Globalization and Technology
In this article, we shall examine the relationship between globalization and technology in international relations. We will examine how technology is related to globalization, as well as ways in which actors (such as companies, or individuals) can use technology for improving their businesses or lives. In addition, we shall also examine any challenges between globalization and technology; we will discuss any problems with increased technologies on domestic societies and communities, as well as the global community.
Networks in the Context of Globalization and Technology
Globalization and technology has allowed (and provided) a number of benefits for individuals. For example, with the rise of technology has come the ability to develop and increase networks of individuals throughout the world. Now, the notion of network development is not new. For example, one of the most influential works on networks as it relates to human rights is Keck and Sikkink’s (1998) work Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, in which they show how networks of activists were able to not only pressure states to act on international human rights issues, but that they were also able to do it in a very successful way, fostering global change on issues such as women’s suffrage.
However, with the rise of globalization and technology, we are still seeing transnational networks, however, many of them are taking the form of what some call “a network society” (Castells, 2015). According to Castells (2015), “[a] network society is a society whose social structure is made around networks activated by microelectronics-based, digitally processed information and communications technology” (122).
Some argue that this technological advancement–through global network societies, has been a key component in globalization. As Castells (2015) writes, “the forces driving globalization could only be effectuated because they have at their disposal the global networking capacity provided by digital communication technologies and information systems, including computerized, long-haul, fast, transportation networks” (Kiyoshi et. al. 2006; Grewal, 2008)” (122). Furthermore, these networks affect all aspects of society, whether it is the markets, production, distribution, or other elements of commerce, as well as politics, education, media, sports, art, etc… (Castells, 2015).
Below we shall discuss how these globalizing networks are categorized, as we’ll as offer a couple of examples of the effects of globalization and technology.
Categories of Globalization and Technology
According to Archibugi & Pietrobelli (2002), there are three primary categories related to the globalization of technologies. They are
1. The international exploitation of nationally produced technology;
2. The global generation of innovation;
3. Global technological collaborations.
They explain that “[t]he aim of this taxonomy is to classify individual innovations according to the ways in which they are produced, exploited and diffused internationally” (865).
In terms of the first category of exploitation of nationally produced technology, they explain that “The oldest form which firms have used to profit from their innovations in overseas markets is to trade products with a technology-based competitive advantage. New products and processes have often been exempted from trade restrictions since the importing countries were not able to generate competitive domestic alternatives, or to device timely restrictions to trade” (866). However, along with this, companies can also make money related to the new technologies by selling patents, for example. Now this is not a sure way for them to profit, particularly since it does assume that the country will have the ability to buy the patent and then themselves work on the technology (866). In addition to these approaches, they also argue that “[t]here is a third important form of exploiting the innovation generated at home in overseas markets: to install FDI productive facilities in host countries and produce in loco new products and processes” (866).
The second category they note is that of the “global generation of innovation” where it “includes innovations generated by single proprietors on a global scale” (867). This could be various actions of transnational corporations that offer expertise and development within their home state or to other countries (867).
The last category is the “global technological collaborations” which take place “when two different firms decide to establish joint ventures with the aim of developing technical knowledge and/or products. Three conditions need to be respected: (i) the joint venture should be something more than an occasional and informal collaboration; (ii) firms preserve their ownership; (iii) the bulk of the collaboration is related to sharing know-how and/or the generation of new products and processes (see Mowery , p. 347)” (in Archibugi & Pietrobelli, 2002: 686).
Case Studies of Globalization and Technology
There are limitless cases of how globalization and technology are related. We can go back throughout human history and examine the history of globalization and look at the role of fire, for example, and how that allowed humans to stay warm, to cook food, as well as to control their land and agriculture. We can look at the rise of printing press, running water, sewers, automobiles, etc… However, in this section, we shall examine a few modern day case studies that help illustrate the relationship between globalization and technology.
American Clothing in Tanzania
One example with regards to how globalization and technology are strongly interrelated can be seen when looking at Tanzania, and in particular, with the context of clothing in the country. In work by Rivoli (2015), most of the males in the society are seen as wearing t-shirts that have come from global north states, and more particularly, have been discarded by those living in thiese countries (94). These clothes are referred to as mitumba. Past political leaders have taken issue with the shipment of these clothes to global south stets. For example, according to Rivoli (2015), “Julius Nyerere would turn over in his grave at the sight of it: Used clothing from the West was among the first imports banned under his prideful policy of Socialism with Self-Reliance” (94).
