Aug 31, 2009

The History of Developments in International Communication: the Intersection of History, Technology and Politics

Our first two readings for International Communication class were overviews of the history of the development of communication networks across the globe. Both readings emphasized the importance of understanding the intersection of technology, politics, and history when discussing new developments in communication.

Daya Thussu’s chapter, “the Historical Context of International Communication” really made me think of new inventions and discoveries in communication throughout history as a series of interrelated developments instead of just independent events throughout time. This approach recounting the history of international communication implies that events do not just occur, they are the result of political, technological, and cultural changes or advances that build upon each other, constantly changing and improving. I feel that this is a useful way of thinking about communications, particularly for International Media MA students like me who are in a dual program through the School of Communication and the School of International Service.

Another less positive thing that stuck out at me about this article was Thussu’s apparent bias to England and against the United States. This bias is exemplified in her ironic praising of BBC’s objectivity over American news. While I agree with her that BBC does usually portray international news in a more balanced light than most American media (I personally prefer BBC for international news), Thussu’s tone made her seem like she was tooting her own horn a bit.

One of the most striking points from Armand Mattelart’s chapter “Emergence of Technical Networks” was the point that while most of Europe’s early telecommunications were state-monopolized, the United States decidedly began international telecommunications with a commercial focus. I think is a reflection of the United States favoring a capitalist approach which is still very apparent today, especially in comparison with the Europe economic structure as well as European culture.

Mattelart concludes the chapter with a discussion on World Exhibitions of new technologies in communication. While these exhibitions helped to instill a sense of national pride for the nation presenting their technological progress, they also served as a symbol of technological power. Nations not only showed off their new inventions to each other, but also used them as a threat to less technologically advanced nations.

Both chapters really made a point of emphasizing whether the communication network being discussed was publicly, privately, or government owned/controlled. This is extremely important to note because it affects who uses the network, who the network reaches, and what material is broadcast.

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