The power of Dialogue

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As I reflect on the small and larger concepts explored in our course this semester, I notice how interlinked the field of international communication is, and how it walks hand in hand, with the roots of social change. At the risk of sounding slightly hackneyed, I have come to reaffirm my conviction that the route to any type of social change, lies in dialogue.

But what is the real meaning of ‘dialogue’ and what should its purpose actually be?

The ancient Greeks believed that “individuals are not intelligent on their own, that it’s only by reasoning together that they are able to uncover the truth for themselves. The Greeks understood that if two or more people are unsure about a question, they can accomplish something together they can’t do on their own. By questioning and probing each other, carefully dissecting and analyzing ideas, finding the inconsistencies, never attacking or insulting but always searching for what they can accept between them, they can gradually attain deeper understanding and insight.”*

In our increasingly interlocked and uncertain world, in which the traditional notion of authority structures are falling, and we are forced into confrontations with peoples from opposing cultural traditions and worldviews, we find ourselves in desperate need to be able to overcome our differences, find some common ground, build meaning and purpose, and set directions together. With all of our new communication media forms like the internet and mobile technology, we find ourselves more frequently talking at each other. But the way to solve our problems, is to tap into our ‘higher social intelligence’ as the late physicist David Bohm called it; to think together as groups, as teams, as committees, as communities, and as citizens.

It’s no longer enough to be clever on our own. “Our pressing problems today require that we be smart together, that we harness our best collective thinking and put it to work in the world.”*

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IC what you mean

Ok, so this is my final post. And as my fellow group members have noted, it’s okay to be sentimental. To put it very simply, I’ve learned a lot! And as much as I would run around campus screaming “Information Overload!” every Thursday at 2:30, I think I’ve done a good job retaining/understanding the material. One part of the readings that many loathed while I adored were the history behind International comm and IC technologies. Yes, the readings were dense and sometimes redundant, but I loved reading about the power struggle between the UK, the U.S., European forces, and the rest of the world.

 

Another part of IC I enjoyed most were the discussions. While at times it was hard for me to clearly articulate the ideas floating around in my head, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to reflect on the readings in class discussions. I also loved listening to other people’s perspectives and challenging/talking about different points of view.

 

One of the most difficult concepts that i’m contining to tackle is that of networks. While I provided myself and other readers with a intro to networks for dummies, I still find the subject very difficult to grasp. Not only is it complex, it’s also a bit confusing. Nonetheless, I think I understand the gist of network theory (or so I think).

While my classmates have already discussed this, I’ll take the liberty of mentioning it as well. I like blogging. In fact, I used to have my own blog (it’s down because grad school has taken over my life). But the nice thing about personal blogging is that I got to write about whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Of course this wasn’t the case in this class. In fact, I was very scared that I wouldn’t find anything to blog about, and more importantly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. But as the semester progressed, I realized how much of International Comm is intertwined into our daily lives. This may be an overstatement, but everywhere I look, I can see an example of IC or IC technologies. Scary? Maybe just a little. Brilliant? Absolutely.

 

All in all, it’s been an interesting journey. I thank readers (if any) for reading and putting up with my crazy ideas.

This is the last post, so it’s ok to be sentimental.

Gulou – The Heart of Beijing

In January this year, around the time of the Chinese new year, Chinese government created a so called “National image video” to be played on six huge screens in Time Square. In one sentence, this 60-second video was literately just the smiling faces of 50 Chinese celebrities, one second at a time. It was played 15 times per hour, 20 hours per day from Jan 17 to Feb 14. According to the official, this was part of a “public diplomacy campaign” to showcase our accomplishments and spirit.

But seriously, can putting a slide show like this between Coca-Cola and Remy Martin ads tell the world anything at all?

Most of the Chinese people I know, including myself, couldn’t even figure out what exactly that video was trying to convey, except that we have a bunch of famous people, which is barely new to anyone. However, it was somehow the classic Chinese way of expressing- to present the story with such caution and ambiguity then expect people to just get the idea themselves. But the world we live in now doesn’t work this way. No one would care to guess. PR is all about making the message clear.

