Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: December 2010 (page 2 of 4)

Facebook Use: Access, Filtering, and Languages

Facebook has just produced a map visualizing pairs of friends across the globe; the map is visually stunning, and as the Guardian points out, it also shows huge gaps where Facebook isn’t being used.

Facebook's visualization of friend connections globally

For some countries, the reasons are fairly obvious: Orkut is hugely popular in Brazil, and so it seeks to reason that Brazilians wanting to find their friends online would be better off doing so there. For other locales, the reasoning is less obvious: Could it be that Facebook doesn’t offer a local language? Though the list of languages in which Facebook is offered is continuously growing, there are certainly gaps – Burmese, for example. Another missing variable is where Facebook is blocked: Iran, Syria, and China currently, though several other countries — including Pakistan and Bangladesh just this year — have blocked Facebook at some point. You can check out the OpenNet Initiative’s research and maps of filtering of social network for more details.

Then there’s the larger issue of access: Only three countries on the African continent (Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia) have Internet penetration rates over 10%, and only Morocco has a rate over 30% (ITU places it at 41% for 2009). The map below, from Online Africa, illustrates the very real issue of disparities in Internet access across Africa:

Map of Internet penetration in Africa, from Online Africa

Of course, Africa isn’t the only region where access is lacking; for more stats on Internet penetration, ITU stats are worth poring over.

So, while using or not using Facebook may simply be a choice in places like Brazil or Russia, in other locales the issue is not whether to use Facebook but whether access to the Internet is even an option.

Edit: And here’s another piece discussing population as a factor in Russia.

Wayne Marshall and Brave New World Music

The Berkman Center’s lunch talk today centered on what ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall terms ‘brave new world music’; Marshall calls it the “reimagining of what the world of music is all about” – rather than the old trope of ‘ the West and the rest,’ Marshall’s work focuses on cultural interplay in the digital music world.

He starts by introducing us to the world of jerkin – an urban dance style originating in California that’s become popular across the country and beyond thanks to various digital platforms that make it easy for musicians to share and remix music online.  Jerkin’s rise to popularity was enabled specifically by various video platforms that allowed young people to upload videos of themselves dancing to popular songs, in this case, namely a track called “You’re a Jerk” by the New Boyz.  The young group made their own beats, using Fruity Loops, relatively simple digital audio software, and recorded the track on a low budget.

Then, Marshall explains, the group uploaded their track to MySpace, where it exploded, inspiring other kids to upload videos of themselves dancing to the track, eventually securing themselves a record deal and a top video (below). The New York Times caught on to jerkin as well, calling it “hip hop’s new steps” (to this, Marshall notes a potential decline in cultural vibrancy when things go too mainstream – an excellent point).

After the song became a hit, however, YouTube  — where many of the dancing videos were hosted — began taking down the earlier videos.  Their audio-recognition software, Marshall explains, recognizes unauthorized music and sends takedown notices to the folks who’ve uploaded the videos (another effect of this, Marshall notes, is the takedown of music blogs).

Nevertheless, the jerkin style, and particularly the New Boyz track, has gone globally viral in a sense.  Remixes abound, such as this one from Panama, which not only samples the original track but also “copies” aspects of the video:

And this is where the “brave new world of music” comes in — Marshall sees it a reimagining of what world music is all about, and I agree. I don’t have any real new thoughts to add to his, and frankly, this was one of the more engaging Berkman talks I’ve been to in recent months (though to be fair, that’s probably because I was raised by musicians), but I do think that — while music is obviously on a level all its own — that there are parallels in cross-cultural communications: Memes, for example, make a great one, and visual arts too. ‘Ethnomusicology’ and ‘world music’ — both terms to which Marshall admits unease — are becoming, if they’re not already, a thing of the past…we’re moving toward a more distributed world. No longer is culture viewed primarily through the lens of the West, and if you ask me, it’s about damn time.

David Weinberger also blogged the talk, as did (I think!) Ethan Zuckerman.

Forget WikiLeaks: The Amusement of Public State Department Travel Warnings

I feel a bit guilty writing this post; after all, politics aside, I don’t believe that the State Department wishes the Lebanese tourism industry any ill will, nor do I think that worrying about my safety as a citizen is a bad thing.  I’m sure it goes without saying, also, that I recognize that there are genuine risks posed to individuals in traveling to certain locales.  Nevertheless, I am thoroughly entertained by what passes as State Department travel warnings nowadays.

Nearly four years ago, while living in Morocco, I would receive Embassy announcements every so often detailing this or that protest to avoid, or a crime committed against an American citizen. Mostly, I was appreciative; it’s good to know when a transportation strike is planned, even if it’s not exactly what I would consider a danger.

Around the time of the Mohammed cartoon debacle of 2006, however, I started to grow a bit weary of such warnings. “Demonstrations planned!” shouted the warnings from my inbox, with “anti-American in nature” and other generalizations sprinkled throughout the emails.

I never really checked the State Department’s warnings until last year, while I was planning a trip to Syria. The point of checking, really, was to prove to my naysayers that Syria was perfectly safe. Not so, warned the State Department – “anti-American” rhetoric apparently prevailed in this “axis of evil” country (no, the warning didn’t really use the latter term). I obviously went anyway.

Later that year, a trip to Beirut presented itself. I checked the warnings once again: “The Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns.” Strong language for a country that actually has a U.S. ambassador (Damascus does not). I compared the warning to Syria, a country whose ties with the US have been incredibly weak since the Hariri assassination (the ambassador was pulled shortly after); U.S. citizens are warned about Syria, told to take caution, whereas they’re urged not to visit Lebanon. Interesting.

Downtown Beirut; photo by Luciana.Luciana

In fact, the warning for Lebanon remains the harshest, despite concurrent warnings for Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, the DRC, and Yemen. Here’s a sample of the language used in the first paragraph of each:

  • Afghanistan: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan remains critical.
  • Iran: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran.
  • Iraq: The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks inherent in travel to Iraq and recommends against all but essential travel within the country given the dangerous security situation.
  • DRC: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), and recommends against non-essential travel to eastern and northeastern Congo.
  • Yemen: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities.  The Department strongly recommends that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to Yemen.
  • Somalia: The State Department warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Somalia and recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all travel to Somalia.

Now, compare those to Lebanon: The Department of State continues to urge U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns. U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks.

Is this a case of editorial error, foreknowledge of an Israeli (or other) attack, or is Lebanon–modern, developed Lebanon–truly a more dangerous place than lawless Somalia?  The government warns against travel to Somalia, but urges against travel to Lebanon.  All but essential travel to Yemen is recommended against, while we’re not to go to Lebanon under any circumstances.

I’m genuinely curious – what gives?  Maybe there’s a leak out there to explain it…

Photo by Luciana.Luciana made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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