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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

the rise of the ethnic global society in the information age

While ethnicity and new media technology seem rather diverse, their combination creates important issues about information age and the construction of identity. After all, the subjects of ethnicity and communication technology determine social change. On the one hand, ethnicity is a social construct which evolves from context to context while on the other, electronic communication like the Internet changes the face of social and political structures today and in the future. This paper hopes to bring to fore the understanding of the relationship between ethnicity and new media technology and the way the dynamism of information age influences ethnicity as a self-organization. There will be an initial discussion of the information age to be followed by the effects of the evolutionary process in which the society generated by this age is transformed as well as the role ethnic groups play in determining their identity.
With the advent of information age, every facet of human life evolved, resulting to the formation of a new society. Very much like the agrarian and industrial societies being typified by their economic and social structures, the information society is named after the foremost commodity being exchanged in it: information. Whereas this is true for the developed countries in the West, this is not for most of the developing Third World like the Philippines nor for marginalized communities within the industrialized nations. On a global scale, the information society generates contradictions and problems because of the fluctuating rates of information among developed and developing countries. The West has an obvious advantage since it exploits media technology to the fullest.
Since information is the commodity in the world trade and the main factor of globalization, it becomes increasingly an end. When information and not its content becomes the decisive factor, it does not become truly meaningful unless it serves as a basis for social, political or economic actions. Nonetheless, communication technology carries considerable changes which influence the manner in which people communicate with one another as well as view the world. With the rapid growth of the rate in which information is disseminated and exchanged, geographical distances have become insignificant. For instance, news in the Philippines can be picked up electronically to be reproduced anywhere else in the world in a matter of minutes. The more time reduced, the quicker reaction can be made. The way reaction becomes instantly reverberated on the other side of the globe has created tremendous effects on the social, political and economic processes.
With information becoming exchanged despite geographical and national borders, an advantage is created for groups with sporadic members because it helps to organize and coordinate collective action on a dramatic worldwide network. It strikes particular relevance to Filipinos who are caught in the onslaught of the phenomenon of diaspora because of economic and socio-political problems in the Philippines. As such, ethnic movements among other marginalized groups may reach an audience that, without the domination of mass media technology, would not be possible. This is especially true to the Internet which allows interactive communication, giving ethic groups among others the potential for media self-formation, which is so far denied to them because of multiple ideological discriminations.
As the Internet changes the way the world is perceived, so changed is the way in which identities and their meaning are constructed. Postmodernism has rendered communication processes of constructing unstable, multiple and diffuse subjects, resulting to identity vanishing behind the mediated technology along with other variables like age, gender and ethnicity. Hence, ethnicity is among those identities standing at the crossroads of technology and information age. With different challenges posed by the effects of globalization and new media technology, how do ethnic groups use their identity to face these challenges?
Ethnicity is a means through which groups can self-organize. For example, Filipino migrants organize via their cultural identity to cope with the conditions of their host country. They become collective with their myths and legends, their common history which explains their origin as well as the norms and traditions to which they are all committed as group members. They institute Filipino communities in their adoptive country and practice their regional or national culture and rituals; they speak in the dialect, prepare indigenous food, subscribe to local superstitions and observe and exhibit Filipino idiosyncrasies. Their historical continuities manage to persist with the emergence of modern communication technology; whatever changes they inevitably undergo, these may be viewed as new ways of interpreting particular customs in response to the challenges of the information age.
Take as one such challenge the case of the complex nature of information presented on the Internet. The variety of information here, besides high, is not discussed but just presented. In favor of appropriating ethnic groups, the Internet opens up new ways of their self-representations. The virtual absence of control and regulation paves the way to the reshaping of identities and group and other images by these very groups. On the one hand, they have a chance for self-determination while on the other hand, this may lead to distortion and manipulation of information. Provided the global reach of the Internet and the people who have actual access to it, it becomes clear that the chances of self-determination are slanted to a certain point, especially in the Third World, where electronic information is not yet fully developed. Judging and working with information becomes increasingly hard as authorship and intention becomes less and less clear. As such, it is quite imaginable that a single group or country has two or three official home pages. If ethnicity is on this level, there is a risk that it will lose its dynamic and will be manipulated to suit motives beyond the extent of group members.
This is a problem which Mimi White discussed in “Ideological Analysis and Television.” When media are used to impose certain ideologies, stereotypes are produced and so, biases spring. Commodification and exoticism often happen in media in the presentation of Others like ethnic peoples, so they get victimized when false consciousness perpetuates them as different, therefore should be shunned. However, media can turn things around by their use as channels to subvert stereotypes created about ethnic groups. New communication technology may be used to rectify these ethnic stereotyping by presenting an ethnic group’s rich culture, values, history and social contributions to their inhabited country.
