Giáo trình

Introduction to Sociology

Social Sciences

Global Implications

Tác giả: OpenStaxCollege
These Twitter updates—a revolution in real time—show the role social media can play on the political stage. (Photo courtesy of Cambodia4kidsorg/flickr)

Technology, and increasingly media, has always driven globalization. Thomas Friedman (2005) in a landmark publication, identified several ways in which technology “flattened” the globe and contributed to our global economy. The first edition of The World Is Flat, written in 2005, posits that core economic concepts were changed by personal computing and high-speed internet. Access to these two technological shifts has allowed core-nation corporations to recruit workers in call centers located in China or India. Using examples like a Midwestern American woman who runs a business from her home via the call centers of Bangalore, India, Friedman warns that this new world order will exist whether core-nation businesses are ready or not, and that in order to keep its key economic role in the world, the United States will need to pay attention to how it prepares workers of the 21st century for this dynamic.

Of course not everyone agrees with Friedman’s theory. Many economists pointed out that, in reality, innovation, economic activity, and population still gather in geographically attractive areas, continuing to create economic peaks and valleys, which are by no means flattened out to mean equality for all. China’s hugely innovative and powerful cities of Shanghai and Beijing are worlds away from the rural squalor of the country’s poorest denizens.

It is worth noting that Friedman is an economist, not a sociologist. His work focuses on the economic gains and risks this new world order entails. In this section, we will look more closely at how media globalization and technological globalization play out in a sociological perspective. As the names suggest, media globalization is the worldwide integration of media through the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, while technological globalization refers to the cross-cultural development and exchange of technology.

Media Globalization

Lyons (2005) suggests that multinational corporations are the primary vehicle of media globalization, and these corporations control global mass-media content and distribution (Compaine 2005). It is true, when looking at who controls which media outlets, that there are fewer independent news sources as larger and larger conglomerates develop. The United States offers about 1,500 newspapers, 2,600 book publishers, and an equal number of television stations, plus 6,000 magazines and a whopping 10,000 radio outlets (Bagdikian 2004).

On the surface, there is endless opportunity to find diverse media outlets. But the numbers are misleading. In 1983, a mere 50 corporations owned the bulk of mass-media outlets. Today, those 50 corporations have morphed into only six conglomerates (large companies consisting of many seemingly unrelated businesses). These conglomerates control most of the United States’ mass-media vehicles. These six corporations are Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, General Electric, and the foreign-headquartered News Corporation (Australia) and Bertelsmann (Germany). Because the readers of the Daily News in one town might not care that their newspaper is owned by the same folks who own the Tribune across the country, why does it matter? Monopolies matter because less competition typically means consumers are less well served since dissenting opinions or diverse viewpoints are less likely to be found.

While some social scientists predicted that the increase in media forms would create a global village (McLuhan 1964), current research suggests that the public sphere accessing the global village will tend to be rich, Caucasoid, and English-speaking (Jan 2009). As shown by the spring 2011 uprisings throughout the Arab world, technology really does offer a window into the news of the world. For example, here in the United States we saw internet updates of Egyptian events in real time, with people tweeting, posting, and blogging on the ground in Tahirir Square.

Still, there is no question that the exchange of technology from core nations to peripheral and semi-peripheral ones leads to a number of complex issues. For instance, someone using a conflict theorist approach might focus on how much political ideology and cultural colonialism occurs with technological growth. In theory at least, technological innovations are ideology-free; a fiber optic cable is the same in a Muslim country as a secular one, a communist country or a capitalist one. But those who bring technology to less developed nations—whether they are nongovernment organizations, businesses, or governments—usually have an agenda. A functionalist, in contrast, might focus on the ways that technology creates new ways to share information about successful crop-growing programs, or on the economic benefits of opening a new market for cell phone use. Either way, there are cultural and societal assumptions and norms being delivered along with those high-speed wires.

Cultural and ideological bias are not the only risks of media globalization. In addition to the risk of cultural imperialism and the loss of local culture, other problems come with the benefits of a more interconnected globe. One risk is the potential censoring by national governments that let in only the information and media they feel serves their message, as can be seen in China. In addition, core nations such as the United States risk the use of international media such as the internet to circumvent local laws against socially deviant and dangerous behaviors such as gambling, child pornography, and the sex trade. Offshore or international web sites allow U.S. citizens (as well as others) to seek out whatever illegal (in the United States) or illicit information they want, from 24-hour online gambling sites that do not require proof of age, to sites that sell child pornography. These examples illustrate the societal risks of unfettered information flow.

