What is the Relationship between Diffussion of Innovations and Political Activism?

The eruption of political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months has captured much of the attention from media in all of its forms and outlets. As a woman who was born and raised in Damascus, Syria this period in time is history in the making, and therefore, of strong emotional connection as well as special interest to me.  In particular, the call for freedom and reform which is currently sweeping the Arab world has triggered my urge and curiosity to look back in time and reflect on some of the most major political movements and the factors leading to their development.  

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Annotated Bibliography


Main Idea:

Are ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) helping mobilize political activism? Is there a connection between the success/failure of a political movement and the political culture or environment it rises from? How were communication tools leveraged to amplify the message? What role did technology play in forming communities and assembling political movements? Several political events will be discussed to assess the connection between the outcome of political movements (their success or failure) and the political
environments these movements rise from (Democratic vs. repressive), and to examine how new forms of communication may have changed the playing field even in less liberated countries in uniting people across great distances under one common goal and reshaping the political and cultural landscape.


1)     Past: The Spanish Civil War (1936) and South African Anti-Apartheid Movement (1950s)

2)     Present: Tiananmen Square movement (1989)

3)     Future: Iranian Presidential Elections protests (2009) and the series of revolts in the Middle East and North Africa (2010-2011)


Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D., & Roth, E. A. (2004). Seeing what’s next: using the theories of innovation to predict industry change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

The main idea in the first chapter of this book discusses the concept of Disruptive Innovation; the event in which a certain innovation has improved a product or a service in ways the market didn’t expect by lowering costs or creating a whole new set of consumers I will be leveraging the concept of Disruptive Innovations in my argument that mobile devices and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter may have contributed to the series of revolts beginning with the Iranian Presidential Elections protests (2009) and ending with the series of uprisings we are currently witnessing in the Middle East and
North Africa (2010-2011). Christensen concludes that Disruptive Innovations such as the Internet are empowering individuals across great distances to unite under one common cause.  Another aspect of his book which I wall also use in my argument is understanding Signals of Change and how certain communication technologies are reshaping cultural norms and assisting in changing the political landscape.

Williams, F., Strover, S. and Grant, A. E. (1994). Social aspects of new media technologies. In J. Bryant J.  & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

There are 2 main concepts I would like to leverage from this book in supporting my argument around the impact new social media tools may have had in empowering individuals and forming groups. The first concept as explained by the authors is Uses and
Gratification: When a certain product or service fulfills a need for those who are seeking it encouraging them to adopt it. My proposal is that new digital communication tools such as Facebook, You Tube and Twitter have fulfilled a desperate need, specifically for citizens in less-democratic countries such as in China and the Arab world, enabling individuals to practice a much needed freedom of speech and demand democracy. Critical Mass of email communication for example, is the second concept I will reference arguing that email technology facilitated the unmonitored information and free opinion sharing among
protestors in Muslim countries in recent years which resulted in a shift in the cultural and political landscapes.

Wright, T. (2001). The perils of protest: state repression and student activism in china and Taiwan. Political Science Quarter (March 22, 2003). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

This book to explain the outcome of two different movements; the protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing (China), and the students’ peaceful movement in Taiwan. I will be using the findings in this book specifically to shed light on the failure of political activism in less democratic and repressive political environments (china), contrasted with the success of political movements in more liberated political environments (Taiwan). I also plan to use the same logic in touching on the recent uprisings and revolts in the Middle East and
North Africa and how new communication tools may have changed the connection between a movement’s success and the political culture is exploded from.

Fidler, R. (1997). Mediamorphosis: understanding new media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

I will be mainly referencing this book to discuss the barriers facing early communication technologies such as the telegraph and radio and analyzing how those barriers may have impacted the adoption behavior by individuals during early political uprisings such as the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the South African Anti-Apartheid movement in the 1950s,
thus influencing the effectiveness (or not) of these events. The main objective in referencing this book is to leverage the historical timeline positioned in this book in looking at each of the five political events I am focusing on in evaluating the market’s situation/readiness at the time and how certain newly-introduced communication technologies may have helped or halted the success of these movements.

Garrett, K. R. (2006). Protest in an information society: A review of literature on social movements and new ICTs  (Vols. 9 -2, Information, Communication & Society ed., pp. 202-224). Tandif, UK: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

This book will help explain the framework around which political activism may have developed and that way it changed how people communicate, collaborate and demonstrate. Impact of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as cell phones, email and the World Wide Web are directly connected to the emergence of social/political movements, specifically the role low-cost ICTs played in uniting groups under one common cause and in facilitating conversations across the field.  What is valuable in this book is that it pulls examples from the past such as the civil rights mobilization efforts in the 1950s and 1960s as well as more recent history events such as the World Bank Protest in 2002 demonstrating alignment across different groups and over
different points in time.

