I'm going to start putting my university essays and work on Rawkes. Doing so has been on my mind for a while now and I can't think of a really good reason why I shouldn't. So, every so often I'll be adding one of my essays with a little introduction, the actual essay, the feedback I received and any improvements I feel I could've made. In a selfless way I hope they will prove useful for someone, or at least interesting to read, but the main reason for doing this is to open up my work to the public and, hopefully, receive some feedback. That would be nice.
This first essay was written in the first year of my course when we were asked to explore the concept of globalisation and the effect it has had on the media. This was certainly one of the more interesting projects of the year, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed writing about.
In 1993 Mark Andreesen released the web browser Mosaic X, the first browser that was trivial to install and use. Combined with falling prices in personal computers this new user-friendly access to the Internet ignited the touch paper for a truly global public network of information – the World Wide Web. The explosion of the Web has been phenomenal. In 1994 there were 3,000 usable web-sites (Griffiths, 2002). A year later that number was nearer 25,000 (Griffiths, 2002). By 1997 the amount of publicly accessible sites had reached 1.2 million (Griffiths, 2002). In March 2009 it was suggested that we are nearer 226 billion (Anon, 2009). Even search engine giant Google admitted that they have been struck by the shear size of the Web by announcing that they now index over 1 trillion unique pages1 (Alpert and Hajaj, 2009).
Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days
These figures are always hard to measure but however we look at the world around us we can't deny that the Web has grown to a monumental size.
With ever increasing and faster access to the Internet, twinned with the unstoppable explosion of the Web, a global platform has been created. A platform that has nurtured traditional media and introduced a variety of new media, including media created by the audience itself. This platform is available to anyone with connection to the Internet, although the freedom to produce on the Web isn't the same in all countries, an issue we'll visit further on. The globalisation of media on the back of the Web is the focus of this essay. We'll be looking at the various ways this has effected the audiences that consume it, both positively and negatively, as well as discussing theories on globalisation in media such as cultural imperialism and the global village.
Traditional media has inherently required little input from the audience and has been relatively easy to manage due to fixed mediums and limited producers. With the rise of the Web and lowering costs to own a computer comes audience generated content, or social media. This type of media has been made possible by the ability to create something, be it a blog post or a video, and submit it directly to the Web for potentially hundreds of millions of people to view and share. With the ability for one person to reach the population of the Web the audience have become producers on a literally global scale, removing the need for traditional media producers to be heard. Unfortunately this utopian view of audience generated media doesn't come without it's downsides. The most debilitating feature of this media is the lack of mass. Anyone can get a message onto the Web via a blog but the lack of inertia that you have as an individual compared to that of a grounded media outlet means it's incredibly difficult to get your message heard, let alone have anything done about it. However, there are rare occurrences where this is not the case. Occurrences that exemplify the beauty of the Web and the ability for a single person to mobilise a world-wide audience of his own.
Shirky (2008) details one such event. In May 2006 a woman called Ivanna lost her phone in a New York City cab. She had her phone replaced and her data transferred from the old one. She thought nothing of it until photos of a random person started appearing on her phone, obviously taken between Ivanna losing the phone and the data being transferred. After emailing the stranger with her phone (Sasha) and receiving aggressive replies she asked her friend Evan to create a website detailing the loss of the phone and the unique circumstances surrounding it. The website was immediately forwarded to friends, who forwarded it to more friends. By the end of the day Evan's friends had discovered Sasha's MySpace profile and had uncovered personal details related to Sasha. Evan's website was then featured on the social news web-site, Digg, bringing Ivanna's story to millions of readers. After being featured Evan received over 10 emails a minute from strangers offering help and sending details about Sasha, including her home address.
At this time the NYPD were treating the phone as lost and not taking any further action. A few days later the story was featured on local and national news and after a flurry of public complaints the NYPD reversed their decision and treated the phone as stolen property, ultimately resulting in the arrest of Sasha – a sixteen year old girl.
The story of Ivanna's lost phone is a perfect example of so-called crowdsourcing, a term coined by Howe (2006) in a Wired Magazine article. The term stems from crowd & sourcing, by analogy to outsourcing. By definition, crowdsourcing is the act of delegating a task to a large, diffuse group of people, usually without monetary compensation. The popularity of social networks, particularly those that share information and news stories, have provided the perfect tools for large scale and organised activity amongst complete strangers. Services like Wikipedia are perfect examples of this collaborative media.
Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. (Archimedes, ca. AD 340 cited Shirky, 2008)
McLuhan (1964 cited Symes, 1995) popularised a theory that he called the global village. This theory suggests that the rise of the Internet as a communication tool has allowed us as an audience to experience the same culture at the same time. A concept impossible to imagine before global media flourished.
‘Time' has ceased, 'space' has vanished. We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening
Abercrombie and Longhurst summarise the theory.
It implies both that information is available to very many people though the mass media and that it is available extremely quickly. In this view, the dispersed population of the world therefore increasingly resembles a village.
The Web has proven itself to produce an overall community exactly like that of a borough, with each website and social network acting as a small village or town within. The border-less nature of the Web breaks down the concept of time and space, blurring the boundaries between different countries and cultures. It encourages the audience to see each other as a single community that can be interacted with instead a widely dispersed and society restricted by geographic location or financial situation.
