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How has the spread of communications technology affected cultures around the world? Assess the extent to which the internet is a medium for western culture alone.
Communications technology includes all electronic systems, such as telephones, telex, fax, radio, television, video, the internet and email that individuals and groups use to communicate with each other (BNET Business Directory, 2010). Culture involves a set of shared values, attitudes and beliefs. Cultures vary widely throughout the world, not just between countries but also within countries. Additionally, each broad culture contains ‘sub-cultures’ and these can include different religions or racial groups, as well as groups of people who simply share the same values, attitudes and beliefs such as in ‘youth sub culture’.
There is no doubt that modern-day, communications technology, and the consequent globalisation of the mass media, is helping to break down traditional cultural boundaries and creating what is commonly referred to as a ‘global culture’. A global culture involves the spread of popular cultural icons, which often dilute or ride roughshod over local cultures threatening the vast cultural diversity in the world.
A positive consequence of the inexorable advance of communications technology is that people around the world can become aware of, and share in, each others culture thus encouraging diversity and discouraging intolerance. Indeed, Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio believes that if the communications technology in place today had existed at the time of Hitler’s rise to power then his criminal plot may have been buried under the weight of worldwide, public ridicule and intolerance (Cooper A, 2009).
A negative consequence of ‘globalisation’ is that Western, and predominantly American, culture has gradually imposed itself around the world, usually to the detriment of long-established, indigenous cultures. Jan Aart Scholte (2002), of Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at the University of Warwick goes further by suggesting that creeping globalisation is creating a consumer-centred, single world culture that is focussed on all things American and the English language. Also, for those analysts who are opposed to globalisation, this type of global culture is accused of slowly killing diversity and tolerance as well as eradicating traditional ways of life.
The internet is now in the forefront of this worldwide infiltration of culture by communications technology with nearly 7 billion people, 26% of the world’s population, having access to this medium (internetworldstats.com, 2010). The use of personal computers is a phenomenon that has its roots in Western culture with its inherent concepts of democracy and the freedom of communication between individuals although it has often appeared that communications technology has been largely responsible for the destruction of cultural values of all kinds, and not just those in the West (Barton D.T. et al, 2009).
The internet, and in particular Social Networking Sites (SNS), are becoming increasingly popular. The Facebook SNS, for example, has over 350 million members worldwide (Facebook, 2009) and the market research company, Nielsen Online, reported in March 2009 that the Twitter social networking site had increased its membership by an astonishing 1,689% from February 2008 to February 2009 (Whitworth, D. 2009). However, despite growth in Asia, the usage of such sites still remains largely in the Western world and predominantly in America (techcrunchies.com, 2009). Also, although penetration of the internet generally is far greater in Western cultures than elsewhere, the actual number of internet users is higher, at 51% of all users worldwide, in non Western cultures. Indeed, the highest per centage of users, 42.6% (738.2 million individuals), is concentrated in Asia (internetworldstats.com, 2010).
In conclusion, it can be seen that the spread of communications technology has affected cultures around the world with particular concerns over the proliferation of western style culture at the expense of other ways of life. However, not all of the cultural outcomes have been negative as evidenced by the positive impact of communications technology on cultural diversity and tolerance. Also, the perception that the internet is a medium for Western culture is true in terms of penetration but not in terms of the numbers of actual users. In addition, the misconception that the global dissemination of information can be controlled, and thereby the impact of communications technology on cultures could, if desired, be mitigated is a mistaken one in the view of globalisation gurus David Held and Andrew McGrew: ‘Many national controls over information have become ineffective. People everywhere are exposed to the values of other cultures as never before’ (Held and McGrew, 2003. Page 17).
Barton D.T., Pope, J.W., and Stratton, J., 2009. ‘Computers, Telecommunications and Western Culture’. < http://www.hoboes.com/NetLife/CRIT/CWC/>. Accessed 13.02.10.
BNET Business Directory, 2010. ‘Definition for: Communication Technology’. < http://dictionary.bnet.com/definition/communication+technology.html>. Accessed 13.02.10
Cooper A, 2009. ‘The Role of Technology in Promoting Tolerance’. < http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=140712907130>. Accessed 13.02.10
Facebook, 2009. < http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics>. Accessed 13.02.10
Held, D. and McGrew, A., 2003. ‘The global transformations reader: an introduction to the globalization debate’. Polity Press, Cambridge, Page 17.
internetworldstats.com, 2010. ‘World Internet Users and Population Stats’. < http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm>. Accessed 13.02.10
Scholte, J. A., 2002. ‘Globalization – A Critical Introduction’, Macmillan Press Limited, London. Page 23.
techcrunchies.com, 2009. ‘Reach of Social Networks among Internet Users in Asia Pacific’. < http://techcrunchies.com/reach-of-social-networks-among-internet-users-in-asia-pacific/>. Accessed 13.02.10
Whitworth, D. 2009. BBC Newsbeat website. ‘Twitter growth explodes in a year’. < http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/technology/newsid_7948000/7948092.stm>. Accessed 13.02.10
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