group noted, we “feel” like we are so much more connected, but cannot assume that the majority of the information is in English and unless everyone is able to put information in the digital realm, we are missing out. After this presentation, I cannot help but to believe that we are indeed missing out. Tonight we discussed Ethiopic, but what other languages are we missing out on? I also liked the question at the end of the presentation asking the question- what would the computer look like if it was created in a different culture. I agree that it would be different. Since the U.S. is such an individualistic culture, I cannot help but to believe that technology might be more communal if it was created in a different culture, and perhaps this communal nature would have enabled technology to be created with other languages and cultures in mind.

Share America- Can it gain significant traction?

Since we have discussed Share America in class a few times, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at this public diplomacy effort led by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.On the IIP’s website, Macon Phillips notes that the bureau’s mission is to “engage audiences around the world to work with the United States on shared interests.” More specifically the IPP website notes that Share America as a “digital platform optimized so content can flow seamlessly across social media networks with easy access form mobile devices.”

With this in mind, the website’s layout and structure appears to fulfill this goal. The website looks exactly like Upworthy, a social media website designed to highlight things that matter on the internet and “pass em on,” as each of Share America’s post includes a “Tweet This” and “Share This.” The days stories are easy to access, and from what is being discussed, it is easy to decipher what  values the United States is promoting as they are listed under the search feature “themes.” The first few include democracy, diversity, civil society, and education. Therefore, there is a consistent and clear narrative. And as a reviews noted on Facebook, the simplicity of the website with its shorter stories is good for English beginners, which if helpful for students looking to study in the U.S. or citizens around the world looking to immigrate the the U.S.

However, as a one stop digital platform for sharing America, something about Share America seems a bit off. As a millennial who has long utilized digital platforms as a means to gather news, I am not sure if this website would be a place I would go, but to test these suspicions, I emailed my four cousins in New Zealand and simply sent them the website and asked them their thoughts. Two were suspicious of the .gov address and the explanation that the website was an effort by the State Department. One asked if this was news or propaganda. The third cousin said she appreciated the optimistic tone of the website noting that it reflected the optimistic nature of the American people, and the fourth cousin simply noted that it was easy to use, but the headlines were not “real news.” Although this is a narrow sample, I thought there feedback matched my suspicions, and upon further investigation of the website’s Facebook and Twitter, Share America does have a Twitter following of almost 50,000 people, but overall engagement on both Facebook and Twitter appear to be low. This is interesting since one of the goals of the website is to stimulate conversation and encourage a flow of information across digital platforms, yet the shares and comments are low on most stories.

Overall, I think it will be difficult for Share America to gain the significant traction that the website is designed to have because of factors such as the crowded media environment on the internet, the narrow focus on youth readers and social media, and the question of whether such a website is real news or just propaganda. Regardless, it will be interesting continue to watch this website to see what impact, if any, this website will have on American diplomacy efforts in the digital age.

Small, but Mighty! The New Zealand National Narrative

In 1840, New Zealand signed the treaty of Waitangi to become apart of the British empire, and for roughly the next one hundred and thirty years, New Zealand followed the foreign policy of the British Empire. It supported Britain in World War I and World War II, and it supported the United States during the Cold War. New Zealand also supported nuclear testing in the Pacific ocean because the small nation felt believed that supporting large western powers was essential to its security and diplomatic power. This kind of thinking led to the signing of the ANZUS treaty in 1951, which established a military alliance between New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, which in essence, stated that if one of the nations were attached, it was the same as an attack on the other two nations. Yet, as Western powers continued to test nuclear bombs in the Pacific, New Zealand became weary with concerns that the testing was harming their environment and population.

This concern turned to the public outcry through petitions and protests. Then in response to its concerns, New Zealand and Australian approached the World Court in 1973 to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific. This only forced all testing underwater to which the World Court believed was a sufficient response to New Zealand’s concerns. This only fueled New Zealand’s frustrations, and protests continued as opposition to nuclear ships carrying nuclear arms rose from 32% to 72% between 1972 and 1983. But, as a part of the ANZUS treaty, New Zealand had to allow U.S. ships to port in New Zealand. In an effort to at least establish transparency, New Zealand asked the United States to clarify which ships carried nuclear weapons and which ships did not, but the United States refused and merely noted that it could neither confirm nor deny which ships carried nuclear weapons. New Zealand did not accept this answer, and after attempting to negotiate with the U.S., it declared New Zealand a nuclear free zone in 1984, broke the ANZUS treaty, and banned nuclear ships from its ports.

So, with this important context in mind, New Zealand formed what has become its national narrative; one in which is adequately defined by a nuclear protester comment, “we were like a little fish in the world telling a big fish no.” New Zealand, for the first time in it’s national history, had made its own foreign policy; one that has serious repercussions on the United States. New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, David Lange stated after establishing the ban,

“This will change everything – there’ll be no going back. We’ll cut ourselves adrift economically, militarily, culturally . the umbilical cord to our past has been severed. New Zealand will never be the same again… we were hedgehog New Zealand, curling ourselves up into a frightened little ball and praying the outside world wouldn’t run over us. Tomorrow we stand up in the full glare of the international spotlight and say: “This is who we are, this is what we believe, and damn the consequences!”

