Sunday, October 23, 2011

Burning Issues: Globalization

See also Club of Amsterdam Journal, November 2011, Issue 143, Special Edition

Madanmohan Rao, Research Advisor, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre, Singapore

Madan is a consultant and author from Bangalore. He is the editor of the five book series: “The Asia Pacific Internet Handbook”, “The Knowledge Management Chronicles,” “AfricaDotEdu,” “World of Proverbs,” and “The Global Citizen.” He is the research director of Mobile Monday, a global network of mobile and wireless communication professionals, and co-founder of the Bangalore K-Community, a network of knowledge management professionals. Madan is the founder of the Indian Proverbs Project, Asia editor for M2M Insights, and world music & jazz editor at Jazzuality and World Music Central.

Club of Amsterdam: Globalization accelerated through liberalisation of trade and finance, changed production and service processes, a revolution in transport and especially also in communications. The above video illustrates the rapid change in the media landscape and consumer behaviour. Has media irreversibly turned into a global platform? What can we expect in the future in relation to local versus global culture? Is there a danger of loosing cultural roots and values?

Madanmohan Rao
: We are seeing two major trends in media changes. In broadcast TV, BBC and CNN used to be major agenda-setters in news, and Hollywood set the pace for movies. Now strong players have emerged from the Middle East (Al Jazeera), India (Bollywood), South Korea (movies), Nigeria (Nollywood) and Mexico (telenovelas).

In digital media, social media have emerged as the new environment of choice. They are global in nature (especially Facebook, Twitter) - but here also there are regional variations (largely in China, with its own home-grown social media platforms). But whichever platform they choose (US or Chinese), social media have ushered in person-to-person communication on an unprecedented scale.

I have charted some of these changes in my book series, The Asia-Pacific Internet Handbook. What emerges is that new media are technologies of power. They are not inherently good or bad, but the outcome depends on those who have the passion and skills to use them. In the realm of politics, social media can empower people but can also be used by authoritarians to track dissenters and spread rumours. In the realm of business, social media emerge as stronger tools for consumers. In educational activities they enable peer-reinforced learning, but also pose challenges as sources of distraction during immersive book-oriented learning.

Social media are terrific ways to preserve and promote local cultures (eg. I tweet Indian proverbs daily from @IndianProverbs drawn my recent book). But in the area of language they are also reducing grammatical competence.

The Internet is now an integrated part of doing business. This can be both local and international. Virtual companies or services outsource their production to firms around the world. The global supply chain or IT services are managed through the Internet. Who will be the winners? What role or chance will developing countries have? How will this change the global business landscape? What will be the role of Mega countries like China and India versus small countries?

Madanmohan Rao
: The Internet has been a godsend for countries with diaspora populations, especially China (an estimated 50 million people of Chinese origin living outside China) and India (20 million diaspora population). The Internet has become the glue for them to stay connected to the news, culture and business of their homelands. It has also opened up new ways for emerging economies to plug into global workflows, eg. for offshoring activities.

Countries like India and China play along all four dimensions of globalization: sources of production, markets for consumption, service centres and innovation hubs. The Internet plays a key role as a platform for knowledge flows in all these areas. And in the domain of workplace learning, social media are powerful enablers for organisational knowledge management, as described in my book series on knowledge management. Indian companies regularly feature in global and regional top rankings of the Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (MAKE Awards), thanks to knowledge cultures reinforced by social media.

In the context of the recent 'Arab revolution' the use of mobile phones, smart phones, live streaming of videos by users has been widely discussed. Facebook, Google etc have unprecedented access to personal information. What are the long-term chances that the democratisation of media will continue? Tim Berners-Lee - one of the "inventors of the Internet" - advocates the idea that net neutrality is a kind of human network right. What needs to happen to secure this in the future?

Madanmohan Rao: Social media along with mobile access have definitely amplified the Arab Spring thanks to grassroots communication and 'smart swarming.' Democratisation of social media will accelerate thanks to ever-cheaper smartphones and a proliferation of open-source apps. But the use of smartphones by rioters in the UK has also shown the proverbial 'dark side' of new media, and there will be demands by governments to restrict access and open up user records. Many social media companies have therefore set up explicit policy practices for interaction with the government authority community.

This just goes to reinforce, however, the point I made earlier about social media being technologies of power which can be used for and by good and bad (with a lot of 'grey' areas in between!). Social media have five key properties - free, interactive, global, immediate and archived - thus making them powerful tools for interaction between global and local movements.


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