Archive for April, 2008

Globalization Karma

By , 30 April, 2008, No Comment

America’s imperial chickens are coming home to roost.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and perhaps even before then, we have been the world leader in exporting our values and our products to distant corners of the earth: the McDonalds-MTV factor, even more than military might or political clout, confirmed our status as a superpower.

But in the flat world of YouTube and Second Life, rising powers are finding ways to turn American cultural hegemony in their own economic favor. A fascinating story in this Sunday’s NY Times describes the rat race at Korean prep schools to get students into American universities. The Asian students I’ve met at Brown certainly came here familiar with the American system, more so than the students I’ve met from Europe or Latin America. These Asian schools can replicate the American high school easily because our curricula, our syllabi, our AP exams are available online. And the students have as clear an idea of the universities they’ll end up at (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, CalTech) as any American teen does: these are big international names.

Because American culture is so widely disseminated, the Korean schoolteachers have an easier time reproducing it than American educators have connecting to Asian culture. A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes the challenge of creating American universities in China–not because American culture is hard to translate, but because Americans find the local culture difficult to connect to. While the students may know all about McDonald’s, the professors have a hard time adjusting to bokchoy, rice and Internet censorship.

There’s a parallel in market research. Because American culture is all over television and film, Asian tech or auto or consumer electronics producers know enough about our market to make products Americans will be eager to buy. American manufacturers know next to nothing about Asian markets. While we can outsource our production to India and China (and we do), we can’t market products there. Meanwhile, the same factory owners who used to make cars for us are going independent and selling their own handiwork to Americans. Smarter still, Asian universities are capitalizing on our weakness: Hong Kong Polytechnic University has a design consultancy that helps global (mostly Western) companies adjust their products to an Asian market.

As Rudyard Kipling once said of imperialism, I now wonder of globalization: have we sought another’s profit to work their gain?

The Internet Police

By , 29 April, 2008, No Comment

Throughout the Web revolution of the past decade, pundits and journalists have angsted endlessly about the implications of new technologies on privacy and the capacity for unwanted “Big Brother” surveillance or dangerous identity theft. Counter-arguments from tech-geeks have mainly centered on the entertainment potential of Google Earth or Facebook-stalking. Breaking the impasse means proving that the new technologies are more than a toy, but a useful and socially constructive tool.

The proof has arrived. Facebook and Google are putting their surveillance and information capacities to work fighting crime. A new Facebook list of suspected war criminals encourages users around the world to post information about sightings. A new Google Earth map marks crime scenes and likely locations.

How effective this will be, however, is still an open question. After all, criminals have computers too and it can’t help to tell them where we think they are. Not to mention that the Facebook lists wanted felons rather than simply suspects: due process dictates the individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Hopefully, the officials in charge will follow the law books over the Facebook.

On the other hand, there are interesting principles behind this technology: crowdsourcing, global technologies as a form of international law/world governance, linking virtual networks back to the physical world. As imperfect as this particular project is, these are the general contours of the coming era. It’s fitting, perhaps, that Facebook and Google would be the first to sign up.

Coffee Break: Re-introducing Instant Cappuccino

By , 28 April, 2008, 2 Comments

Welcome to my virtual coffeehouse. Just like “real” coffeeshops sometimes close down and re-locate, this blog is a re-location of the blog I wrote as a college student. Because the old blog has been acting up lately, and might not survive that long, I’ve archived some of my postings here.

Over my years at Brown and Oxford Universities, I followed the politics and culture of my generation (Y, if you were born between 1980 and 2000). Oftentimes, I found myself defining Gen Y in terms of technological trends: iPods, e-books, Wikis, Facebook, and blogs like this one.

If there’s one place the Internet has made an impact, it’s among university students. I can hardly imagine writing papers without Google and JStor. As David Brooks says, today’s culture wars occur over education, and people are divided by educational experience. Changes in the world of students are the harbingers of changes in the world at large. As I leave the Ivory Tower for the real world, I’ll continue to track these tech-cultural phenomena.

The second front in the Internet culture war is the world of journalism. As a columnist, a blogger and a news reporter , I’ve watched news media slowly adjust to the Internet Age. Mainstream print papers are diving into the blogosphere; blogs are turning into big business. As the place we turn for the truth about our world, changing news media means big changes in our social worldview. Once again, as the first group to grow up with GoogleNews, LexisNexis, RSS feeds and CNN Pipeline, we, generation Y, are the test case.

Here at Instant Cappuccino, I’ll post news stories and videos about our changing world. I’ll post my thoughts on technology, politics, business, popular culture. Not only will I chronicle the spread of information, but as a blog, Cappuccino will be part of the transformation.

Of course, what makes our culture of Wikipedia and YouTube different from the first Internet revolution of Yahoo and Netscape, is that interaction is overtaking information as the premium capital.

So please, post your own thoughts. Tell me when (and this happens often) I am wrong about what’s trendy. Link to Cappuccino on your own blogs, and tell me what other sites I should be following. With your participation, over a cup of virtual coffee, we can make sense of the new world we live in, and predictions for the world to come.