February 2008


I recently spent my Christmas vacation in India, a destination I hadn’t visited in nearly four years. Mumbai, the last time I saw it, was a city with a population of over thirteen million people and was more or less filled with garbage, traffic, pollution, noise and excess-excess smells, wild animals, dirt, businesses, cars, and tourists. The city lacked structure and order. However, when I returned at the end of last year, I saw something completely different. To quote Friedman, everything had transformed in the “last couple of years…”

 

 Globalization has done a lot for the country. First and foremost, it put India under a bright world -wide microscope. Instead of being brushed off as a member of the “developing countries”, people all over the world are starting to see it as more than just a distant valuable economic asset. What has followed in “the last couple of years” has been remarkable. Statistics show that more college aged Americans are curious about the country and are opting to study abroad and move to the country to explore Indian culture and the booming technological market. For example, The New York Times published a fascinating article in September 2007 highlighting the American movement towards India by seeking jobs at an Indian companies, most famously at the giant corporation Infosys technologies. Foreigners would spend half the year in India learning and operating new technology, and then fly back to the United States to show Americans how it works. Additionally, due to the heavy volume of interest, Indian companies have begun outsourcing many jobs to other parts of the world such as Canada and parts of South America. Anand Giridharadas, the author of the article called it “India’s outsourcing of outsourcing.”

 

Counties such as China, Morocco and Mexico are all trying to emulate what India is doing. This is creating a domino effect, where the demand for workers speaking languages other than English, such as Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, German and French are necessary to sustain the global desire to outsource work abroad.

 

“In the last couple of years”, the attention given to India has created immeasurable changes within cities. The Indian government wants it to act the part of a major metropolitan area with huge economic influence by cleaning up the streets. For the first time ever, India is trying to control pollution and be environmentally conscious by investing in alternate energy. The government is also trying to control poverty, build housing complexes for slum dwellers, and prevent crime. There is a boom in the micro finance industry, where sustainable development is given high priority to create lasting and effective structures. On the cultural front, India wants to be seen as a suave vacation destination for businessmen and tourists alike. My last trip was the first in my life I visited (clean) museums, shopping complexes, restaurants and swanky nightclubs that were so modern in design that I couldn’t tell if I was in New Delhi, Milan or New York City.

 

I am impressed with what has happened in the last four years, and I wonder if Freidman is as incorrect in his assessment of the benefits of globalization as we make him out to be. Though he only interviews CEO’s and CFO’s, the changes that I have witnessed in a still developing country is huge. These changes are a start, but they were made possible because of globalization.

When we watched Minority Report we watched as Tom Cruise entered The Gap, had his eyes scanned and then was reminded of his last purchases. As he walked through the mall advertisements were catered to him, and it seemed like this innovative and new phenomenon. But this is, interestingly enough a phenomenon we have today. Thomas Friedman talks about this new edge in advertising when he is on the topic of Google and their newest innovations in advertising. Saul Hansell of The New York Times explains their advertising system, “For every page that Google shows, more than 100 computers evaluate more than a million variables to choose the advertisements in its database to display – and they do it in milliseconds. The computers look at the amount bid and the budget of the advertiser, but they also consider the user – such as his or her location, which they try to infer by analyzing the user’s Internet connections – as well as the time of day and myriad other factors Google has tracked and analyzed from its experience with advertisements.” Google has essentially made an effort to take back people’s interest in the advertisements that take up banner space by making advertisements personalized to what you click on and your location in the world. And this new system has most definitely produced monetary results for Google and the companies they advertise for, bringing in billions of dollars and expecting to take in more than NBC Universal and Time Warner in the coming year. Consumers are providing this information as they surf the web and media companies are appropriately investing in the information we give, but some think it is taking advertising too far. Some think companies are overstepping their boundaries by analyzing our actions on the web, but are they?

Facebook released a program similar to Google’s system in the fall of 2007 under the name, Beacon. Beacon’s system was almost a mirror image of the Google program, but with a twist—that information regarding your site visits, purchases and other Internet activity with specific sites would be reported to your network friends and connections on Facebook. Jesse Hirsh from CBC News in Canada writes, “…participating sites will add a few lines of code to their website, acting as extensions of the Facebook surveillance system. For example, when you engage in consumer activity at a partner website, such as Amazon, eBay, or the New York Times, not only will Facebook record that activity, but your Facebook connections will also be informed of your purchases or actions.” Kind of scary, huh? For example, Hirsh continues, “If you buy a book on Amazon, a little bit of code is embedded within that site then sends the data to Facebook and informs your friends that you’ve bought a particular book. Or say you’re surfing the recipe/food site Epicurious and rate or comment on a few recipes, again your Facebook friends will be notified of your culinary interests, as will Facebook itself and their advertising partners.” 

            As a result, Facebook users were not happy. Now, is this a result of not understanding the new technology or the fact that some might consider it a breach of consumer privacy? Most users thought it was the latter, a form of consumer surveillance that most anticipated from Facebook since the beginning. For example, many were skeptical of the social networking site because they assumed it was simply a platform to collect information easily. But users still signed up; in fact today 50 million users are using the system, and freely providing their information to the world-wide-web.

