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Networking the World short paper

September 8, 2010

Networking the World: 1794 – 2000

In his book, Armand Mattelart takes the reader back in history to show that the path towards globalization began long before most ever realized it. By analyzing historical trends and the battle over global communication networks, Mattelart goes on to argue that, over time, this globalization will cause the world to become more and more economically and culturally aligned. Real time networks, mass consumption, free trade and large economic blocs will result in a worldwide monoculture (Mattelart 103).  By controlling international communication networks, he thinks we are invading and destroying many unique cultures around the world. The way we look at others has changed, for our relationships with one another have become generalized throughout the world. “Every individual has become aware of belonging to a planetary society. All are contemporaries, but within a plurality.” (107) In summary, Mattelart tends to negatively view globalization not as something that will better unify the world, but as a political, cultural and economic battle for supremacy.

Although a lot of Mattelart’s writing seemed to cast a dark, depressing shadow over the results of globalization, I found some
areas of light underneath his discontent.  In particular, I enjoyed the first few chapters of the book discussing the history behind globalization.  My limited knowledge of history and lack of time spent studying the evolution of mass communication and technology had led me to believe that ‘globalization’ was something that started with the Internet. Sure, we had television and airplanes long before the Web, but the introduction of real-time information sharing was what my mind had defined as the starting point of a global communication network.  Reading Mattelart’s overview of the global history of communication and technology, ranging from newspapers to radios to eventually computers, I feel like I developed a new appreciation for efforts made so long ago to integrate the world. In addition, it helped emphasize my understanding of how strong the impact of media is on society. From giving immigrants a piece of home by shipping music records across the Atlantic, to spreading religion through weekly devotional papers, communication technology began its impact on the world long before we had dot-coms.

His discussion of propaganda, in particular, made me think back to a movie I recently watched, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend it. Without giving away too much, the movie takes place during the Holocaust. The son of a Nazi soldier makes friends with a Jewish boy living in a nearby concentration camp. The German boy is brainwashed by watching a Nazi-created motion picture film portraying the Jewish concentration camps as a “happy” alternative living situation for the Jews, where they would have dances and games and all sorts of fun activities for the residents to participate in. Thinking that this place looked like the equivalent of Disneyland, the German boy sneaks into the camp only to realize that it is far from the land of baseball games and campfires he sees on T.V.  Due to false images and misrepresented messages spread through the power of technology, this boy now finds himself in a death trap. Communication technology has the power to send messages, both good and bad, truth and lie, to the entire world. Indeed, the media can “transpose wartime into peacetime” through creative advertizing and propaganda (Mattelart 37).  I’m sure most would argue that the benefits of technology (such as what we saw with the preservation of Kenyan culture in the Smallbean video Kim posted) far outweigh the downsides, but we must be careful to take it all with the grain of salt. Do I think the world will merge into one “McWorld” culture like Mattelart suggests (103)? No. But the ability to share our cultures with one another will inevitably lead to a more blended world that at least has the capability of spreading its ideas to one another. Who can say that is a bad thing?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. kachristen permalink*
    September 9, 2010 3:12 pm

    Thanks Alli,
    I agree that we can’t fall into this binary of either a McWorld or a discrete cultures. We need to think along a continuum that allows us to see HOW people have adapted and adopted technology (changing it and using it for their own agendas–cultural or political) all the while being alert to the powers that control much of the world’s networks. We might want to think about how we can characterize projects such as Smallbean alongside the Disney channel? Is there a way for us to get out of the good vs. bad trap and see instead the PRACTICES that technology allows for and the limits it poses?

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