Geographic Implications of (Anti-)Social Media

“Someday we will build up a world telephone system, making necessary to all peoples the use of a common language or common understanding of languages, which will join all the people of the earth into one brotherhood. There will be heard throughout the earth a great voice coming out of the ether which will proclaim, ‘Peace on earth, good will towards men.'” – John J. Carty (Chief Engineer at AT&T, 1891) (Credit)

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The Internet has brought seemingly limitless information and media, literally, to our fingertips. I have watched my mother reconnect with grammar school friends on a social media site, even though that time was decades past and half a world away. The Internet, like the Post, Telegraph, Radio, Telephone, and Television, have also served to speed information between people at distances far greater than human perception would typically allow. But, there are a few key differences. First is the ubiquity of the Internet. It can be accessed from your phone, your computer, your tablet, from a coffee shop down the street, your 5th floor apartment, your workplace, mid-air, the middle of the ocean, and extra-terrestrially (Twitter). Another difference is the sheer volume of people able to access the information – the International Telecommunication Union estimates that in 2015 3.1 billion (or half the planet’s population) was using the Internet. Virtually everyone has a cell phone (seriously the statistic is 7,085,000,000; the 2015 estimated population for the planet is 7,200,000,000). And of course, programming within the Internet has made information accessible to even more users through automated translation. There is also the depth of interaction, were bandwidth to allow it, all 7 billion users could conceivably be in the same chat room at the same time, passing information back and forth. So why hasn’t Carty’s prediction come true?

Well, Z isn’t going to sort out this thornier philosophical issue for you (an excellent place to get started, however, is Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel,1970). Spoiler alert: academia still hasn’t come to an agreement (Z suspects the answer is both – nurture and nature, based on his observations).

The last 12-months has thrown into stark relief the impact that anti-social media (meant in its correct sense: unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people) has on engendering a distinctive anti-social environment.

To put it plainly, the Internet empowers demagogues and provides a platform where one can find supportive listeners, watchers, activists, and foot soldiers anywhere in the world.

The Internet has seemingly negated the role that Geography played in minimizing the impact that these individuals would have. Would a certain Florida-based pastor (turned Freedom/French fry chef and 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidate) been known outside the state 100 years ago, outside the country 50 years ago? Only to the devoted watcher. Also complicit in the rise of demagoguery is a willing mass media complex providing microphones and coverage for various rants (I’m sure you can find your own sources).

Anti-social media and its anti-social users can now draw on social media half a world away in order to push their own message.

(via BBC)

The above image was created by a (self-described) conservative Japanese woman (all from the BBC). The caption reads: “‘I want to live a safe and clean life, eat gourmet food, go out, wear pretty things, and live a luxurious life… all at the expense of someone else.’ ‘I have an idea. I’ll become a refugee.'” The artist posts to a social media page that also includes anti-Korean messages. As the BBC astutely points out immigration in Japan remains a controversial subject despite an ageing and declining population (regular Z Geography readers will no doubt recall failed public policy encourage Japanese Brazilians to immigrate to Japan).

The publication of this image immediately brought back memories (not even a month old, sadly) of the camerawoman for Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, who was video tapped ignominiously tripping and kicking two or three people running.

For the last month, Z Geography has watched the inevitable troll war in anonymous (and non-anonymous) comment sections around the Internet. Demagoguery has no shortage of willing participants. The Internet has flattened the Geography of Hate.

But what is shocking to Z Geography is the level of impersonal detachment shown by the camerawoman and female artist. One woman from one culture immersed in an ongoing human dilemma found it perfectly acceptable to kick a little girl as she ran by. While another woman from another culture thousands of miles away found it perfectly acceptably to create an  image based on a photo of another little girl to push a message of prejudice. Are we becoming desensitized to extremism? Probably.

But Z Geography’s bigger concern is whether this activity – cartoons, videos of kicking, and comments defending it all – serves to legitimize extremism. It is unfortunate that there isn’t a historical precedent for this sort of thing.

Oh wait.

(via wikipedia): From a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a Jew stabbing a German soldier in the back. World War 1 ended in 1918, the Holocaust began in 1941. At least 12,000 Jewish soldiers died serving Imperial Germany.

Disclaimer: Z Geography does not advocate the curbing of freedom of expression and artistry on the Internet (and sees all three as public goods, in both senses of the word).

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Japan’s Womenomics: a Demographic Perspective

Z Geography is out of town this weekend.

A 17 January (2014) USA Today article discusses Prime Minister (of Japan) Shinzo Abe’s proposal to expand child care and pressure on corporations to permit (up to) three years of maternity leave in an effort to increase women’s participation in the economy. Additionally, Abe reportedly instructed government ministries to “boost female workers and managers to 30% by 2020.” According to the article, the government believes these efforts will assist in reversing Japan’s “longtime economic slump” (though it is still the third-largest economy, behind the U.S. and People’s Republic of China).

Prime Minister Abe’s proposal will probably be meet with some indirect and subtle resistance, as the article notes. Women make up 42% of Japan’s workforce (compared to 47% in the U.S.) but only 11% of managers (43% in the U.S.). These statistics highlight whether the solution is rooted in women’s economic participation or, more likely, conservative attitudes preventing the employment of women in corporate leadership roles. As one quote illustrates “the business community is dominated by conservative, older-men who don’t’ want to let go of their privileges.” One observation casts doubt on the government’s motives, it has yet to introduce legislation to “strengthen labor or equal-opportunity” laws.

