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Understanding Global Communicaton, Reaction Paper Example

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Reaction Paper

Modern people live in a world that may be called hyper-mediated and interconnected. A number of communications surround lives of people and polities while innovative technologies and media are bringing forth the possibilities and means of communicating across time and space. Communication and travelling for long distances, ever-increasing flow of data, sounds, images, and ideas that goes across international and national frontiers, building of multinational centers of urban life and multinational media corporations, spread of global advertising, political marketing and spin, as well as expansion of live broadcasting and increasing commercialization of key events and major crises, alongside the spread of the Internet are believed to have modified the reality of relationships in different spheres of human life on the national, international, and transnational levels, and to have made it more complex (McPhail, 2011). They are all facts of global communication, which in its turn is “a fact of life and of globalization” and “a phenomenon connected with technological progress” (Petrilli, 2003).

A Canadian theorist of communication and the author of the term ‘global village’, as Marshall McLuhan observes, the tools of the media today have radically changed not just the way of life, but also the man himself, i.e. his way of feeling, thinking, and his manner to act (McLuhan, 1964 in McPhail, 2011, p.16). This rapid media development, as McLuhan asserts, is nothing but a consequence of the expansion of the range of human abilities. Life itself performs the constant function of processing the information that is received. The media may be compared to a dress taking the form of the body to which it is put. Indeed, the impressive growth of the tools of the media, e.g. the Web, e-mail, Twitter, word processing, Facebook, video gaming, podcasts, Google, and apps, which nobody could even think of around thirty years ago, wireless telephony and penetration of satellite dishes (McPhail, 2011, p.103) has led to changes in people’s way of thinking and has affected major spheres of human life: political, economic, and cultural (Brinkman & Sanders, 2012, p.220).

If to speak about culture, the globalized vision of culture has been popular of late, which actually means that culture is seen as moving from the particular to the general.  In the context of this rapid movement from the particular to the general, the question of constructive and destructive impact of global communication on culture is the focus of scholarly debate. At the same time, the question arises whether the global communication processes will lead to creation of a unified hybrid culture or simply facilitate understanding between different cultures in the long run. THESIS STATEMENT: It seems unlikely that a unified global culture will ever be created to which all other cultures will submit given inherent controversies between cultures.

First of all, let us focus on the notions of global communication and globalization. Contemporary scholarly debate is going on in the context of prevailing understanding of globalization as a unifying force for different countries of the world.  Specifically, Susan Petrilli, an Italian scholar, assumes that one of the common interpretations of globalization (if to speak about global communication) is the former is “a corporate-lead phenomenon characteristic of contemporary capitalist society” (Petrilli, 2003). This view aligns with the vision of globalization expressed by Patricia Riley and Peter Monge (1998), the authors of “Communication in the Global Community”, who offer, as the only one possible, such idea of globalization which represents the world as a one-for-all habitat – as opposed to division by state and national borders. However, unlike Riley & Monge, Petrilli assumes that a different understanding of globalization might be useful if one speaks of global communication – namely, understanding globalization as a tendency that is found within the process of evolution of life on the planet Earth from its origins (Petrilli, 2003).

As for the first approach to understanding globalization, this idea is not new – Marshall McLuhan is known to have offered his concept of the global village in the mid-1960s (McLuhan, 1964 in McPhail, 2011, p.16). Yet, even in his time it was clear (and today it is even more evident than ever) that the transformation of the world into a single society is related to numerous problems. One of these problems is that national cultures will lose their peculiar characteristics as time passes. Instead, they may acquire certain characteristics that will allow them to conform to established standards. At the same time, the so-called unification of communication seems unlikely to take place because it is hard to predict the outcome of blurring of cultural differences.

As for the second understanding of globalization – as some structural condition which gets provided by certain processes of evolutionary development in order  to ensure  the process of proliferation of life  on the planet – it allows   interpreting global communication as a condition of life development on earth, if life is to continue flourishing on a global scale. It takes the idea of global interconnectedness as its manifesto and promotes the view of global communication as a way to global prosperity, as opposed to destroyed life on the Earth which may be an outcome of the first vision. Global communication is thus viewed as a process which brings constructive results.

The aforementioned controversy – this double understanding of globalization – has left an imprint on understanding of the role of global communication in different spheres, in particular in culture. In other words, it has been quite controversial. Is global communication is a path to an inevitable global community whose creation will result from collapse of various sub-communities? Or is global communication simply a way to establish the tools of better understanding between various world cultures which will not necessarily result in transformation of the world into a unified global community?