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing

I will be leveraging Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs in taking a closer look at the social and cultural implications caused by new communication technologies such as the formation of virtual communities and the strong bonds created from online relationships regardless of vast time and geographical distances. This is a crucial point to use in
support my argument on why the Iranian Presidential Elections protests in 2009
may have had a notable impact over the outcome of the elections resulting in a
political change and a shift in mindset. I will also touch on Rheingold’s breakthrough prediction that mobile and pervasive technologies will reach further into our lives by
selecting a couple of current examples (10 years after this book was written) to illustrate his accuracy and incredible insight. Indeed new media has  changed the way people cooperate these days as opposed to an innate desire to exist in groups; small groups without the need for regulatory authority or coercive means for serving the public good of the whole group.

Rosen, S. (2001). The power of Tiananmen: State-society relations and the 1989 Beijing movement by Dingxin Zhao. Political Science Quarterly (March 22, 2003). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

This book consolidates the learnings and insights of interviews conducted 10 years later with witnesses who were present during the Tiananmen Square Protests in Beijing back in 1989. I will be using the findings of these interviews and the analysis it produced in arguing that the political environment/infrastructure for any given country plays a key
role in challenging cultural norms.  I will also be investigating the role of communication technologies at the time (fax, other) in mobilizing the crowds and organizing the protests with the absence of normal organizational forces.  A key component which I plan to touch on as well is the strategy adopted by the Chinese government in blocking foreign media access to the country and allowing only domestic and local news companies to report on the event, which I will use to address the increasingly important and effective role the media is playing in informing the public and building up world view/support.

History Repeats Itself!

History Repeats Itself – Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media

Fidler, R. (1997). Mediamorphosis: understanding new media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

Is history repeating itself? I couldn’t help but notice points of commonality between the barriers which accompanied the emergence of certain communication technologies in the 19th century and early 20th century, and challenges facing the rise of social media tools as means of communication in our time. Roger Fidler’s Mediamorphosis: Understanding New Media discusses the challenges which faced early developing communication
technologies such as telegraph, telephony and radio, and which I intend to contrast
with the ones facing more recent communication technologies such as Facebook. Continue reading

Is Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs worth your time?

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Social Scientists and their Theories on New Media

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Communication Tools and Political Dissidents – Past and Present

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Why did the Concorde retire from service?

In 1969, the world’s first SST (Supersonic Transport) passenger airliner took first flight from Toulouse, France and entered service a few years later in 1976. The aircraft was considered one of the safest for travel when considering the passenger to deaths ratio, however, it was retired from service on November 26th, 2003 after 27 years of operation and with only 20 units built.

Interestingly, the life of the Concorde offers theories relevant to the signals of change which were discussed in Clayton Christensen’s; Seeing What’s Next such as catering to non-consumers, to catering to overshot and then undershot customers.

First of all, the making of the Concorde was considered a huge technological step forward, symbolizing the spirit and aspirations of many in Europe who worked hard for years to bring this aircraft to life, while responding to the hopes and dreams of frequent business travelers worldwide. Undoubtedly, the airliner entered the market as a disruptive innovation in terms of speed of travel with no competition in sight – Consider this for a disruptive innovation: The Concorde takes off at 220 knots (250mph) compared with 165 knots for most subsonic aircrafts. It cruises at around 1350mph – about 1 3/4 times the speed of sound and at an altitude of up to 60,000 feet (over 11 miles high). A typical London to New York crossing would take a little less than three and a half hours as opposed to about eight hours for a subsonic flight. When travelling westwards, the five-hour time difference meant Concorde effectively arrived before she left. It comes as no surprise that back then it was widely assumed that this would in turn open up a new market to compete within. But as more and more companies were no longer able to afford expensive business travel in response to increased costs and security measures following the 9/11 events in 2001, many corporations and business travelers turned to alternate options, mainly flying the traditional jets such as the Boeing 747 and 777. This forced the Concorde to compete against far less expensive possibilities and shifted the playing field from being the only competitor in the market catering to undershot customers to a mere opportunity of upmarket sustaining innovation for overshot customers.  

Although British Airways reported significant profits from operating the Concorde in its prime time – approximately 70 million Euros annually back in the 1980s, the Concorde later was deemed unprofitable by both British Airways and Air France due to increased maintenance costs and environmental considerations. Many would argue, however, that the real reason behind retiring the Concorde from service in 2003 was due to non-market factors, namely it’s only crash in Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Paris on April 10th, 2003 bringing to an end the era of supersonic passenger transportation.  Others, including an aviation engineer whom I sat next to during a flight back from Philly this weekend, believe that the Concorde would have remained in operation until this day had the aircraft been manufactured here in the US vs. Aerospatiale; a syndicate of highly bureaucratic/ previously state-owned European companies.

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