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Information and Communication Technologies

On the geopolitics of "platforms"

CGCS's picture

Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.

Map of the frequency with which people in different places @reply to each other on TwitterIn the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.

Media (R)evolutions: New Publications on Media Development around the World

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Children watching television in Eastern Indonesia New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Twice a year, CAMECO, a consultancy specializing in media and communications, publishes a list of selected publications on media and communications in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. This rich resource includes 250 titles, covering recent media developments and project experiences in about 150 countries worldwide. Many of the titles can be downloaded directly.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?
The Guardian
What do most people immediately think of when you ask them why poor countries are poor? We’re pretty confident that it will be corruption. Whether you ask thousands of people in a nationally representative survey, or small focus groups, corruption tops people’s explanations for the persistence of poverty. Indeed, 10 years of research into public perceptions of poverty suggests that corruption “is the only topic related to global poverty which the mass public seem happy to talk about”.  Which is odd, because it’s the absolute last thing that people actually working in development want to talk about.
 
Africa’s moment to lead on climate
Washington Post
Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change. But focusing on ambitious global climate goals can mask the existence of real impacts on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in sub-Saharan Africa.   No region has done less to cause climate change, yet sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing some of the earliest, most severe and most damaging effects. As a result, Africa’s leaders have every reason to support international efforts to address climate change. But these leaders also have to deal urgently with the disturbing reality behind Africa’s tiny carbon footprint: a crushing lack of modern energy.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

How the pace of technological progress is redrawing the political map
PhysOrg
From power stations to factories, thermostats to smartphones, information to entertainment, the world is driven—and controlled—by digital technology. So it's no surprise that political and economic success, for businesses and nations, depends on how current they are with advances in technology. That's why Bhaskar Chakravorti and colleagues at the Fletcher School have created the Digital Evolution Index, a first-of-its-kind map of how, where and at what speed the use of digital technologies is spreading across the globe.

Global MPI 2015: Key findings
Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative
The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) provides a range of resources. The Global MPI was updated in June 2015 and now covers 101 countries in total, which are home to 75 per cent of the world’s population, or 5.2 billion people. Of this proportion, 30 per cent of people (1.6 billion) are identified as multidimensionally poor. In June 2015, our analysis of global multidimensional poverty span a number of topics, such as destitution, regional and sub-national variations in poverty, the composition of poverty.

Why do we so often need to push back against ‘techie triumphalism’?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

What are the limits of technology?  Are tech experts overreaching when they attempt to 'reinvent' our lives? Suvojit Chattopadhyay explains why power relations and context still matters.

Girls use laptop in Najmi, Muthanna province, IraqHere is Kentaro, on his usual beat:

Talented chefs don’t believe their sauteeing skills entitle them to reimagine Web browsers, but talented technologists feel entitled to reimagine cooking, education and everything else.

And on a more serious note:

It’s a world full of trained engineers — and many college dropouts — who cannot be expected to grasp human dynamics any more than political scientists understand Java code. Many brilliant technology leaders have stories of bullying and isolation in their youths that would leave anyone with abiding skepticism of human groups, institutions, cultures. If family dinners and school lunches were painful for you, “disrupting” eating with a venture-capital-backed protein drink like Soylent can seem like liberation

and…

Indeed, technology has become a kinder, gentler variant of so-called trickle-down economics, in which one gives poor schoolchildren iPads and a pat on the back, without altering the toxicity of their work-starved, father-starved, drug-war-ravaged environment

Needless to say, I agree with the larger point. While it may be unfair to call out the unhappy childhood of some prominent tech leaders, it does partly explain why their ‘abiding skepticism’ of human behaviour leads them to place their trust on machines, rather than humans.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?
The Washington Post
If you believe economic inequality is a political problem, these are trying times. As economic inequality increases in many of the world’s wealthy democracies, so does the disproportionate political influence of the rich. As a recent Monkey Cage post explained, even though economic inequality is on the rise, politicians around the world have grown increasingly attentive to the demands of the “1 percent” — and less responsive to the less well-off.  If you believe inequality is a bad thing, this trend is worrisome. The power of the rich to mute everyone else’s political voices could push economic inequality even higher, as the wealthy erect ever-higher barriers to policies that might work to reduce poverty and/or inequality.

Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy
Foreign Policy
The current moment confronts us with a paradox. The first fifteen years of this century have been a time of astonishing advances in communications and information technology, including digitalization, mass-accessible video platforms, smart phones, social media, billions of people gaining internet access, and much else. These revolutionary changes all imply a profound empowerment of individuals through exponentially greater access to information, tremendous ease of communication and data-sharing, and formidable tools for networking. Yet despite these changes, democracy — a political system based on the idea of the empowerment of individuals — has in these same years become stagnant in the world.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015
ITU
The ITU ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015 features end-2015 estimates for key telecommunication/ICT indicators, including on mobile-cellular subscriptions, Internet use, fixed and mobile broadband services, home ICT access, and more. 2015 is the deadline for achievements of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which global leaders agreed upon in the year 2000, and the new data show ICT progress and highlight remaining gaps. 

Focus on Private Sector: New tech shouldn’t mean no jobs
SciDevNet
The development anthropologist James Ferguson published a new book last week: Give a Man a Fish.  Drawing on research conducted across southern Africa, Ferguson argues the world has entered a new economic era in which many people, including able-bodied, working-age people, may not find paid work for large stretches of their lives.  The sources of this are twofold: demographic changes are increasing the number of working-age people in developing countries, while technological advancements that enable automation are shrinking the employment footprint of many sectors.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

In international aid, people should be seen as consumers not 'beneficiaries'
The Guardian
A poor widow in rural Bangladesh can choose from many competing mobile phone operators, weighing the best rates and customer service in order to reach her decision. Why should she not also have the right to choose, or at least be informed about, which NGO builds her flood-resistant home and be given the right to seek redress if it is washed away next flood season.  For the billions of the poorest people around the world who rely on philanthropic aid to meet even basic needs, as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But why shouldn’t philanthropic programmes abide by the same consumer rights rules expected of a traditional business selling soap or toothpaste? Both are delivering products or services to people, be they wealthy or impoverished: the only major difference is who is paying for it.

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone
Foreign Policy
Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of Foreign Policy to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.  There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent Foreign Policy piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.
 

Back to the future in Mongolia

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

‘Ger’ dwellings of the millennial Mongolian cultureAlthough by definition there are many anniversaries each and every year, 2015 stands out as it includes the 70th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Berlin and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It is also the year in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) had to return in “Back to the Future– II.”

Visiting the plains of northern Mongolia today is the closest thing to travelling in time. The most salient features in this otherwise flat and infinite landscape are the Gers (from the Turkish Yurt), traditional round structures made of wood frames covered with felt and animal skins. Over centuries, these structures have evolved to protect their inhabitants from the harsh winter weather.

Except by their size, today’s Gers are no different from those used by the Great Kublai Khan in the late 1200s. If you happen to have access to Netflix, you can watch the Marco Polo series and witness the portrayal of the 13th century events when the Khan ruled over a vast and powerful empire. According to this series, as well as to serious historical sources, the Gers used by the Great Kublai Khan before settling in present-day Beijing, were extremely luxurious and included gold service for their interminable dinner courses.

Quote of the Week: Ray Kurzweil

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Raymond Kurzweil"The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially... 30 steps linearly gets you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you're at 30.  With exponential growth, it's one, two, four, eight. Step 30 you're at a billion."
 

-Ray Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google
 

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