The reason for this can be seen when looking at the cost of such clothing in the country. When looking at the clothing market, one can see how and why prices for clothing is very low in the country, allowing individuals to have access to these products. Speaking about the market for Western styled clothes in Tanzania, Rivoli (2015) writes that “[t]he market mechanism in African mitumba markets is considerably more flexible than in an American department store. The Dockers with waist sizes in the low 30s sell for more than those with sizes in the 40s…Otherwise-identical polo shirts can vary in price as well, with more popular colors and sizes commanding a premium. Prices [also] trend up at the end of the month when many workers get paid, but drift lower during periods between paychecks” (95). Interestingly, Rivoli (2015) also argues that clothing prices vary depending on gender. Speaking on this issue, Rivoli (2015) argues that “both supply and demand influences lead to significant price discrimination against the men. First, because Western women buy many more clothes than men, they throw away more clothes as well. Ed Stubin estimates that the truckloads arriving from the Salvation Army contain between two and three times as much women’s clothing as men’s.” He also argues that the women’s clothing is in better shape than the men’s clothing, that seems to be more worn. In addition, when looking at the supply of the clothing, there is more women’s clothes that are of better condition available than men’s clothing” (95).
Related to this, the is actually a detailed approach for sellers to purchasing the clothing, and how (and for how much) they can sell them for. For example, Rivoli (2015) talks about one seller, Geofrey, who knows what the market value is for certain brands, and also bases his purchases on the country of origin, preferring clothing that has been sorted in the United States, because he believes that the better quality shirts may be in those bales more so than if sorted elsewhere. And others seem to also believe that bales may only have a few great pieces, but that they can pay for rest of the bunch purchased.
Thus, sellers are strategic in their business approaches, and there is even a market for having access to the bales of clothing. For example,
“[m]any importers order clothing in larger bales, say 500 or even up to 1,500 pounds, which are too large for a single dealer to purchase. In these cases, the importer or wholesaler hosts a party of sorts, to which Geofrey and his peers will try to cadge an invitation. Sometimes, the dealers will pay 1,000 to 2,000 schillings ($1 to $2) to be invited. There are refreshments and a competitive camaraderie leading up to the highlight of the party: the breaking open of the bale. The bale breaking is a highlight, because only if mitumba dealers can see the breaking with their own eyes can they be sure that the jewels have not been skimmed, and in a large bale from the United States, the chances of valuable jewels are high…” (97).
Rivoli (2015) goes on to say that “[t]he wholesaler breaks the bale and the melee begins. A 1,000-pound bale might contain up to 3,000 articles of clothing, and almost every bale-will contain surprises. The dealers begin a competitive rummaging and quickly pull out the jewels.. Multiple mini-auctions for the jewels take place simultaneously: The spotless Nike attracts offers of $1, which quickly rise to $1.50 and then $2…” (97).
This story illustrates how globalization and technology can have an impact on the lives of many, often ways that we don’t usually think about technology in the international system. Here, because of technological advancements, companies or organizations can send clothes to anywhere in the world, and because of this, individuals can purchase clothing, clothing from sellers who operate with the goal of buying these clothes that are shipped in from outside states.
Challenges with Globalization and Technology
There has been a tendency by some to suggest that the development of technology in one country can be easily applied any other contexts. Those who argue this often support the idea of globalization as it relates to technological developments and advancements; one push in technology can have benefits for many more through the world, not merely to use the product, but to develop the technology within different countries. The hope would be that doing this would provide many benefits for countries to further economically develop.
However, there are many problems with these assumptions. For example, as Daniele Archibugi & Carlo Pietrobelli (2002) point out (by citing Nelson (1981), “first of all, no existing technique is completely expressed by the sum and combination of their material inputs and the codified information about it. In fact, much of the knowledge on how to perform elementary processes and on how to combine them efficiently is tacit, not easibly embodied, nor codifiable or readily transferable, and ‘a firm will not be able to know with certainty all the things it can do, and certainly will not be able to articulate explicitly how it does what it does’ (Nelson , p. 84). This means that technology is not simply a set of blueprints, or of instructions, that if followed exactly will always produce the same outcome. Although two producers in the same circumstances may use identical material inputs with equal information available, they may nonetheless employ two really distinct techniques due to their different understanding of the tacit elements (863).
Another challenge that they point out relates to the access of that technology. Citing Nelson (1981: 6), they state that “technology is not instantaneously and costlessly accessible to any firm: a firm does not simply select the preferred option from the freely available international technology shelf, as there may be obstacles and difficulties in obtaining the desired technology. Simply choosing and acquiring a technique does not imply operating it efficiently (‘at best practice’). Individual firms do not have a complete knowledge of all the possible technological alternatives, their implications and the skills and information they require. The individual firm does not know the entire production curve, illustrating an infinite number of alternatives, as neo-classical theory assumes. To the extent technologies are tacit, firm production sets are fuzzy around the edges (Nelson , p. 84)”. Thus, it takes a great deal of time and attention for companies to have access and to foster this technology. But, even though firms may commit themselves to trying to have access to this technology through education, just because they attempt to reach their goals does not in any way mean that they will necessarily do so; they could invest a lot of time and energy to this technology, with little results at the end (Archibugi & Pietrobelli, 2002).
