Electronic Communication Systems
Addis Tribune (03/17/00)
By Dr. Andargachew Tiruneh
(Continued from last week)
An example of globalization is the emergence and rapid expansion in recent decades of modern systems of communication. The days of electric telegraph are over and ships in distress now depend on the much more accurate technology of satellite
communication to pin point their positions. There are now about a hundred satellites revolving around the earth guiding such
things as ships and airplanes as well as transmitting pictures and information. They are used to track troop movements, guide
weapons systems, map mineral deposits and the like.
The emergence and spread of other forms of electronic communication has also been accelerating in the last several years. In
addition to satellites, there are now dedicated trans-atlantic and trans-pacific cables carrying as much as a million speech parts
each and transmitting information through the media of the telephone, television and internet.
The rate at which communication technology is accelerating increases with each innovation. In the US, it took 40 years for
radio to gain an audience of 50 million. The same number was using computers only 15 years after they were introduced. It
needed a mere 4 years after it was made available for 50 million Americans to be regularly using the internet.
These methods of communication have helped to create a cosmopolitan society. They have made it possible to transmit
information, news and pictures instantly from one end of the world to the other. Through them, the faces of world celebrities
like leaders and sports men and women are made better known to the peoples of the world, better known to them than the
faces of their own neighbors. Films produced in Hollywood can be seen in an African village through video before they appear
on the cinema screens of New York, Paris or London. Wars are brought to the drawing rooms of all continents as they are
Electronic information can be viewed, not only as a result of globalization, but also as one of its causes. It is no respecter of
national boundaries nor government authority. The East European governments had monopolized external information by
jamming Western radio broadcasts and censoring the importation of written literature. With the advent of satellite television, not only were their peoples exposed to western news and propaganda, but also used it to ape each other's demonstrations and
overthrow their governments one after the other. The 1989 revolutions of Eastern Europe have been called the first television
Electronic communication also plays a crucial role in eliminating diversity of cultures by standardizing, westernizing or
cocacolanizing it with increasing intensity. It is not uncommon to hear even people from European states complaining how their
culture is being increasingly eroded and replaced by the culture of sex, violence and fast foods mainly from the US. The modern sector of the Third World is part of this cosmopolitan society with the rest of it being absorbed into it with accelerating speed.
A central question for us is the extent to which Ethiopia is affected by modern systems of communication. In general, it is the
modern social sector which is a party to that system of communication with the rest being absorbed into it with increasing
speed. It is that social sector which has access to telephones, radios, television sets, videos and computers. Even if some of
these technologies are old, they are increasingly becoming dependent on satellites and trans-global cables.
The modern social sector, therefore, is part of the global cosmopolitan society. It has instant world information about
celebrities, wars, sports, the financial markets and the like.
This has certain consequences to the Ethiopian society. Information is power and the modern sector which has access to it is
becoming richer while the rest of society is getting poorer by the day. Access to information about the financial markets is a
case in pint. Globalization is, therefore, creating a gap in the standard of living of people in the modern and the traditional
sectors, a gap much wider than hitherto.
Another consequence is the standardization of culture within this cosmopolitan society reflected no less in its pattern of
consumption. Those within the Ethiopian modern social sector abandon traditional clothes and hair-styles in favor of mimicking
those displayed on the mass media. They express a passion for fast foods such as burgers, cakes, chocolate drinks and soft
drinks with mating revolving around the consumption of these products of international corporations. Young friends of mine in
towns and villages from Harar to Gondar confirm that their parties and meetings are, quite unbeknown to their parents, infested
with orgies of pornographic videos imported from the west. Often, their passtime is attended, not only by the chewing of the
locally grown qat, but also by the smoking of drugs fashionable in the West.
Even more important is the ambition of practically all the literate youth of Ethiopia to emigrate to the West and take advantage
of the perceived life of abundance there. This has come about partly as a result of the political upheaval that has been visiting
the country in the last 20 years or so and partly as a result of cinema, television and video portrayal of the West as a result of
cinema, television and video portrayal of the west as the land of milk and honey. The effect has been an unprecedented degree
of diaspora and brain drain. The youth of Ethiopia constitute a social sector no longer interested in he destiny of their country of origin nor destination. It is a truly cosmopolitan generation ruled by the international labor market and self-promotion.
A central issue here is whether the universalization of culture is a negative development and must, therefore, be resisted in favor
of localism. A related question is whether it is possible for a given country to resist the forces of history and arrest
universalization of culture. In democratic societies, such questions are resolved though public debate.