Technological Globalization

Technological globalization is impacted in large part by technological diffusion, the spread of technology across borders. In the last two decades, there has been rapid improvement in the spread of technology to peripheral and semi-peripheral nations, and a 2008 World Bank report discusses both the benefits and ongoing challenges of this diffusion. In general, the report found that technological progress and economic growth rates were linked, and that the rise in technological progress has helped improve the situations of many living in absolute poverty (World Bank 2008). The report recognizes that rural and low-tech products such as corn can benefit from new technological innovations, and that, conversely, technologies like mobile banking can aid those whose rural existence consists of low-tech market vending. In addition, technological advances in areas like mobile phones can lead to competition, lowered prices, and concurrent improvements in related areas such as mobile banking and information sharing.

However, the same patterns of social inequality that create a digital divide in the United States also create digital divides in peripheral and semi-peripheral nations. While the growth of technology use among countries has increased dramatically over the past several decades, the spread of technology within countries is significantly slower among peripheral and semi-peripheral nations. In these countries, far fewer people have the training and skills to take advantage of new technology, let alone access it. Technological access tends to be clustered around urban areas, leaving out vast swaths of peripheral-nation citizens. While the diffusion of information technologies has the potential to resolve many global social problems, it is often the population most in need that is most affected by the digital divide. For example, technology to purify water could save many lives, but the villages in peripheral nations most in need of water purification don’t have access to the technology, the funds to purchase it, or the technological comfort level to introduce it as a solution.


Technology drives globalization, but what that means can be hard to decipher. While some economists see technological advances leading to a more level playing field where anyone anywhere can be a global contender, the reality is that opportunity still clusters in geographically advantaged areas. Still, technological diffusion has led to the spread of more and more technology across borders into peripheral and semi-peripheral nations. However, true technological global equality is a long way off.

Section Quiz

When Japanese scientists develop a new vaccine for swine flu and offer that technology to American pharmaceutical companies, __________ has taken place.

  1. media globalization
  2. technological diffusion
  3. monetizing
  4. planned obsolescence

In the mid-90s, the U.S. government grew concerned that Microsoft was a _______________, exercising disproportionate control over the available choices and prices of computers.

  1. monopoly
  2. conglomerate
  3. functionalism
  4. technological globalization

The movie Babel featured an international cast and was filmed on location in various nations. When it screened in theaters worldwide, it introduced a number of ideas and philosophies about cross-cultural connections. This might be an example of:

  1. technology
  2. conglomerating
  3. symbolic interaction
  4. media globalization

Which of the following is not a risk of media globalization?

  1. The creation of cultural and ideological biases
  2. The creation of local monopolies
  3. The risk of cultural imperialism
  4. The loss of local culture

The government of __________ blocks citizens’ access to popular new media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Australia

Short Answer

Do you believe that technology has indeed flattened the world in terms of providing opportunity? Why or why not? Give examples to support your reason.

Where do you get your news? Is it owned by a large conglomerate (you can do a web search and find out!)? Does it matter to you who owns your local news outlets? Why or why not?

Who do you think is most likely to bring innovation and technology (like cell phone businesses) to Sub-Saharan Africa: nonprofit organizations, governments, or businesses? Why?

Further Research

Check out more on the global digital divide here:


Acker, Jenny C. and Isaac M. Mbiti. 2010. “Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24(3):207–232. Retrieved January 12, 2012 ([link]

Bagdikian, Ben H. 2004. The New Media Monopoly. Boston, MA: Beacon Press Books.

Bristow, Michael. 2011. “Can China Control Social Media Revolution?” BBC News China, November 2. Retrieved January 14, 2012 (

Compaine, B. 2005. “Global Media.” Pp. 97-101 in Living in the Information Age: A New Media Reader Belmont: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.

Friedman, Thomas. 2005. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

ITU News. 2009. “ITU Telecom World 2009: Special Report: Reflecting New Needs and Realities.” November. Retrieved January 14, 2012 (

Jan, Mirza. 2009. “Globalization of Media: Key Issues and Dimensions.” European Journal of Scientific Research 29:66–75.

Katine Chronicles Blog. 2010. “Are Mobile Phones Africa’s Silver Bullet?” The Guardian, January 14. Retrieved January 12, 2012 (

Ma, Damien. 2011. “2011: When Chinese Social Media Found Its Legs.” The Atlantic, December 18. Retrieved January 15, 2012 (

McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Pierson, David. 2012. “Number of Web Users in China Hits 513 Million.” Los Angeles Times, January 16. Retrieved January 16, 2012 (

The World Bank. 2008. “Global Economic Prospects 2008: Technology Diffusion in the Developing World.” World Bank. Retrieved January 24, 2012 (

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