The spread of communication technology and its effect on global cultures and businesses
The spread of communications technology has had a negative effect on cultures around the world. Evaluate this claim in relation to culture and business
Communication technology (or ICT) encompasses technology people use to communicate and spread information such as radio, TV, Films, internet, mobile phones, telephones, YouTube, Facebook etc. Some literature claims that communications technology has had a negative effect on cultures around the world. Because globalisation is driven by communications technology, some think this is a force for bad. This essay evaluated this assertion and came up with a rather different opinion.
Communications technology has not had a negative or bad influence on cultures around the world after looking at its impact on mainly culture and business. On the contrary, I feel it’s been a positive force for good bringing about cultural hybridization (mixing cultures), and economic development. But like all processes, it can be manipulated for bad.
Positive effects of Communications Technology on Business and Economic Development
The current world is often talked about as one of globalisation, technology advancement and democracy. McChesney (2001) says that the all these three would not be possible without communications technology. Therefore, in order to understand our world today, you have to look at the role things like TV, radio, films, movies, telephones, books, newspapers or the internet, have played in shaping our world even come to define it. You cannot talk about economic or cultural globalisation without looking at the role of media films, TV, Newspapers or communications technology like the Internet in spreading them.
The emergence of communications technology like the internet has had significant economic, cultural and business implications. Businesswise, its influence is positive.
Despite the challenges of the digital divide, it’s increasingly common to find in many rural areas of Africa, farmers and entrepreneurs using mobile phones and the internet to connect to markets. Research for example shows businesses in developing countries that use email to communicate with their suppliers on average have 3.5 % higher sales growth than those that don’t (See Table 1.1 below). They also experience higher profits and their employees add value of more than $3,400 each (World Bank 2006).
The World Bank (2006: 4-5) survey also found that the internet was especially playing a very pivotal role in economic development in many poor countries because it helps businesses connect to both local and international markets. The report shows a massive link between internet access and trade development-with the best growth coming from those developing countries that had the weakest trade links. Simply put, communications technology like the internet is very important to developing countries. It could be the difference that bridges the gap between rich and poor or the one that exacerbates it.
Negative effects of Communications Technology
Of course what I’m talking about is often referred to as the “Digital Divide”, the division that exists between people with access to internet resources and those that don’t. Many fear rich and developed nations that have access to information and communications technology may use this to reinforce and further exploit the uneven development that’s already there. Manuel Castells (2001: 269) cited in Lacy and Wilkin (2005: 63) called the internet “the technological tool and organizational form that distributes information power, knowledge generation and networking capacity in all realms of activity”. His point was that to be disconnected from the internet is to be marginalised from a critical network. To try and achieve development while disconnected from this network is like trying to industrialise in the industrial era without having electricity.
This is the first negative influence that the spread of communication technology might have on businesses and development around the world. It’s changing the very dynamic of how to do business, replacing the old with the new. A new global economy and culture based on virtual reality is being ushered in and with it, new ways of making wealth right. It’s virtual but the experience is real, enabled by electronic communication. It helps link up people, form opinions, shape politics, and nurture people’s dreams. It’s transforming social relations and hence inclusion or exclusion from it might be the difference between being empowered or being victimized (Lacy and Wilkin 2005).
The communications technology Lacy and Wilkin (2005) are talking about includes Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. It’s so powerful some believe the revolutionary overtake of Arab government by civilians (Arab spring) was enabled by it. Without it, Arabs may not have been able to form transnational coalitions or cooperate at grassroots level to cause the Arab Spring (Hosseini2012; DeLong-Bas 2012).
I cannot say if this is communications technology helping remove bad governments like in Libya and Egypt or it bringing political instability so its influence cannot yet be measured as good or bad. We just wait and see what happen to the Arab spring.
Global media and culture
As seen above, the emergence of communications technology like the internet and the global media system also has significant cultural and even political implications, causing political resistance or hopefully bring democracy (Arab Spring) in the future. However, there are other issues often associated with the rise of the media and one is cultural imperialism or Americanisation.
The argument is that globalisation of mass media is promoting a cultural-ideology of consumerism or capitalist consumerism and its values. After all, eighty percent of global news is gathered and presented by five major media agencies mostly controlled by Western or US interests for profit and only a quarter of this news is about developing nations. Some see it as a systematic promotion of Pan-Euro-American values and lifestyles while weakening local cultures causing cultural homogenisation (Held 2000; Sklair 2002; Compaine 2005).
