Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reflections on 9/17 and readings for 9/24

A few thoughts:

- I met some friends for breakfast Saturday in D.C., and they drove me to the airport afterward. As Joe was getting out the GPS device, he said both that he didn't entirely trust the thing, and that he didn't entirely trust himself anymore. "I'm afraid I'm losing my ability to read a map," he said, and I recalled our discussion last week about map literacy.

- I can't say whether I am smarter than an 8th grader, but I can say that I would pass his/her geography test.

- Although I read a newspaper daily, I haven't done a comprehensive look for maps yet. However, I have made one observation: It seems maps in the travel section are more likely to be on inside (black-and-white) pages, while the weather map is more likely to be on a section-back (color) page. Why? It might be that the weather maps convey more types of information (temperature bands, types of precipitation, etc. vs. mostly roads, cities, bodies of water, location of landmarks, etc.). I suspect, though, that is has more to do with money - the weather map usually is provided by a commercial provider (AccuWeather, The Weather Channel) that wants a) to get its name out, and b) to make its product look good.

- Regarding Communication and Empire:

1) As an American, I'm curious whether the U.S. was as involved in these early telecom monopolies as other countries (particularly the U.K.) seemed to be. There appears to be some evidence that the U.S. opposed such monopolies, but the reading so far has focussed more on the European powers.

2) As a former AP reporter/editor, I'm curious how deeply AP was involved in the "rings" (is that what they were called) of influence established by the early news agencies. (FYI, the AP has been involved in far more high-profile antitrust cases than high-profile First Amendment or open records cases, so it wouldn't surprise me to learn that AP was dividing up the world into quasi-monopolies in the 19th Century.)

3) Is anyone out there particularly familiar with the "moderinzation"? I ask in much the same way Brian was asking about "development." I do know that "modernization" can be used as a term of art, referring to a particular movement in international development circles. It also can have a more-generic meaning. I simply don't know if the references to "modernization" in this book refer to the former or the latter. I suspect the latter, because I seem to recall that the heyday of the "modernization" movement was the late-1940s and the 1950s. However, I can't say for sure. (Where's Hemet Shah when I need him? Damned sabaticals!)

4) This scheme to divide up Africa among the colonial powers for the purpose of improving the "dark continent" reminds me of the period during which the United States divided up Indian reservations and doled them out to various churches (separation of church and state my ass!), also in an attempt to further civilization. Some of the more savvy Indian chiefs, including Keokuk of the Saukis (think Sauk Prairie or Old Sauk Road), figured out that they could get most anything they wanted from the church by threatening to convert to another church. (You want to make the Presbyerian elders turn white? Tell them you think your entire tribe would be happier if they were Catholic, like the neighboring Ioways. Or Baptists, like the Ottawas down the road. It's amazing how quickly the church will give in.)

1 comment:

Nate said...

I'm not quite sure if we're talking about the same idea of modernization, but in my mind, modernization is very different from its related term, modernism. Modernization always seems to imply a growth of technological and infrastructural development, cultural liberalization (and secularization), and a growth in the efficiency of production.

Modernism hinges more on the cultural dynamics of the process, and the fundamental dichotomy between construction, on one hand, and destruction or dissolution on the other. The result is a process where the new is always regenerating itself, eventually resulting in, if you take David Harvey's word for it, postmodernism. Seen in art, architectural modernism is an especially interesting way of looking at the attempt to generate a concrete conception of the new within the swirling and always changing conception of what that was.

Marshall Berman, in his great book on Modernism, confounds this dualism though: "Our vision of modern life tends to split into material and spiritual planes: some people devote themselves to 'modernism' which they see as a species of pure spirit, evolving in accord with its autonomous artistic and intellectual imperatives; other people work within the orbit of 'modernization,' a complex of material structures and processes--political, economic, social--which, supposedly...runs on its own momentum...This dualism, pervasive in contemporary culture, cuts us all off from one of the pervasive facts of modern life: the interfusion of its material and spiritual forces, the intimate unity of the modern self and the modern environment."

So who knows?