“We live in the information age!”

 

A statement we hear time and again but, what does it actually mean? For starters, information and more specifically reliable information has become today’s most valued exchangeable commodity. However, current discourses are not only about what constitutes information today but also about the ownership of that information. And, this is exactly where it gets tricky…

For the ownership debate to materialise, we need to define information. Combining the ideas of Hacking (1983), Balbaves and Caputi (2000), I understand that information is seen as a social phenomenon which requires different styles of reasoning for it to be considered real or to be construed as natural order. So basically, ‘information’ are the combination of systems of construct in overlapping spaces which may involve individual belief systems to family units to an entire state to  the world.

Following the above framework, I will briefly mention some of the styles of reasoning for information. Some of them are information as medium, information as order, information as cognitions, information as uncertainty, information as code, information as being informed, and lastly information as commodity (refer to End note 1). These are definitive classifications  of modern information tending to be more discipline driven however, even with inter- and multi disciplinary approach, understanding the characteristics of information is hard. Levitan (1980, 244 ) suggests that while information is an infinitely variable where each discipline has its own style of reasoning , it is also equally all-pervasive as its everywhere and even beyond.

To put it casually, we are not swimming in information, we are drowning in it.

Coming to the ownership aspect, there are copyright and intellectual property rights laws and regulations where it is expected that  the rightful authors are paid for their contribution. While this is true, another aspect to look at is the concept of information commons. It is about the freedom of access of  information for all which can only happen if it is under a public domain, just like what libraries. Most debates from here usually raise questions like who decides what information can be shared publicly, what happens if information ownership by private actors takes effect, if all information is for the public domain then why are some hidden in plain sight, etc.

I would now like to talk about censorship of the flow of information in China. According to China Daily, China recorded 688 million netizens or internet user that is, one in every two Chinese people. Out of which, 90.1% are mobile internet users. However, what’s really interesting is that its cyber security, popularly known as the great Firewall of China, is one of the most sophisticated in the world. What does it mean?

Well, China has its own version of the world wide web or the Chinese cyberspace. This cyberspace is protected by its great firewall meaning that information existing on it is filtered. To top it all, there have been news talking about President Xi’s visit to the State’s top media houses asking for their full- cooperation. In a country where all news  is released after official State scrutiny, the reality of information becomes obscure.

Moreover, China has been actively involved in setting up of new internet laws and policies,  tackling of news spreading via social media, plan for banning all foreign media from publishing online in China raises so many doubts are all part of strengthening the reach of its firewall.

 

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The reason China gives for this increased scrutiny is for maintaining social order and protecting the people. Its also why some films like Blue Mountain, Hero, Raise the Red Lantern and Ju-dou either have different versions (for international and domestic audiences respectively), undergo serious censorship or are banned entirely. Similarly, Baidu and Wechat exists in the Chinese universe (analogous to the Marvel universe) because the Chinese cyberspace itself is a construction (like all other constructions).

It’s almost like Chinese netizens are living in their own Chinese bubble in an ever so globalising world. This aspect of closeness is in stark contrast to the openness of the Chinese economy. And the reason why it is especially mind boggling is because the Chinese State is taking proactive steps and going through great lengths for the same.

It is awesome and confusing at the same time. Cyberspace is one space where transnationalism truly materialises however, with China, it seems that even it has boundaries that need security.

In conclusion, I feel that we live a convoluted world with highly self-convoluted systems. We are trapped in our own game, with death being our only true escape. There is always something new happening and information sovereignty is the next new thing.

End Notes

Refer to Chapter 6:Classics in reasoning about information and its ownership for detailed individual explanation (Balnaves, M., Hemelryk Donald, S. and Shoesmith, B. (2008) ‘Chapter 6: Classics in Reasoning about Information and its Ownership’, in Media theories and approaches: A global perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 110–119.).

References

  1. Balnaves, M., Hemelryk Donald, S. and Shoesmith, B. (2008) ‘Chapter 6: Classics in Reasoning about Information and its Ownership’, in Media theories and approaches: A global perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 110–119.
  2. Balnaves, M., Caputi, P. and Oad, L. (2000) ‘A THEORY OF SOCIAL ACTION: WHY PERSONAL CONSTRUCT THEORY NEEDS A SUPERPATTERN COROLLARY’, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 13(2), pp. 117–134. doi: 10.1080/107205300265919.
  3. Denyer, S. (2015a) Chinese companies face culture shock in countries that aren’t like china. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/chinese-companies-face-culture-shock-in-countries-that-arent-like-china/2015/08/14/a048eb64-3bbd-11e5-88d3-e62130acc975_story.html?utm_term=.e5598d083cbd (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  4. Denyer, S. (2015b) Is this North Korea? Chinese netizens squirm as party tightens grip on Internet. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/is-this-north-korea-chinese-netizens-squirm-as-party-tightens-grip-on-internet/2015/01/28/79cfc809-21ea-4437-9d4b-5ece2cfc75f6_story.html?utm_term=.5f7dfe8bde22 (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  5. Denyer, S. (2016a) China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinas-scary-lesson-to-the-world-censoring-the-internet-works/2016/05/23/413afe78-fff3-11e5-8bb1-f124a43f84dc_story.html?utm_term=.2bee01145554 (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  6. Denyer, S. (2016b) China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinas-scary-lesson-to-the-world-censoring-the-internet-works/2016/05/23/413afe78-fff3-11e5-8bb1-f124a43f84dc_story.html?utm_term=.2bee01145554 (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  7. Matharu, H. (2016) China set to ban all foreign media from publishing online. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-set-to-ban-all-foreign-media-from-publishing-online-a6883366.html (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  8. Phillips, T. (2016) Chinese magazine challenges government over censorship. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/08/chinese-magazine-challenges-government-censorship-organ (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
  9. TAM, P.-W., KESSEL, J.M., MOZUR, P., WONG, E., PIAO, V., PERLEZ, J., FENG, E., RAMZY, A., BUCKLEY, C., TATLOW, D.K., BARBOZA, D., LEVIN, D., GUO, O. and FORSYTHE, M. (2016) Internet censorship in china. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/topic/destination/internet-censorship-in-china (Accessed: 6 December 2016).
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