Easier said than done, but can we ever extract the cultural essence of a nation or a civilization and convey it without losing its true meaning in translation? How do we find the right angle to portray a nation? How to promote a nation’s spirit or ideology in a non-threatening but effective way?

The fact that our world is becoming a global village had made it even harder for non-western countries to keep their own voice, let along to make them heard by others.

As for China, our long hug with western culture has started since the economic reform in 1979. The open up indeed greatly improved our life and directly resulted in the rise of our economy, but it also inevitably diluted our culture. It is almost heartbreaking to see traditions accumulated over five thousand years can be so fragile and so easily lost over the course of these decades. Many kids now, thanks to TV and the Internet, know more about western culture than our own. It’s common for children to chose pizza as their birthday treat. People celebrate Christmas and other western holidays with great enthusiasm but consider some of our own traditional holidays troublesome.

How can we promote our culture if many of our own people have already started to forget?

From ancient Taoism founded by Laozi to more current Zen Buddhism, the focus of eastern philosophy has always been the pursuit of inner peace and harmony with the universe…until we abandoned the search of ourselves for a search of gold.

Now it has came to many Chinese’s attention that it’s time to pause and look back at the things we dropped on the way.  The image of a nation can never be amiable, no matter how much money we throw into an AD campaign, if we cannot find the way back to our own culture.

This is why I chose to be in this field: to understand others as well as ourselves, and find a way to connect.

One Last one this semester

I have to admit, this blog assignment has made me think about my choice of studying in international Communication a lot. I realized this is not only just an assignment for one single class. It’s a place for our “IC nerds” to put our thoughts together and connect our studies to real world in one place. From the beginning of this semester, I was still deciding to change my major to International Media, but then I realized International Media is part of International Communication. We communicate with each other through different medial tools, like social media, broadcast, radio, and other art forms(including blogging). It’s a really amazing feeling to know that something you are studying now is changing and shaping the world and people’s thoughts.

International Communication

I kept the habit of writing journals everyday since I left home for college. It’s a sense of belonging to a family, a group, or to the world. I enjoyed how this blog site has brought everyone in our class and program together. And I will try to keep this blog updated thorough this year especially with the social media class I’m taking next year.

IC Full Circle

As I sat down to write my very first blog this semester, I wondered how on earth I would ever be able to apply newfound knowledge of communication practices like the radio spectrum and the telegraph to modern life.  It didn’t take long to realize that these concepts are not only important but really applicable to everyday life.  I have especially realized that these theories we have studied are literally EVERYWHERE.  Classmates and I are constantly seeing something on TV or being mass-sent some new meme, and saying – oh that’s just like what we talked about in IC class!

Over the course of these few months, I have realized that all of our concepts have come sort of full circle.  Public diplomacy was essentially a very large part of the creation of radio.  Not only that, but it is still extremely important today.  Although public diplomacy is increasingly using new technology (Facebook, SMS, Twitter) and seeing amazing results, it is really important that they continue radio broadcasts for those without access to these technologies.

This obviously leads to a discussion on communication and development.  Specifically, how mobile phones are starting to shape the lives of people in developing countries.  Where they are available, it is clear that they have been a tool for democratic reform.  In regards to spreading more phones, there has been amazing progress.  Most countries in South and Central America have over a 70% penetration rate of cell service subscriptions.  Brazil in particular has been taking advantage of the number of citizens with mobile phones and created a Twitter tracking program to find out where outbreaks of Dengue fever have been occurring with 85% accuracy.

International communication theory and practices are interconnected and omnipresent across the globe.  I am excited to be able to apply this in a practical manner eventually.

Reflection on “Al Jazeera English and Global News Networks”

I feel the need to react/discuss Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy’s article “Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?”

Early in the article the authors write, “Some scholars have speculated about the possibility of global news media creating a global public sphere, capable of fostering an international conversation between geographically far and culturally diverse communities” (264). While I agree with the authors, as they clearly refute this speculation, I find it  naive to think that global news media can actually bring people together to discuss their opinions in a civil manner. While I do believe global news media do have the capability to do so, I don’t think they mobilize it. In a world where media corporations (predominantly broadcast media) are far more concerned with ratings than content, why would they even consider creating a “global public sphere.” To be fair, I think media corporations try to mimic a global public sphere by inviting different opinions through interviews (or when Fox News invites a Democrat on the show but just ends ups as a yelling contest). But I don’t think they actually succeed in doing so.

