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Preetam Kaushik

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Americanization of the Digital World

Posted: 14/07/2012 04:43

Have you ever noticed while watching Hollywood blockbusters how most of the calamities and disasters take place in the United States? If an alien space ship was attacking Earth, it would start with New York, or so the movies try to portray. And while the aliens attack places like Egypt and India, you catch a glimpse of people huddling next to the Pyramids and some folks with worried faces looking up to the sky while the Taj Mahal looms in the background. This is an example of the gross Americanization that has existed in the movies which also involves identifying third world countries with some clichéd stereotypes or structures. Not much has changed in the digital world as well, except for maybe in terms of representation - a huge chunk of data and information going around these days is actually from European, Asian and other non-American regions.

Even though the representation balance has shifted up to a certain extent, the way most of the data originates online, it shows a clear American way of thinking. Take the recent example of the Stop Kony 2012 campaign. The way this campaign was spread through viral comments on YouTube and the way forums on American sites like Reddit and Imgur lapped the entire hype up, shows a very clear parallel between American foreign policy and the aforesaid campaign itself. America has always been seen as a self-proclaimed "saviour" or democracy, especially by non-Americans. This perception has polarized a lot of people around the world, especially the ones from the Third World Nations or the more liberal European countries, the majority of which believes that America is trying to influence the world through its media monopoly which includes the digital world as well.

Stop Kony 2012 campaign started out with a good amount of hype and the cause of ousting a warlord in Africa seemed just at that time. However, in light of the recent important world events, much of which transpired in the Middle-East with the help of alternative media outlets, this campaign sort of faded out because the perception of most people around the world, who would have ideally supported such a campaign, pointed towards the fact that it was an American attempt at diverting the world's attention towards something when a lot of problems were being faced in United States itself. This was obviously in reference to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement that was sweeping the nation and was also finding among young liberal Americans who were trying to not only change the image of the country, but also change the way capitalism had almost ruined the economy and snatched the happiness of normal working class Americans.

Interestingly, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which used new age social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, was started by AdBusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication for both print and online media. Canada, as opposed to America, has traditionally been perceived as a more liberal and less overwhelming entity. The only negative digital scab under the Canadian tag recently has been the rise and epic fall of teen heartthrob Justin Bieber. An American agent saw Bieber's amateur videos online and decided to represent him and get him a recording deal. Bieber's first single sold millions but within a few days the internet was buzzling with opinion pieces and YouTube comments about how real music lovers do not consider Justin Bieber a talent but the exact opposite of it. A lot of these comments came from the US and soon people on the internet started using his name as a measure for how consumerism takes over talent in the music industry. If one were to search videos of some not-so-famous indie bands online, they can easily come across comments like "this is real music and yet Justin Bieber is a millionaire" or something along those lines. Funnily enough, consumerism is perhaps America's earliest gift (and curse) to the world.

If one were to look at the influence of American pop culture on the world in the early 20th century, one could find a lot of examples in the field of movies, advertising and even economy. With the rise of cinema in the 30's, American films were being shown all over the world and the lifestyle depicted in those films was also sold to the world through advertising agencies of that era. That was the rise of American consumerism. Right when it was at its peak, the Second World War broke out and the media started selling the American cause through Hollywood films starring the superstars of that time period. Post war, the world quickly divided itself on the basis of alliances with the two powers - USA and USSR. America, with all its free-market policies used the concepts of globalization to make its presence felt all across the developing world. The presence of Coca-Cola and McDonalds alone can tell us how influential the American way of life has been on the rest of the world. There is also a saying which goes, "the rate of inflation in a country can be measured by seeing how the price of a Big Mac changes".

The future of the digital world, however, might offer something more exciting than just an Americanization paradigm. Even America as we have known it so far, is changing rapidly and with the mix of cultures and the clash of opinions that can be seen today, digital globalization has become a two way traffic lane. America today is as influenced by the rest of the world as latter is by the former.

 

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