Critical to this argument is the supposed dominance of US of global media promoting Americanisation of other local cultures. Globalisation of culture thus becomes Americanisation, using global media dominance to commoditize culture as a vehicle to profit on behalf of its business elites. Because culture is crucial in shaping political, economic and social outcomes of a society, when culture is commoditized to become an off the shelf item, these commodities also carry the identity of those who produce them thus any consumption of them makes it easy to be manipulated and exploited. In essence, consumption of US interests like Hollywood movies is consumption of US culture and its value system (Held 2000; Sklair 2002).
So worried are some countries by this spread of Americanisation in culture that in 1998, culture ministers from 20 nations such as South Africa, Sweden, Spain, South Korea, Brazil, Norway and others met in Ottawa to discuss measures that could “build some ground rules to protect their cultural fare from the Hollywood juggernaut”. Their aim was to keep culture out of WTO rules so that it’s not part of the global trade. So this is not really about westernisation or East V west or developed versus undeveloped. After all, France, often a cultural nationalist had 9 of its top 10 films produced by Hollywood and it doesn’t like it (McChesney (2001).
Never the less, communications technology spreading globalisation of culture and Americanisation theory does have its critics who assert cultural interaction through the media is not a passive process where the receivers of US global culture are passive recipients; rather, this interaction is active and “being made sense of” through local cultural lens. In any case, the truth may be a hybrid of sorts where culture is hybridized with no distinctive homogeneity to it (Held 2000 p77-78; Sklair 2002; Holton 1998).
Holton (1998) called this hybridization of culture where Germans are in America who are in China who are in Brazil who are in South Africa who are in UK who are in Nigeria and so on. In end, it becomes less about Americanisation or westernisation because it’s a mixture of everyone and everything.
As Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Middelhoff said in 1998 when someone told him it was not right for a German company to control 15 percent of both the American book-publishing and music markets “We’re not foreign. We’re international; I’m an American with a German passport. We do not want to be viewed as an American company. We think globally “McChesney (2001).
More promising is that many developing countries have also woken up to the fact that communications technology could be critical in their development as Table 1.2 shows.
As seen above, developing nations accounted for more than 60% of the world’s telephone lines (fixed and mobile) in 2005, up from being less than 20% in 1980. In this period, population also go up by half and real GDP growth doubled while the number of people who subscribe to telephones rise 28-fold (World Bank 2006: 5). Post 1980’s recent growth was especially very promising. The percentage of telephone subscribers versus total population in poor countries quintupled, from 27 to 129 per 1,000 people in just 10 years. Even better, it tripled reaching around 400 subscribers per 1000 people between 2000 and the end of 2005.
This is communications technology having a good positive influence.
In an era where the division between the haves and halve-not’s is getting bigger, austerities are the new normal, Occupy Wall-street and the Arab Spring make everyday news, you cannot under-estimate the role of communications technology in initiating and helping spread all these movements. Its true communications technology has had some negative influences. Cultural imperialism is often quoted as the negative influence of the emergence of global media. But it’s also important to remember that it’s been used for good in many places of the world to raise business growth. It’s played a massive role in helping to reduce poverty and inequality in many developing countries. The technology itself is not a bad influence and so much good can be and has been got out of it to help promote both economic development and cultural understanding.
Held David (2000) “A globalizing world?-Culture, Economics, Politics-An Introduction to Social Sciences: Understanding Social Change” Routledge Publishers, 1st Edition
Holton J. Robert (1998) “Globalisation and the Nation-State” MacMillan Press
Sklair Leslie (2002) “Globalization: capitalism & its alternatives” Oxford University Press
Wilkin Peter and Lacy J. Mark (2005) “Global Politics in the Information Age” Manchester University Press
Compaine Ben (2005) “The Media Monopoly Myth: How New Competition is Expanding Our Sources of Information and Entertainment”
DeLong-Bas J. Natana (2012) “The New Social Media and the Arab Spring” [Online] at
http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/Public/focus/essay0611_social_media.html [Accessed 21/03/2012]
McChesney W. Robert (2001) “Global Media, Neoliberalism and Imperialism” Monthly Review, 2001, [Online] Available at http://www.monthlyreview.org/301rwm.htm [Accessed 21/03/2012]
World Bank Report (2006) “Information and Communications for Development: Global Trends and Policies” [Online]
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