Let us discuss this controversy in more detail exploring its impact on culture. Recently, the cultural sphere has witnessed significant changes. Cultural streams and media that are being broadcast freely cross the national borders. People get the opportunity to get acquainted with other life styles through media and through travel. Scholars of global communication say that this leads to creation of a new transnational culture. The existence of a single global culture appears to be proved by the elements of mass consumer culture that are circulating worldwide.
This global culture is believed to be different from any national and local culture by its eclectic nature as well as its isolation from the historical and spatial context. As a matter of fact, national cultures are historically conditioned and geographically limited. In its turn, the global culture contains elements taken from different temporal, spatial, and cultural contexts which are distributed through the mass media. In addition, the way the modern global culture exists is conditioned by the technical backbone of transmission. In particular, only those cultural patterns are found to be transferred that are convenient for the media. In this context, the global culture evolves as an audio-visual mosaic. This is one of the important characteristics of global communication – the way the media shape the global unanimity of opinion (Kamalipour, 2006).
The media form the global unanimity of opinion through cultivating those cultural patterns that it wishes to imbue in people from different world regions. Specifically, this is related to consumer culture and advertising. Kamalipour (2006, p.277) provides an example how some corporations, in this case Nokia, launch global advertising campaigns. This is done for the purposes of creation of a more unified identity across the globe. At the same time, in the process of creation of a more unified identity that will be found worldwide by sending a standardized message, Nokia (and any other similar corporation) will predominantly rely on visual images that carry the values of the Western culture and create unified appeals dictated by the culture of consumerism.

The propaganda of Western values in non-Western societies, which is clearly driven by expectations of generating considerable revenues by world corporations, leads to creation of a global consumer culture. One definition of consumer culture was given by Berger in his “Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character and Society” (Berger, 2011). According to Berger, consumer culture is the one “in which there has been a great expansion (some might say a veritable explosion) of commodity production, leading to societies full of consumer goods and services and places where these consumer goods and services can be purchased” (Berger, 2011, p.31).  If to apply the notion of consumerism to Hofstede’s definition of culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, 2001, p.9), consumer culture may be understood as collective programming of the mind to consume above all, i.e. in Berger’s terms, “to get as much as possible” (Berger, 2011, 31). Therefore, the new “hybrid” culture which many scholars speak of appears as a mix of traditional (full of traditional values, customs, etc) and consumer cultures, rather than simply a combination of local and global. The media, which are inevitably products of some global companies, evolve as drivers of this hybrid consumer-oriented culture and, as it has been shown by the example of Nokia, the first impetus is not to spread values, but to sell. Therefore, tools of global communication are above all used for financial purposes, which then results in creation of some sort of culture.

On the other hand, this consumer culture that is being created cannot be called fully global and homogeneous even if to understand globalization as homogenization (Robertson, 1992). Even if people worldwide are engaged in regularly eating out at McDonald’s and drinking Coca-Cola, their consumption of these products is highly dependent on local conditions. Hence, the very process of consumption is differentiated. For example, visiting McDonald’s restaurants in different countries has different meanings and is associated with national characteristics. This means that the idea of “the Western self-image and that of the passive other” is contested (Featherstone, 1995, p.12). Instead, it is suggested that the process of globalization is not generating cultural uniformity, but lets people see new levels of diversity (Featherstone, 1995, p.13). In other words, no unanimous culture development takes place, according to Featherstone, with the development being multi-faceted and full of sense of boundedness and finitude of the whole planet and humanity. Instead of converting into one homogeneous culture, Featherstone argues, people get familiarized with greater cultural diversity and an impressive range of local cultures (Featherstone, 1995, p.86). Hence, the process of globalization of culture in the context of global communication is rather contradictory and cannot be described in a single and uncontroversial way.

Here is another type of controversy, which appears stronger and harder to overcome. While global corporations use a variety of means of global communication to win new markets through creation of a new culture, traditional cultures are often found to resist this march of Western values. This is evident in controversies that arise between high-context and low-context cultures.

The distinction between high-context and low-context cultures is understood from the framework that was developed by Doctor Edward Hall who posited that all world cultures may be located in relation to one another judging by the styles which they use to communicate (Hall, 2000 in Würtz, 2005). Some cultures, for example, see communication occur majorly through in-text or in-speech explicit statements. These are such cultures as Germans, the Scandinavians, or the Swiss. They fall under the category of low-context cultures. Other cultures, for instance, Japanese and Chinese, function in such way that their messages embrace various communicative cues apart from those found in text or in speech. These communicative clues are signs of body language and silence. In other words, these cultures are based on implying messages via means other than words, i.e. what is not pronounced. These clues depend on a situation, particular behavior, as well as para-verbal clues which all make up the message that is being communicated (Würtz, 2005).