            Facebook’s response was to still use Beacon but with user’s permission. Days before this release Facebook faced a Federal Trade Commission hearing in Washington, D.C. regarding online privacy and ads custom tailored to specific consumers. The F.T.C. was very concerned with the amount of information advertisers and social networking sites possessed. But then again, we as computer users and online social networkers are voluntarily providing this information for the advertising world to see! We write about products and brands we use on blogs and threads, we post videos on YouTube to show others concerts we have been to and music we like. One wonders if the most effective advertising we have nowadays is coming straight from profiles and threads our friends post onto the Internet.

            It is fascinating to see the ways in which advertising agencies have come to meet us as consumers on the web, because we ourselves have exposed so much and have provided media industries with all of the applicable information to work with and reach us in new ways. Agencies such as Ogilvy and Mather have followed our tracks and now mimic our actions with YouTube videos being advertisements for products such as this Motorola phone ad—it at first seems like something our silly guy friends would make, yet its subtly telling us to buy the phone that is in it. One wonders what the next phase of advertising to us will be…

 

 

 

 

 

           

             

The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, presents the role of individuals in our progressively globalized society. In our era, “Globalization 3.0 is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time” (Friedman 10). It is significant to mention that this playing field is not just for countries or even large corporations—small companies and most importantly individuals are able to compete globally.

Friedman focuses on individuals, but still concedes that group work is both necessary and desirable to the well-being and development of the internet—whether it is American companies with foreign workers or people collaborating on open-source software. He says that “this era of Globalization 3.0 is about individuals globalizing themselves” (Friedman 57). Individuals have the ability to empower themselves through means such as blogging, shared software, and YouTube and become active producers instead of a passive audience. Individuals have the ability to work for any company in the entire world from anyplace they choose through fiber optic cables. The greatest ability of humans, though, is the ability to work together on these things. Not only can humans work together with their neighbors, family, and workplace, but now people can work together with anyone in the world!!

Friedman specifically mentions individuals when he notes that a single global network “could usher in an amazing era of prosperity, innovation, and collaboration, by companies, communities, and [emphasis added] individuals” (Friedman 8). He also claims that during Y2K, independence was given to Indians—not the country of India (Friedman 136). This distinction is so important because Indians, not the bureaucratic country, now have the potential to work and learn with a greater number of people. With the internet (and free ware) people have a seemingly unlimited resource to do things like create websites, communicate with others, sell products, and research topics.

The motivation for this collaboration, according to Friedman, is that of human nature: it is a “very deep human longing for individuals to participate and make their voices heard” (Friedman 125). The Microsoft executive who Friedman interviewed agrees that the role of collaboration is important, but his thoughts on motivation differed. He said that “’it is true that scientific research will increasingly require more of a community effort, but I would argue this is more of a requirement for multidisciplinary collaboration due to the complexity of the problems, rather than a belief that the fundamental insights that lead to a real innovation come from groups now rather than individuals’” (Friedman 110).

Friedman views individuals as intrinsically valuable ‘participants’ in the game of the internet and as necessary components to the power of community, opposed to Foucault’s view of individuals only as part of the machine. Although countless communities are developing through the internet, this would not be possible without individuals. In order to foster the global community, it must also be important to foster individuals, something that may be overlooked in our technologically-hyped society. Hopefully, the flattened playing field will bring more competition which is thought to bring greater prosperity to a greater number of people.

Michael Foucalt shows us his ideas of social institutions and discipline in “Docile Bodies” as he explains how discipline defines our relationship with the outside world through a few key points. For now I will touch on time and space. The individual exists only when there is a larger mass and this mass of individuals thrives through cellular organization. Foucault seems to love spaces where “the forces of production become more concentrated(142)” and where nothing can inhibit production. In regards to time he tell us that “the disciplines which analyse space, break up and rearrange activities(157)” lead us to maximize the time we have because with discipline comes routine and then we find we become more deft than we were before in the activities within our routine.

            How does this apply to our own lives? When we spoke about the division and discipline in times and space as applying to our own lives I thought of the film, “About a Boy.” Will, the central character in the film describes himself as an island (and its just plain interesting to hear his thoughts on technology and society and how it can create this island 

…. not the most profound, but hollywood tries!) This protagonist divides his day up into sections while the camera pans to each space in which he completes his tasks, “I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up.”

            Now, obviously this is sort of a silly example, but it does show how we do mentally break up our own days into routine, which maximizes production overall. Most of us I’m sure do more than watch “countdown” or exercise, but shows and activities are broken down in society to be in units of this nature. Society in a way almost disciplines us to only watch our favorite program twice a week for an hour or we are taught from magazines and TV shows that one hour of exercise 2-3 times a week is the perfect amount. Routines in other things such as checking e-mail, dressing, writing papers, and setting aside time for homework have been shown to quicken our performance time or better our performance because they key into our memory. In a way, isn’t each of our dorms a cellular space segmented off from others to complete tasks, whatever they may be and maximize performance? Is Smith the society that influences the limits of our routines?

 

Other Thoughts: So if society uses the construct of time restriction to shape our routines and activities and we set time limits as well for other activities, who is responsible for our discipline and moving us forward? Is the self-discipline of one person enough for success or does society train us to be regimented? Or does the idea of societal surveillance push us to discipline ourselves more?