Technical Networks: Stimulating or Inhibiting Development?

In both, The Information Revolution and World Politics, and,  The Emergence of Technical Networks, a similar, yet contradictory historical perspective is offered with regards to the birth of the first nationalized telecommunication mediums and their national and global impact. Mattelart suggests that the technical invention like that of the telegraph contributed to a more unified nation, such as in the case of France. According to him, the pre-electric telegraph that emerged from the Revolution of 1789, acted as a cohesive force in the country, as through this medium, “barriers between provinces were abolished; administrative divisions were stabilized; the tax system and legal code were unified; and French was imposed as the language of the nation-state”.

     We also view this unified model of technical networks described in Hanson’s work, Information Revolution and World Politics. She describes how the first mass medium, the printing press, helped not only politically consolidate and centralize power among European nations, but it contributed to the growth of nationalism among their citizens, as well. This was due to the “logic of print capitalism”, as Hanson calls it: “consolidating hundreds of vernacular languages that were used in Medieval Europe into a few standardized uniform languages.”(15).
     Upon analysis of both the pre-electric telegraph and the print press, we find that these communication mediums are viewed as a device that stimulates the development and cohesion of a nation. The medium establishes a centralized power that acts as the dominant controller of information and creates standardized systems that are easy to govern. Through this centralized, standardized medium, government is able to effectively communicate its ideas, values and opinions to a community that lacks the same feedback strength and infrastructure to respond with the same powerful means. At the same time, the information controllers use their technical networks to build  a psychological connection among community members through its use of a consolidated, national language. In this model, the power of the State is preserved by its centrality, expansive reach to community and it’s ability to promote group identity.
     However, in Thussu’s Historical Context of International Communication, the printing press of the 16th century is viewed as a communication medium that decentralized and segregated a community, thus, inhibiting the development and creating fault lines among certain, once authoritative populations. According to Thussu’s analysis, when in the first time in history, the Christian Holy Scriptures were translated in several vernacular languages, rather than in merely the original Latin version, the medium, “undermined the authority of priests, scribes and political and cultural elites [and consequentially, the unified Latin culture of Europe was finally dissolved].” As these new languages became more important communication tools for European colonial powers in their efforts  to maintain unity and political power, another group’s political power was threatened and eventually delegitimized: the Catholic, religious heirarchy.
      Currently, we are witnessing first hand,  the decentralizing, delegitimizing effects of a technical network that influences and shapes my generation around the globe and across socio-economic borders: the internet. This type of “informational capitalism”, according to Spanish theorist, Manuel Castells in his work, The Information Age,” bypasses the power of the state and creates regional and supranational units of power.” A potent example that brings life to the theory of the technical network as a de-nationalizing force can be found in the so-called, “Arab Spring”spreading throughout the Middle East. With social media technology as tools for self-expression, ideological transference and community building, the Egyptian people were able to organize around a common cause and fight to remove Ex-President Mubarak from office.
     With ideologies of Westerns’ notion of democracy at their fingertips, global feedback and positive reinforcement arriving by electronic mail, facebook and twitter accounts, Egyptians were able to overcome their own fears and reservations in the face of an oppressive force. This “global village”concept, created by the internet, instead, caused the Egyptians to view themselves as leaders of an important liberation movement in the Arab World. In this instance, the internet, delegitimized one governing power and through information and ideological sharing (no matter how valid or invalid), this technical network stimulated on the ground cohesion that shifted the power into the hands of the nation’s people.
      Upon analysing this movement in its context of the Information Age in which we are living, I am left with a haunting question regarding the fate of the Egyptian people and their counterparts in the coming years. Will Egyptians be able to maintain power with the romanticized notion of democracy they’ve borrowed from the West, without a centralized body to pump nutrient rich values through the veins the new nation? As suggested by Adam’s, Communication Flows and Flowmations, without a communication infrastructure in an under-developed nation such as Egypt, not only does poverty inhibit the ability to establish an infrastructure, but the lack of access becomes, in turn, an obstacle to economic development”. (67) Who will establish this infrastructure for the people? And who will define and control the communicating body that will be Egypt’s life line?

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