The right to self-determination and the assertion for it becomes a major issue for ethnic groups concerning the dependencies and means of manipulation existing in media technology like the Internet. Once the everyday life situation of the people and the economic and social problems they confront are viewed, it can be understood why and how groups use the available new media technology to their purpose. One major reason is that they attempt to subvert the marginal positions in the societies they live in with the help of this technology. They do this because their marginalization will remain unless they become responsible for their very image and the way this image wants to be projected. The voices of ethnic peoples across the globe committed to self-determination can help provide the content that makes the use of the technology really meaningful and useful. Their self-determination depends on the capacity to control information influx inside and outside the media. Ethnic groups deemed unfit into this homogenized ethnicity will suffer marginalization. This is true to the daily experience for many ethnic groups across the globe and is not limited to the Internet.
The struggle for identity in the postmodern age is echoed in Susan Napier’s “Anime and Local Global Identity.” In her essay, Professor Napier explains that the local/global world of anime must be state-less in order not to create a style culturally-specific to the Japanese because the problem is with identity in general and not with Japanese cultural identity in particular. Anime is said to be the ideal medium to problematize the contemporary social issue of the shifting nature of identity in an ever-changing society, what with its fast-paced narrative and dynamic imagery which captures the atmosphere of change in all societies. Anime as yet another communication technology becomes a medium for the identity advocacy.
The quest for ethnic self-determination to address values crisis like problematic racial construction is also mentioned in Sut Jhally’s “Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse.” In his essay, the media theorist said that people who emphasize a variant set of values—ethnic activists, for instance—should make the struggle for social change pleasurable and fun. In the case of the struggle against ethnic discrimination, activists make their advocacy for social change full of pleasure, fun and happiness by using new media technology creatively. They make attractive websites, write about their cause in a moving way, or broadcast appealing statements. With the adaptability of communication technology, it is quite possible to supersede prevailing ethnic ideologies that continue to present certain groups as savages, inferior or exotic and, in effect, that will bring an apocalyptic change to non-Western individuals.
A recent instance wherein Filipino ethnicity becomes intertwined with new media technology is the case of the anti-Filipino slurs made on the US television programs “Desperate Housewives” about Filipino healthcare professionals having dubious medical license as well as two comedy shows in which former Philippine President Corazon Aquino was insinuated as a slut and American actor Matt Damon was praised for not being kidnapped and for his English not having confused the natives when he filmed a movie in the Philippines. Besides being seen on TV, these shows may be viewed in, say,, a popular broadcasting website and controversies about them are run in different Internet pages. In defense of themselves, Filipinos all over the globe fired off protests online, denouncing the ethnic discriminations made on them. Without new media technology, Filipinos and their eventual supporters (who, most probably, share kinship in the exemplified ethnic bigotry) would have no way of knowing instantly that they are being bashed abroad as well as no way of expressing their anger toward this racial discrimination.
As individual and groups suffer persecution, discrimination, denied rights to self-determination, political oppression and killing because of their ethnic identity, ethnicity may be used as an organizing factor in dealing with these conflicts. How does this situation relate to new communication technology? Ethnicity may provide one resource against denied independence, against the results of exploitation and oppression, against the exclusion of education, and against attempts to prevent access to media technology, especially when this exclusion concentrates on one specific group in a society. The Internet may be used to organize a global resistance and support network. The decentralization of the Internet provides circumvention of all censoring control and pressure on the government. With the way traditional media work, it would have been more difficult without the Internet. In such a case, local conflicts get globalized, and resistance movements may gain support worldwide from people who have other means to intercede in behalf of the marginalized sectors who need concrete pressure against the state or its concerned officials.
It is now seen that new media technology may be used to organize against social inequalities and central to the process is the significant role of ethnicity. Communication technology is used to react on denied self-determination, with information disseminated through the Internet reaching and eliciting support of action from individuals and groups. Information age has democratized accessing processes of people of all ethnicities and countries worldwide. Ethnic groups make use of new media technology to improve their environment and their living conditions often affected or even manipulated by the influx of a global market, like logging in Third World countries like the Philippines. Ethnicity as well as other social organizing factors such as gender and class will remain significant as long as global inequalities persist and communication technology will be a part of the social transformation toward a better world by these working factors. New media technology alone cannot do world changes through social organizing; it requires various social movements like ethnic groups to make use of particular media and think of ways in which media may be used to champion the causes of the marginalized.
Jhally, Sut. “Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse.” Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA.
Napier, Susan (2001). “Anime and Local/Global Identity.” From Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
White, Mimi. “Ideological Analysis and Television.”

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