Friday, September 4, 2009

Implications of Innovation and Competition in International Communication

Collectively, this week’s assigned readings set the stage for how different modes of international communication evolved and the implications for how those modes advanced international relations over time. While the readings outlined several themes, there were two that I found to be particularly captivating.

First, the theme of innovation is apparent in the readings. Without innovation, international communication would never have progressed as it did. In Elizabeth C. Hanson’s chapter entitled, “The Origins of the Information Revolution”, Hanson credits the printing press with the greatest social and political impact of any field. It is evident that innovation breeds more innovation. As invention after invention were created, notable improvements and ramifications in international communications followed. For example, once the printing press was invented, there was a movement to print in the vernacular languages people spoke rather than in Latin. From there, the electronic telegraph propelled the creation of the first global communication system that occurred in real time. The telegraph not only linked imperialists with their colonies, but also reiterated the fact that the British empire held a hegemonic status in the world at the time. In Mattelart’s chapter, “The Emergence of Technical Networks”, he explains that the French began documenting names and addresses of senders for reasons of state security when the telegraph was invented. Years later, broadcasting made its way into the international scene. It played an enormous role in the forming public opinion in international affairs. During the Cold War, broadcasting became particularly vital because it was used to transmit propaganda to the masses listening. Furthermore, the use of propaganda gave rise to the idea of obtaining “objective” news, whether or not countries were stealth producers of propaganda for international consumption. My point is that with innovation comes dynamic societal implications.

Secondly, each invention, within the international market, was affected by imperialism and capitalism. Whether it meant that European governments would introduce the electronic telegraph around the world (because it was a cheap way of communicating) or provide colonies with the shortwave radio, clearly, international communication is deeply embedded with the concepts of imperialism (mapping communications with colonies across the world) and the notion of technical advancement for the sake of profitable economies. Through the discussion of the electric telegraph and wireless telegraphy in Hanson’s chapter and in Thussu’s article (titled “The Historical Context of International Communication”), it became clear to me that regardless of the development level of countries, the expansion of the telegraph was global. Indeed, it was imperialism that connected countries (between the North and the South) but it was also imperialism that restricted them from prospering. Imperialism laid the foundation for the creation of an imbalanced world – one with transparent distinctions between those with power and money and those without. Competition, resulting from capitalism, also affectes international communication. News agencies supported by governments became obsessed with providing international news presented in the fastest, most “balanced” manner while maintaining (as Thussu articulates) a “cartel” on the influence of the media on world opinion. Notions of imperialism, capitalism, and innovation and its respective societal implications are inexplicably linked.

Finally, I would like to briefly discuss international communication and development. Once the gap was formed dividing the North and the South, UNESCO officials decided to use international communication to attempt to rectify the development damage in the world’s poorest countries. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) used satellite technology to broadcast programs to educate people in rural communities in India. Ideally, this experiment should have made a profound impact. However, the modernization theory behind the implementation of the experiment failed to account for Indian culture within the context of educating the rural people. Devastating, the result was failure to empower people to view the programs that were transmitted. I suppose that this example exemplifies the power of culture, innovation, and competition within the international system.

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