Quite frankly, I don’t watch the news (on t.v.). I prefer obtaining my news from a variety of print sources. I think television news is more for entertainment than information. I guess what I’m more susceptible to believing is that global news media are able to provide “open-minded” people different perspectives about the world around them. Rather than reinforcing our own ideas,  a multiplicity of global media outlets can help shape our perspective and open our minds to the possibility of different interpretations of the world around us. Unfortunately, I don’t see this to be true, at least not in the United States. It takes a lot of effort to gain a different perspective on news in the U.S. and quite frankly, it’s just easier to turn the T.V. on and watch the news.

Now that I’ve effectively hated on our news media, here’s a clip I recently watched that gave me a little bit of hope.

 

The “paradox of plenty” and the “Dutch Disease”

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In the readings on public diplomacy this week, the “paradox of plenty” was brought up, in relation to the wealth of information that we now have access to, thanks to technological advances that resulted in an explosion of information. The idea is that, when people are overwhelmed with the huge volume of information confronting them, it’s hard to know what to focus on.

This prompted me to do some more research on “the paradox of plenty”, and I learned that surprisingly enough, this term is also used in relation to why countries with an abundance of natural resources, are actually faring quite poorly.

Prime examples of this are the many African countries that are rich in gold, diamonds and oil, but whose people are very poor. We initially tend to blame those country’s leaders for wasting or mismanaging the wealth, but in fact, there is also a solid explanation in economics for this phenomenon, called the ‘Oil Curse’ or the ‘Dutch Disease’, named after the adversities that fell upon the Netherlands, after it found North Sea gas. “When a country strikes hydrocarbons, a sudden inflow of dollar-denominated revenues often leads to a sharp appreciation in the domestic currency. That tends to make non-oil sectors like agriculture and manufacturing less competitive on world markets, thus leaving oil to dominate the economy.”*

Politics also offer an explanation to the curse of oil. “Because oil money often flows directly from Big Oil to the Big Man, as Africa’s dictators are known, governments have little need to raise revenues through taxes.”* These rulers are not motivated to develop non-oil sources of wealth, and so the ruled (but untaxed) consequently have little reason to hold their rulers accountable. Obvious examples of this are the Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia who stopped offering democratic participation to their people, because the merchants no longer had any say or power, upon the arrival of the oil boom.

Interestingly enough, one of the solutions to the oil curse, turns out to be similar to that of the “paradox of the plenty” in public diplomacy. International initiatives are pushing for transparency in oil dealings; calling for increased disclosure of oil accounts and licenses, in order to minimize under-the-table bribes to oil-rich leaders.

Similarly, credibility is now the crucial source of soft power in international diplomacy. As governments compete with other governments and with news media, corporations, NGOs, and other networks for people’s attention, the one with the best reputation is most likely to be heard and paid attention to, and so political struggles are fought over the creation and destruction of credibility.

 

* http://www.economist.com/node/5323394 

 

-Laura H.

Internet as an identity tool

Lina Khatib’s essay Communicating Islamic Fundamentalism as Global Citizenship introduces the interesting concept of “New Patriotism”. Khatib discusses how the Internet, by fortifying group identity, pushed Islamic fundamentalism to a global scale.

This is just one obvious example of the Internet as an identity tool. It reminds me of a more positive case- the way social campaigns these days incorporate the Internet for engaging and outreaching.

Take the NIOT campaign for example. Not in Our Town was originally a short PBS documentary made by independent filmmaker Patrice O’ Neill. The film received many positive feedback after it aired in 1995, so Patrice and her group decided to take it further. They built an interactive website to encourage users to share their own experiences, provide sources and even upload videos on this issue. Within months, it turned into this on-going movement against neighborhood hate crime. Fans and supporters from around the country connect with each other through their website. Now in order to communicate with a timely manner, apart from the website, NIOT also have a facebook page, a twitter account and a YouTube channel.