Globalization and Technology in the Context of Privacy
The rise of globalization and technology has not left some without questions about what the future of that relationship will look like for our lives. As technology improves (as it always has), what are the implications on us? How will these developments affect our lives. One way in which this question clearly shows itself is with the context of rising technology and its relationship to privacy and information issues.
We live in a world that is becoming more and more adaptable to us. We have the ability to input our information into programs, which in turn can help tailor what products we see by what are interests are. There is a focus on “you”, a very personal attention to the individual. However, while this might seem to benefit us, according to some scholars such as Siva Vaidhyanathan (2015), “[t]he emphasis on “you,” however, is only a smokescreen for what is actually happening online. The Googlization of everything entails the harvesting, copying, aggregating, and ranking of information about and contributions made by each of us. This process exploits out profound need to connect and share, and our remarkable ability to create together–each person contributing a little bit to a poem, a song, a quilt, or a conversation. It is not about “you” at all. It is about “us–The Googlization of us (127).
Much of this has to do with the information that Google (and other companies such as Facebook, for example) collect about the individual, and in turn, what is done with the data. For example, companies such as Google collect this data about what we search, and then show ads based on those search terms. As Vaidhyanathan (2015) explains, “[b]ecause Google makes its money by using our profiles to present us with advertisements keyed to the words we search, precision is the goal. Google wants advertisers to trust that the people who see their paid advertisements are likely customers for the advertised products or services” (128). Vaidhyanathan (2015) goes on to argue that “These advertisers have little interest in broadcasting. That’s a waste of money. The more Google knows about us, the more effective its advertising services can be” (128). Now, companies can pay to have their ads placed higher on the search engines when one searches a term. They also pay for clicks through their ads to their websites.
This question about data related to search engines like Google pose a difficult challenge to the individual. How much data should one share, and what is the company doing with the data? Now, Google does allow individuals to get out of the data system that Google uses. However, according to some, “…as long as control over our personal information and profiles is granted at the pleasure of Google and similar companies, such choices mean very little. There is simply no consistency, reciprocity, or accountability in the system. We must constantly monitor fast-changing “privacy policies.” We must be willing to walk away from a valuable service if its practices cause of concern” (128). This has been part of the concern, that because of quickly changing privacy policies, those providing information may not be keeping up with what is transpiring.
Much of the debate about globalization and technology is related to the relationship between the data provider (citizens) and companies that collect data (such as Google). How much, are we, as individuals, willing to give up about ourselves? Another case with regards to issues of privacy with data is the one with the company Facebook. For example, “In November 2007…[w]ith minimal warning, Facebook instituted what it called its Beacon program, which posted notes about users’ Web purchases in their personal news feeds on Facebook profiles. So if a user had purchased a gift for a friend on one of the Web commerce sites that were partners in the program, the purchase would be broadcast to all of the person’s Facebook associates…” (Vaidhyanathan, 2015: 132). And because of this, along with some security issues in 2010 with regards to data, many people protested Facebook by closing quitting the social media site (Vaidhyanathan, 2015).
Thus, with the rise of globalization and technology, there will be a number of benefits for individuals, as well as concerns. On the positive side, there are new opportunities for growth in sectors such as business, as well as education. However, there are also new challenges. For example, with the ability of companies to collect more and more data, there will clearly be discussions about individual privacy, and what companies can (and should) do with that data. Globalization and technology advancements will not come without new questions and thoughts about how we navigate this new space when it comes to our role (and comfort levels) with what can be done with this new technology.
Archibugi, D. & Pietrobelli, C. (2002) The Globalisation of Technology and Its Implications For Developing Countries: Windows of Opportunity Or Further Burden?, Technology Forecasting and Social Change, pages 861-883.
Castells, M. (2015). The Global Network Society. Chapter 9, in in Manfred B. Steger (2015). The Global Studies Reader. Oxford University Press.
Grewal, D. (2008). Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization. New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University Press.
Keck, M.E. & Sikkink, K. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, New York. Cornell University Press.
Kiyoshi, K., Lakhsmanan, T.R, & Anderson, W.P. (2006). Structural Changes in Transportation and Communication in the Knowledge Society. Northampton, Massachusetts, Edward Elgar.
Mowery, D. (1992). International collaborative ventures and the commercialization of new technologies, in: N. Rosenberg, R. Landau, D. Mowery (Eds.), Technology and the Wealth of Nations, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA, pp. 345–380.
Nelson, R.R. (1981). Research on productivity growth and productivity differences: dead ends and new departures, J. Econ. Lit. 19, pages 1029–1064.
Rivoli, P (2015). Chapter 6, How Small Entrepreneurs Clothe East Africa with Old American T-Shirts, pages 93-102, in Manfred B. Steger (2015). The Global Studies Reader. Oxford University Press.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2015). Chapter 10, The Googlization of Us, in Manfred B. Steger (2015). The Global Studies Reader. Oxford University Press.