The US: Land of the Free? (as defined by the small print)

Grewal’s “network power”, or, the notion that, “people unite in a way that makes them capable of mutual recognition and exchange, whether it goods or ideas” to understand the dynamics underlining globalization very much resonates with my comprehension of globalization and the digital divide. In his work, “Network Power: Social Dynamics of Globalization”, Grewal explains how the social coordination among cooperative regimes at transnational levels and the use of standards developed and coordinated by these transnational players determine who has the primary power to dictate the rules of the globalization game.

Allegedly, entering the game is a “free for all”—anyone can gain network power in becoming the privilege point of access to forms of cooperation. However, as discussed in class while trying to create a meme, those super powers or super-empowered individuals who have certain network power attributes hold a large advantage in their ability to benefit from the networks that constitute our global world. As a class, we identified the following attributes as essential to defining network power: central locality in a network, effective delivery method, content relevance and often most importantly, credibility. These are the attributes that give certain nations a leg up over developing, not so well-networked nations that attempt to play in the globalization game.

After reading this article, I couldn’t help but feel hopeless about the great disjuncture (as Appadurai called it) of globalization effects. Grewal’s concluding modification of globalization as, “the systematic power leading to unfree choices” finally pushed me over the edge. The US, through it’s network power defined by it’s credibility, central locality, and complex and wide-spread distribution system, undoubtedly, has a monopoly on programing the rules of the globalization game.

How will developing nations ever have a fair chance at winning a game or two of globalization? Is Grewal’s suggestion for balancing network power even feasible? For the US to consider setting customized boundary properties for standards so that less affluent nations can reap the benefits of globalization, too, would mean that US policy would have to consider other players of the game in setting standards. Grewal’s idea to balance power would demand a US government that sits down with foreign country leaders and takes the time to know the socio-economic situation and positioning of the country; a US government that is ready to prescribe a standard that meets the needs of every individual player in the globalization game.

I, for one, think this is a completely unrealistic expectation of the US government. As long as we continue to be the primary beneficiaries of the current economic order, unfortunately, there is no expectation that the US will become “self-actualized” and begin looking beyond it’s own power. For this reason, it is no surprise to me that these same intricate networks that have emerged as power reinforcement for the US, are also networks that create wide-spread anger and resentment among external, disadvantaged players in globalization.

For example, we see this domestically in the case of many groups represented at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Former students that once consented to the dominant choice eliminating structure of taking out a large loan to cover high graduate school costs at the promise of high paying jobs that would pay off loans after graduation, are now finding that they have entered a vicious economic dependency cycle. These American students owe private banks and the US government thousands of dollars in loans and yet, there are not enough jobs available to give these young professionals the opportunity to be debt free. This is just one example of how the US lacks the “freedom to choose freely”, or as defined by Grewal, the “freedom of choice over viable alternatives”.

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