This narrative has defined New Zealand since the 1980s, and it has led the country to become a very fair and good international player. Today, it is celebrated for this narrative, which was most recently displayed in October of this year when New Zealand, a nation of 4.5 million, won more than two-thirds of the UN General Assembly to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Minister Murray McCully stated after the vote, “We want to be the sort of country that listens to countries that are affected by the deliberations of the council. I think there’s been a view abroad that that doesn’t happen.” Thus, it seems that New Zealand and its leaders will continue to adhere the small, but politically mighty narrative as they take their seat on UN Security Council starting next November. It certainly will be interesting to watch how this narrative impacts their efforts on the council.

Communication and Governance: A Plethora of Elements and Actors

Daya Thussu discusses in her chapter “Creating a global communication infrastructure,” the shift in communication policy that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in which deregulation dominated the policy landscape. This deregulation drastically altered and impacted both the international market-as depicted in her article through the discussion of the world’s satellite industry-and the United States’ domestic market.

Avshalom Ginosar contributes a foundational framework for understanding this new communications landscape in his article “Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?” In this article, Ginsor describes different foundations by which we can understand the many communication systems that exist and states that “once the governance type of a communication system is exposed, it is possible to point to the type of system that might exist.” In this statement  Ginsor demonstrates how governance is pluralistic in nature. It involves numerous institutions, stakeholders, policies, modes, mechanisms, and levels.  As Ginsor states “the communication and media world is much more complex, diverse, and dynamic than in the past.”

So does the politics of governance matter in communication?Absolutely, as Ginsor shows, governance is a holistic process that involves many elements and actors who influence legislation and policy, which also impact the norms of how we communicate. The outcomes of these influences ultimately dictates how we communicate.

Thussu, Daya Kishan. International communication: Continuity and change. London: Arnold, 2000.

Ginosar, Avshalom. “Media Governance: A Conceptual Framework or Merely a Buzz Word?.” Communication Theory 23.4 (2013): 356-374.

Do we really control the information age?

Henry Jenkins defined the convergence culture as “An era where media will be everywhere, and we will use all kinds of media in relation to one another.”

Specifically, cultural convergence is the phenomenon of the audience becoming the user. A great example is Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2006- “You.” The cover notes, “Yes, You, You control the Information Age: Welcome to your World.” You, or rather, we were chosen in 2006 for contributing an unprecedented amount of free content on platforms such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook. Consequently creating low-cost content from which these platform companies profited. This phenomenon has revolutionized the way we ingest media; in fact, Jenkins referred to it as a “digital renaissance- a period of transition and transformation that will affect all aspects of our lives.”

I believe Jenkins was correct. This phenomenon is impacting every aspect of our lives, but I don’t believe it’s all positive, and although there are numerous negative reasons, one that is on the minds of many Americans after the Edward Snowden affair is the issue of data collection. Not only is our information used to collect profit by these platforms, it is being collected in a more extensive way that many users are aware. Although most understand that the information they willfully provide will be used (such as their name, location, birthday, etc.), many are unaware of the additional web-site usage data that is collected. Information such as how they accessed the site, the number of their IP address, how long they spent logged into site, and other usage related statistics.

Yet, some users do not find this information disturbing. The next question that should alarm is what happens to this data when the CEO or Board of Directors of a user-generated platform changes? Is it secure? For example, in the case of Facebook, there is no such thing as deactivating one’s account. What happens to data that you attempted to deactivate and erase?

In the midst of José van Dijck’s dialogue on the “Participatory Promise of Contemporary Culture and Politics” regarding the discussion of the way in which these platforms can frame what users come to believe is “relevant or newsworthy”, he notes that “many of Facebook’s back-end decisions executed by information engineers are not only invisible and unknowable to users, but their effect goes well beyond the site proper.” Although the discussion was not related to data collection- it is still an important point that offers insight into another unknown impact of how our data is being used.

Since the convergence culture only continues to grow, it is imperative that as we provide content (as I doubt few of us are willing to cut Facebook or Instagram) we need to better understand how our data is being used and how it can compromise our personal privacy and security.

Impact of Global Media Coverage

This video is a great display of the impact of global media coverage. It can cause unfortunate stereotypes that are completely untrue as the media tries to package religious and cultural stereotypes into sound bites. Listen to religious scholar Reza Aslan point out how wrong the media gets it.

Globalization: Global and Local

In Jade Miller’s article “Ugly Betty goes global” Miller demonstrates the modern shift of globalization theory through the global viewing of the telenovela Betty La Fea or Ugly Betty. In the article she concludes “The popularity of telenovelas lies in the telenovela formula: a mix of globally resonant archetypes and a structure of specific localizable elements (characters, locations, social environments, etc.).” With this statement, I believe Miller highlights why globalization is useful for practioners of international communication. Practioners need to establish a line between what is globally resonant and what is locally resonant because understanding global similarities and local differences could enable more successful communication between states. For example, it is crucial that the states of the world work together on issues such as climate change, the spread of disease, financial crises, and natural disasters. However, it is also important that state leaders regionally communicate and localize these issues because climate change will impact London, England and Charleston, South Carolina in different ways and will have different preparations and cultural implications.

Globalization is shrinking the world. Never before have so many linkages existed between the world’s states, but as Miller points out, it has not only created a global culture, but has reemphasized regional cultures. All international communication practicioners must keep this in mind when tackling global issues.