Sunday, September 21, 2008

Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass US

I remember reading this article (Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass US) before the semester started, but the historical analysis provided by Winseck and Pike encouraged me to reread (and rethink) it. It fits nicely with a few of the themes developed in the book.

While the detail of the the book is part of its charm, I feel that summaries of the major arguments could be sprinkled in a bit more. They provide an overview in the intro, but then dig right into the nitty gritty of dates, names and corporate mergers (more characters than a Dicken's novel!). The major theme outlined in the intro (growth of global communication infrastructures should be de-emphasized when explaining late 1800's / early 1900s Imperialism) has not coalesced for me yet, but I am only about a third of the way in.

Nonetheless, as the the back cover suggests, I do find the book "compellingly relevant to our times."

Along these lines, one thing that makes the book accessible is that it is easy to draw parallels between the raise of the telegraph and the raise of the Internet ( i.e., many of the same debates, questions, and concerns show up). Some key themes/issues relevant to both scenarios include: government attempts to secure access for surveillance purposes; concerns over equitable access for consumers (e.g., high costs); debates over privatization vs. state ownership/government subsidies; claims of price gauging; concerns over teh quality and security of transmissions; competition within and between countries; negotiations surrounding international agreements/laws; censorship (e.g., debates about government control of news during times of war), shifts in media production, dissemination, and consumption (and the consequences of these changes), etc.

1 comment:

Davita Veselenak said...

I have some quite similar thoughts as Jim on Communication and Empire.

Winseck and Pike have left me wanting for a couple of reasons. I tried to think of the Communication and Empire telegraph maps in relation to our Harley map discussion, and I got frustrated with the lack of context in the first few chapters. The maps, for example, might list cities and communication routes, but there is no discussion of why particular cities were chosen as sites of cable landings. Maybe the reasons are fairly obvious, such as population or the presence of ports, but still, if the authors are trying to make new arguments about how empire works, more context would be helpful.

To be fair, I did seem to note a change in voice around the treatment of Africa in chapter 3 and in chapter 4, where the evidence and facts were at least connected at a few points to the larger goals of the book. Regardless of how many histories of the telegraph there are, I was looking for more explicit connections between the broader themes/phenomena and the detail-rich but interpretation-light content of each chapter. Much like Dan and Brian have asked about the ideas of “modernization” and “development” I found myself asking—how does the evidence that Winseck and Pike provide support the claims they make in the preface and introduction about empire and the nature of imperialism?

Also, I see the interdependence and collaboration point they try to make, but in some ways, doesn’t the phenomenon of the telegraph by its very nature require some kind of relationship between two or more markets? Hopefully the second half of the text—or our class discussion—will fill in some of these blanks.