With the introduction of Web services like Twitter, a way of posting messages for all to see, we've seen a rapid growth in audience generated media, particularly news which can even beat traditional news outlets to stories. One such event occurred on the 15th January, 2009, when a plane ditched into the Hudson River in New York. What followed was a message on Twitter from a man named Janis Krums (2009), a passenger on a ferry crossing the Hudson at the time. His message was as follows:
http://twitpic.com/135xa - There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.
Not only was the message posted just minutes after the accident occurred, beating news corporations to spreading the story, he also included a photograph of the incident (Krums, 2009). This unique occurrence saw his message being forwarded across Twitter to thousands of other users, in turn being forwarded via email and services such as Digg to an audience of millions. All this taking place within minutes of Krums posting his message, before any news corporation had got hold of any photographs of the event. The audience had created their own media and had dispersed it around the global village without the need for any media companies or a current user-base.
In comparison to the relatively friendly concept of a global community you have the idea of cultural imperialism. This is not a new theory, in fact it has been around long before mass media even existed. It means the imposing of one culture onto other countries, historically occurring during wars and occupation. For example, during the height of the British Empire the English language was spread across Africa and North America. In modern times this has been replaced with products, brands, and ultimately media. An example of such invasion of culture can be seen in the rise of Coca-Cola as a world brand, or that of American television and films bringing the English language and American culture wherever it goes.
The introduction of one culture into another can cause paranoia and cautiousness from the government of the country receiving this foreign media. This can result in increased censorship and privacy laws, which can inhibit social media completely. An example of one such restriction comes from the Chinese government who are extremely sensitive about potentially damaging material being captured in media or posted by bloggers.
MacKinnon (2007) outlines the case for the Chinese government's actions.
The Internet generally and blogs more speci?cally can potentially be a medium and tool for political change in China.
Reporters Without Borders, a organisation who defend the rights of journalists, have listed China as an internet enemy for it's severe censorship and harsh punishments. It even had it's own website banned in China for an article written about the censorship.
From what we can establish, the globalisation of media, coupled with the ability for audiences to create media, comes with a complex set of issues. These issues can be divided into two camps: A global community breaking down the concept of space, freely sharing within it, uncensored media, or a censored and restrained community that encourages cultural differences and borders between populations.
Whichever camp you choose won't change the fact that media has changed because of globalisation and the whirlwind success of the Web. These changes are affecting the audience of this media directly, even going as far as turning the audience into the media producers themselves, via blogs and social networks. It's these social networks that allow a single member of the public to amass a huge audience with relative ease, even providing the power to bend the will of governments and authorities. This power would've been impossible to accomplish before the advent of such media.
- Abercrombie, N. & Longhurst, B., 2007, Dictionary of Media Studies, Penguin: London.
- Alpert, J. and Hajaj, N., 25 July 2008. We knew the web was big…. Google Blog. Available from: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/we-knew-web-was-big.html [Accessed 20th March 2009].
- Anon, March 2009 Web User Survey. Netcraft. Available from: http://news.netcraft.com/archives/webserversurvey.html [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- Griffiths, R. T., 2002. History of the Internet, Internet for Historians?(and just about everyone else). Universiteit Leiden: Netherlands. Available from: http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/history/ivh/chap2.htm#From%20Internet%20to%20World%20Wide%20Web [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- Howe, J., 2006. The Rise of Crowdsourcing. Wired Magazine, 14.06. Available from: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- Krums, J., 15 January 2009, There's a plane in the Hudson. Twitter. Available from: http://twitter.com/jkrums/status/1121915133 [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- Krums, J., 2009. There's a plane in the Hudson [photograph]. New York: TwitPic. Available from: http://twitpic.com/135xa [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- MacKinnon, R., 2009, Flatter world and thicker walls? Blogs, censorship and civic discourse in China, Public Choice, 134, 31–46. Available from: http://www.springerlink.com/content/u65456nm4j3tx7p7/fulltext.pdf [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
- Shirky, C., 2008, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Penguin Press: London.
- Symes, B. 1995. Marshall McLuhan's Global Village [online]. Aberystwyth University: UK. Available from: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/bas9401.html [Accessed 20th March, 2009].
On many levels, this is a sophisticated piece of writing that succeeds in addressing some of the complexities of globalisation's impact on media and its audiences. You integrate concepts and ideas from an excellent range of secondary literature into the discussion overall, demonstrating a good level of understanding. Nevertheless, integrating key theory a little more deeply into the discussion would improve the piece. For, instance, you refer to cultural imperialism without reference to relevant secondary literature and without addressing Anglo-American imperialism online to a satisfactory degree.
Whilst you have thought about globalisation in complex ways, these tend to be fairly utopian and focused around a 'borderless' world. You don't really articulate the global cultural issues that arise from the disproportionate control select few groups worldwide have over media content. A discussion of the differing levels of access to information worldwide would have helped the piece. Whilst the internet has expanded the potentials for pluralist media production in unprecedented ways, the producer-base for, say, twitter (and blogging more generally) continues to be constituted by individuals from select parts of the world. How does this impact on 'globalisation' and the notion of a 'global village' overall?
Finally, you need to pay greater attention to fully referencing your sources. Whilst your bibliography is impeccable, you've not provided page/paragraph numbers throughout. This has resulted in your essay falling short of the first class category.
In all, a very good, thoughtful attempt at responding to a difficult question. Well done.
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