Apparently, the Internet can help a campaign or organization to attract attention, grow fan base, keep people informed, and raise donation. But the hidden power of the Internet is, as more people get involved, it can create a sense of group identity and a shared sympathy across different nations and cultures. This kind of united power has nothing to do with globalization or nationalism, but it can be even more influential and effective.

With the help of the Internet, grassroots movement is changing our world, for good.

Reuters apologizes for fabricating evidence

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The phrase “The CNN effect” has been coined to describe the impact of the twenty-four hour news cycle on the formulation of foreign policies and decisions taken by nation states. Breaking live coverage could be framed in a very graphic and dramatic manner, or in any manner at all really, resulting in public pressure on politicians or leaders, forcing them to take quicker decisions than they ordinarily would, and to take action contrary to their policy or prior standing, because of the audience watching at home.

While I have come to recognize the power of news media to manipulate the news and to influence future events, what I didn’t realize is that so-called credible news reporters like Reuters, are now fabricating news stories and providing false images and evidence to the world’s audience!

On May 8th, 2011, Reuters news agency apologized to The French Channel 2, for providing it with old archived photos on Lebanon, claiming these were in fact from the uprisings in Syria! Apparently, this was not the first time that Reuters broadcasted false images since the beginning of the unrest in Syria. It had thus far fabricated plenty of news and some video footage that turned out to be footage of events that had taken place in other countries. In fact Reuters had done the same to Iran during the post 2009 Iran elections era.

These scandals in news reporting have revealed that media manipulation is in fact a two-way street. News media agencies do not select stories independently, but in fact can be part of a larger international agenda to portray events in a particular way, in this case, to further smear the Syrian regime’s image and undermine its security and stability.

The “latest events in Syria and the region divulged the huge media misleading, which was not only restricted to TV channels , newspapers, magazines and news agencies, but also websites of political and strategic studies centers affiliated to some persons and groups of bloggers, and communication networks on You Tube, Twitter and Facebook.”*

 

* http://realisticbird.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/reuters-apologizes-to-french-channel-for-providing-false-images-on-syria/

Documentary films in social changes

The images to a film are words to a book, lyrics to a song, color to a painting, and notes to a symphony, it is a glistening or terrified moment captured by the camera. As the numerous frames made film a moving image document, it also provokes the film text to be alive again on the screen. Moreover, most people learn the new knowledge better through vivid motion images, because human are capable of interpreting the images to medulla and memorize it by the frontal lobe of the brain. And when people see those images and recall them, they make a judgment and selection, despite whether this action is right or wrong, or they need to do this or not. Some documentary films are mirrors to human, people can only know how they are doing things by looking themselves in the mirror, by recording down our behaviors and watching ourselves in the video later. And when people see the consequence and conclusion in the documentary films, they can choose to either continue to do it or stop it right now to make a change.

There are many film makers now are trying to make films that can effect people’s lives. Directors like Lucy Walker, Michael Moore, and Louie Psihoyos are the pioneers of cultural Documentary films that dedicates to change the world with sets of images. Since the screening of The Cove, there are more and more people begin to aware of the Japanese dolphins slaughter activities. Furthermore, more and more people has already began to act to save the dolphin in Japan and all over the world. The scene of the cove water turning deep red by dolphins’ blood was imprinted on many audiences’ mind. This is one of the most powerful impacts of the images in documentary films that people’s emotion will get so easily touched by one single scene. And those documented images are the crucial element to the whole film; they highlight the purpose of a documentary film by providing the visual evidence to audiences. And because of those visual evidences, a film becomes more persuasive and effective on the purpose of illuminating and education

And when The Cove won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary, the former dolphin trainer and dolphin activist Richard O’Barry raised a banner stating “Text Dolphin to 44144” for asking the public to act now to stop the dolphin slaughter in Japan. And, the filmmakers of The Cove have been open about their goal earlier this year in New York Time’s interview that their ultimate goal is “not win an Oscar – though they wouldn’t mind – but to stop the dolphin slaughter that the documentary depicts” (Ryzik). So far, there are already many different numbers of NGOS, petition websites, and individuals have acted to support the film and dolphin protection around the world. This is the impact of the documentary film, it shows the reality to people and gets into people’s mind, and eventually inspire more people to make a change, save our world.