The aforementioned essential differences between high-context and low-context cultures naturally form the basis of confrontation and misunderstandings in communication on the global scale. High-context cultures (apart from already mentioned China and Japan, they include most of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America) are collective, intuitive, as well contemplative. This means that the people belonging to these cultures emphasize interpersonal relationships. For these cultures, it is natural to sustain harmony within the community and it is important to reach consensus in relation to the achievements of an individual. People are motivated more intuition and feelings, rather than mind. Words are less important than the context which may include intonation of the speaker himself, his facial expression, gestures, posture and even his family history with its status.

As for the low-context cultures, which are found in North America and most of Western Europe, they differ by logics, linearity, individualism, and by being action-oriented. For people relating to these cultures, the solution to any problem is found through chaining facts that are to be analyzed in a given sequence. Further, the conclusion is typically based on the reality rather than on intuition. In addition, discussions are reduced to taking action. Besides, members of communication are typically honest, concise and rational in explaining the actions that are to be taken. Last but not least, to be understood, they try to formulate ideas by precisely choosing words and by speaking according to literary norms (Hall, 1976).
These polar differences are likely to set apart the participants of communication. Kayan, Fussel, and Setlock (2006) found considerable differences between the uses of Instant Messaging by North Americans and Asians. Within Hall’s framework, an empirical research was conducted which revealed that Asians were much more likely to use emoticons, engage in audio-video chatting, as well as participate in multi-part chats than Americans. This allowed scholars to conclude that users from different cultures place different degrees of importance on cross-cultural tools of communication. In other words, when selecting these tools, one should take into account the contextual cultural specifics.

Similarly, Hall and Hall in their book “Doing Business with the Japanese” (1990) point out that due to inherent differences between the North American and Japanese cultures’ contexts, failures in business may occur. To avoid these, the interlocutors should be capable of releasing correct responses rather than send correct messages. Japanese messages are slow for Americans many of whom may never get it. Japanese use fewer words to convey messages, and they place more importance on the context. Other points where misunderstandings may occur are personal space and territoriality (Japanese work in high density and prefer being surrounded by colleagues), time (Americans are monochronic while Japanese are polychronic), information flow, and action chains, etc. Besides, it is known that businessmen of high-context cultures may terminate the contract if they suspect lack of confidence in them. It is probably due to these essential differences in the way businesses are operated and decisions are made by the representatives of low-context and high-context cultures that the study of intuition as the basis of decision-making process (along with rationality) has been the focus of recent scholarly research (Sadler-Smith & Shefy, 2004).

In summary, while for some scholars the idea of an all-embracing, unanimous ‘hybrid’ culture seems imminent and real, the author of this paper has come to a different conclusion. The existence of some sort of global culture shared by representatives of numerous world nations cannot be denied. This global culture is based on the values of Western society, in particular on profit-oriented ideology of consumerism. At the same time, its significance and role in the life of each and every individual worldwide appears quite limited. National and local cultures, which are rooted in solid religious, family, and territorial foundations are able to strongly resist the impact of the global culture fuelled by financial corporations and spread by the modern media. They still remain the basis of the development of people in different nations while having to put up with the external impacts. Yet,   this ongoing confrontation and essentially different formation of people’s mentalities and psyches depending on the world region or country will ensure that differences between cultures will persist due to inherent differences in their natures. Therefore, it cannot be said that global communication is a path to an inevitable global community whose creation will result from collapse of various sub-communities. Rather, global communication is a way to facilitate understanding between various world cultures whose differences will persist based on solid religious, psychological, and social order foundations.

References

Berger, A. (2011). Ads, fads, and consumer culture: Advertising’s impact on American character and society. Rowman & Littlefield.

Brinkman, B. & Sanders, A. (2012). Ethics in a computing culture. Cengage Learning.

Featherstone, M. (1995). Undoing culture: Globalization, postmodernism, and identity. London: Sage.

Hall, E.T. (1976). Beyond culture. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company.

Hall, E. & Hall, M. (1990). Hidden differences: Doing business with the Japanese. Doubleday.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations.  SAGE.

Kamalipour, Y. (2006) Global communication. Thomson Wadsworth.

Kayan, S., Fussel, S., and Setlock, L. (2006). Cultural differences in the use of Instant Messaging in Asia and North America. CSCW’06, November 4-8, 2006. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu.

McPhail, T. (2011). Global communication: Theories, stakeholders, and trends. John Wiley & Sons.

Petrilli, S. (2003) Introduction: Life in global communication. Retrieved from http://www.atwoodpublishing.com/excerpts/Petrilli_Intro.pdf.

Riley, P., & Monge, P.R. (1998). Introduction: Communication in the global community. Communication Research, Vol. 25, 355-358.
Sadler-Smith, E. & Shefy, E. (2004). The intuitive executive: Understanding and applying ‘gut feel’ in decision-making. Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 18, No.4, 76-91.

Würtz, E. (2005). A cross-cultural analysis of websites from high-context cultures and low-context cultures. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 13. Retrieved from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue1/wuertz.html.

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