Thursday, September 11, 2008

Global Media and trend diffusion

Reading the Washington Post Book World, this weekend, I came across the article on Thomas Friedman's New Book on the environment.

If history is to be believed, then I think that when Friedman writes a book on the environment, everyone stands up and listens. He told us about the contradictory drive for prosperity and a search for identity in the 90s with his book the Lexus and the Olive Tree. Then in the early part of this century, he told us how the world order is changing, how Americans should be aware of the carpet shifting under their feet, and he was once again globally applauded in explaining a complex world through his concise, direct and no-nonsense style.

And so it seems to me, that if Friedman is talking about the environment, then the circle must be complete. The environment debate has been on the table for long, and indeed, people like Al Gore have done a lot for the cause. But Friedman, with the kind of influence he has, will be read more. I can almost imagine pirated copies of this book being printed in the narrow streets of Bombay where it will soon be sold on traffic lights for mass consumption that Mr Friedman will never know about (or get the money for), but will definitely benefit from.

In this light, my question then much do we rely on the global media for diffusion of world trends. Would 'globalization' as an ideology be as big, had the media not had a domino effect in proclaiming its arrival across the world. Would the Olympics be in our consciousness or collective history in the same way, had the TV channels not broadcast the living daylights out of us? And indeed, would the millions of people across the world who wear jeans, watch American sitcoms and lap up Michael Phelps glory on the news have America on their minds if it was not for the media? Have you noticed any other recent trend diffusions in the media?

Do let me know what you think


Kate said...

Yeah I read that review too yesterday, and Thomas Friedman makes me crazy for exactly the reason that Nye pointed out: "his catchy phrases and anecdotes sometimes obscure deeper analysis" (anyone read From Beirut to Jerusalem? I'm sorry but a collection of cute analogies does not foreign policy analysis make).

But that's not my point; I wanted to speak to your question about global trends depending on the media. I'd argue that fashions and fads existed before TV did. Maybe not in the same way, exactly, but I just keep thinking of how rich American women in the 19th century used to travel to Paris to have their dresses made so that they could bring back the latest fashion and have all their friends and rivals copy them (check any Edith Wharton novel). Or the way that drinking tea (slowly) spread across the globe and is now a nearly universal sign of hospitality.

I can see how media makes things more easily and quickly recognizable, and how media distributes the images of those things much more widely than the things themselves are necessarily circulated; but ultimately fashions and fads will spread regardless of their mediation, I think.

Kristina said...

I agree with Kate that some fashions and fads existed before TV did. However, today, instead of having to go to Paris to get the latest fashion, women can simply tune their TVs in to Fashion Week or can search the web for the latest fashion trends. (Here you can see the best and the worst of Fashion Week 2008: ) Also, instead of having to go to Paris to buy the latest fashion items, women can do all their shopping online which results in the quick diffusion of trends. On the spread of “globalization” as an ideology, I have met several people living in developing countries that have heard of the word “globalization” and sometimes even use it in their daily communication without really knowing what it means. On the other hand, my boss has her ten year old daughter’s poster on globalization hanging in her office. My point is that media plays a huge role in not only “proclaiming the arrival of globalization across the world” but it also plays an important role in the quick and efficient diffusion of different trends (in this case the spread of the use of the word globalization) across the globe.