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Intro-Chapter 2 Cellphone

October 14, 2010

Chapter one:  Introduction, really was an introduction. This chapter was all about “setting the stage” for what is to come. This means discussing aspects of Jamaican historo-cultural elements that Horst and Miller considered important pieces in order for the reader to understand their “argument.” It was also a braiding of the previous literature done in several domains (communication, technological determinism, social networking, globalization, migration, anthropological research in general and more specifically within ethnography, and more) with an emphasis on marrying the previous range of literature about cell phones with the local, historical, and cultural context of Jamaica.  It was a lot and can appear at first, a bit overwhelming and “messy.” However, reading the entire chapter the importance of introducing all of these realms and ‘the range of communication’ (p.12) to the reader’s attention is better understand, and I appreciate their study more-so because they are attuned to the complexity of their research goal(s), which are/is: to consider the “impact of the phone in the developing world” (p. 3) specifically, “how low-income Jamaica has integrated the cell phone into their world” (p.19), and the relationship(s) of technology (cell phones) with people from Jamaica and how the two shape and are shaped by one another” (p. 7).

In order for the ethnographers to do this research, they explicitly note the relationship of power of the more “traditional” literature they were acknowledging and its potential co-opting effects it could have over their results/analysis.  From my understanding, these authors were seeing a very disparate or conflicting analysis and they were trying to forewarn the reader about these contentions by offering a critical lens of power in the field of anthropology, which I also appreciated.  This “conundrum” of having possibly potentially threatening or contradictory findings can be scary for the researchers presenting the information especially when the research can be overwhelmingly favored to speak one particular way. In addition, they make an important distinction, which is most research done on technological impact has been less in “developing” areas and more so in “developed/Western” worlds.  I think this helps their direction in that the “findings” may be different because of their sensitivities to power and the “Western-gaze,” because of their location (Jamaica), and because of the cultural context to which they are trying to honor.

History: According to the authors, Jamaican inhabitants, from the beginning, have used forms of communication for resistance.  For example, during colonization, slaves used “informal” spaces, such as the market, the church, and the “negro village” as areas for important exchange of information and communication.  The authors illustrated the various ways in which these places were used, such as the church, which was seen as an ally to slave resistance.  The chapter discussed the “Christmas Rebellion of 1831” where Black Baptist missionaries organized the largest slave revolt in America.  Church leaders would read these newspaper articles “aloud to the slaves” (p.13) keeping Jamaican slaves in “the loop” so-to-speak about revolutionize going on in other areas.    Also, the taxi-system was an important method of carrying news, “money for bets and information about happenings across the island” (p. 14).  This section continues with more examples about the market and the village, which were also spaces for communication that built communities of support and resistance to “the institution.”

Cultural context: The important of noise in Jamaican context deconstructed in the latter half of the chapter.  Horst and Miller distinguish the importance of noise in this culture.  Noise is an important form of communication that denotes meaning-making and ways of living.  While “noise” in the Western context generally means “irritations” “rudeness”,  and “improper,” “noise” in this particular culture means entirely something different. It states (p.17) “obtrusive noise [is] central to the creation of community, often in resistance to the establishment.”  When I read this, I thought maybe it isn’t so different than what this culture does. What kind of noise do we, as Westerners, create as an act of resistance? We have protests, blogging, clapping and cheering or booing (as parochial as I sound right now).  When they described the ‘man-o-words’ concept it first seemed very odd to me that the folks who participate in this form of communication would all speak at once, over the top of each other, but that somehow, through their simultaneous ‘talks’ they would produce a ‘harmonious’ message.  And then I thought to myself, ‘don’t we do this through protesting? Just a thought, maybe I’m wrong.  Anyway, I digress. I thought it was an interesting section where I totally diverged. J

The importance of sharing these historical and cultural pieces becomes central in understanding how this particular population’s relationship with this form of communication has developed known as the ‘communication of ecology’.  At the same, time Horst and Miller attempt to avoid problematic blanket generalizations by being conscientious to “language and style that retains something of the humanity and individuality of the people upon whom those generalizations are based” (p. 18).

Question: Well, I’m not sure what question to ask.  I’m still trying to absorb all of the “braiding” going on in this chapter… I’ll have to come back to this later.

Chapter 2: Infrastructure

Wow, I have never learned so much about corporate cell phone wars! The exploitation is evident, as many corporations see Jamaica as a potential ‘cash-cow’ with little regulation (with the exception of OUR).  The second chapter outlined the ‘duopoly’ held by the long standing, C&W (Cable and Wireless), and its recent arch nemesis, Digicel. This section of the chapter outlined the various strategies Digicel created and employed in attempt to ‘win-over’ subscribers.   Its tactics proved to be formidable for C&W and Digicel, currently, resides as the prevalent leader in cell phone subscriptions.  An important note: A large part of this victory is attributed to the ‘culture’ of Digicel and C&W in the eyes of Jamaican subscribers.  Digicel represented more than just a cell phone company but stood for values, beliefs, and attitudes of Jamaican culture.  It achieved this through brilliant marketing techniques that adopted Rastifarian colors, symbols, and images.  People from Jamaica had little awareness that Digicel even originated from Ireland because the marketing and “culture” of the company at the middle-to ground level was what Horst and Miller called, “Jamaicanized.” The chapter even mentions how Digicel employees proudly sported the logo of their company as it afforded them higher status within their community.  At the same time, there were and are other “players” identified as threatening the bastion Digcel & CW have over Jamaican’s population, which are Ocean Digital Communications and the well known citadel of AT&T.

Cell phone subscription is considered a ‘luxury’ as landlines “[are] the rent” (p.30); yet, one cell phone call to a cross-company call is more expensive than a landline international call. Despite Jamaicans claim to want to save money, Horst & Miller believe that it is these aforementioned ways of communication (man-o-words and other ‘noise’ forms of communication) that Jamaicans associate cell phones with and to.  This is the interesting point for me.  So, in understanding that these more traditional forms of communication were privileged and honored because of their resistant nature, are cell phones viewed in the same ‘libratory’ light—even in the midst of these giant corporations ‘taking people to the cleaners’?  Yet, when I read on, the authors warned of “draw[ing] too many conclusions from this chapter alone”J (p.36), because as they state, simply looking at macro commerce and economic practices is insufficient in understanding the usage of cell phones within this culture.  They cite that this culture is not just about capitalism, but “capitalisms, and often localized capitalisms” (P. 34). They draw on the absurdity and subjectivity of the “cost and fairness” debate(s) which complicates further the picture.

I guess my questions from this chapter would concern our own understanding of our own particular culture in terms of “capitalism(s)” and what forms they may take? Are the authors talking about these multiple forms of capitalism, which are also at the local level in a way that they can be transferred to industrialized countries such as the US, or is this completely off the grid? Anyway, I’m waiting… and in the meantime I’m still trying to put all of that information together.

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