Taken together, Z Geography ventures that the government’s proposals have less to do with stoking an economic recovery through increased participation of women in the economy (which is the stated objective) and more to do with facilitating increased fertility for Japanese women already employed. True, more women will likely enter the economy thanks to increased child care opportunities and longer maternity leave – but these also benefit already employed women as well. Further as Z Geography and others have discussed, Japan faces a shrinking population (Stage 5 in the Demographic Transition Model) and increasing dependency ratio as proportionally fewer workers are economically available and the population of the elderly expands. These proposals, increasing child care and maternity leave, are likely aimed at increasing the fertility of women in Japan’s labor pool.

A country’s fertility rate is understood as the number of children that a woman will (probably) have over her child-bearing years. Thus, increasing the benefits (or subsidizing in this case) of child birth and rearing will spur employed women to have a child (or second or third). In the long term, these policies could increase the size of Japan’s labor pool, though this is uncertain. One uncertainty is how employed women react, for one women (and couples) may choose to have only one child, which is below replacement level fertility (2.1 children per couple with one child each for the parents and a “.1” child to account for those unable, or unwilling, to have children).

Over the short term, Z Geography questions the economic benefits of these proposals. Based on the statistics reported in the article, it seems that the problem lies not in the participation of women in the economy but a gendered “glass ceiling” that prevents their rise.

Finally, the government’s proposals ignore to other “quick” fixes for the economy and demography – immigration. Given that Prime Minister Abe and his party are considered “conservative” (according to the article), this is not unexpected. Despite this the influx of immigrants into Japan would facilitate an expansion of economic output (and the labor pool) while also increasing the birth rate. As one commenter in Z Geography observed (in no uncertain terms) however, national purity is at stake.

Population Decline: A Map

I’ve written a few times about demographics, most specifically population decline (see here, here, here, here, and here). Some time ago I volunteered to make a map showing those countries currently experiencing (i.e. in 2013) population decline. The results of this effort is below. The map uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base. In addition to current population decline, I also highlighted those countries estimated  to experience population decline in a decade (2023).

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

Population Decline (via U.S. Census, ME!)

In one of the earlier posts I discussed the eastern European concentration of declining populations. Currently, this belt of decline stretches from Russia to Germany and the Adriatic Sea (specifically to the former Yugoslavian republics of Croatia, Slovenia, and others). By 2023, Slovakia and Austria are also experiencing population decline. Reviewing the U.S. Census data, Austria is already experiencing a natural population decrease. However, immigration numbers are high enough to ensure a growing population. By 2023, immigration inflow isn’t enough to replace elderly Austrian citizens, who are dying of natural causes. The decline belt also spreads further west (to Belgium, Finland, and Portugal) and south (to Greece).

In addition to Europe, the East Asian region of decline also begins to emerge with South Korea joining Japan in experiencing negative population growth. By 2030, the People’s Republic of China joins South Korea and Japan with a declining population.

Finally, the United States is expected to continue grow about 0.8% per year in both time periods (2013 and 2023) due to a combination of natural increase (i.e. births being more numerous than deaths) and immigration (i.e. more immigrants than emigrants). Likewise, the United Kingdom and Canada also remain in positive growth due to the same factors.

Though nationalists would undoubtedly take issue with immigration as a policy tool to reverse demographic decline, it makes economic and demographic sense. After all, one of the problems associated with demographic decline is the greater burden that the elderly place on working adults. In less developed economies that burden is comprised of an overabundance of youth, where children are often a form of social security. In the advanced economies, there is far less pressure to have children. There is (typically) a social security program for the elderly as well as retirement and pension plans. Similarly, the cost for having children is also greater. Attempting to spur citizens into having more children would (probably) take decades of consistent policy, which is unlikely to happen (at least in a democracy). Such a policy would not only have to take into account the costs of children, but citizens’ (particularly the female citizens’) preferences.

In light of these challenges, why not encourage immigration?

Brazen Belligerents Bound for Blood over Borders?: India, Japan and China

Remember Samuel Huntington? The theorist behind the “clash of civilizations”? One of his comments that has stuck to me is the “bloody borders” of civilizations. For him, he pointed to “Islam’s” bloody border as evidence to the veracity of his hypothesis. Quick note: I’m not a big fan of Huntington’s theory, primarily from the point view of the modifiable area unit problem (MAUP alert!). Like any theory its over-extrapolation of… humans. As any person over the age of 20 knows, people are wildly different even within small communities.

But I also believe in salvaging aspects of theories that could still be useful. From Huntington, I like the idea of the bloody borders. Why? Mostly because it makes sense and I like reason and logic. While no one is going to be able to define what constitutes a “civilization” (unless you’re Sid Meier), we have plenty of states to examine. And states’ borders are just as bloody. I could fly into a nice tangent about the organic state in regards to bloody borders, but I’ll save that, but in addition to the unclear and missing state presence in borderlands, there’s also the issue of population. Population groups in borderland regions are apt to be very different from population groups in the capitals, there’s bound to be a number of minority groups (some might actually be the majority), and there’s also likely to be population groups in one country whose brethren (I use this term very loosely) are the majority group in another country. For one example, consider the Chakma/Marma population in Bangladesh (who are loosely related to Burmans in Burma) or the Rohingya population in Burma (who are loosely related to Bengalis in Bangladesh).

One state making headlines (depending on the paper you read) is China. And its borders are bloody. Yet. But they seem to be getting hotter. And I’m not even talking about the South China Sea. China grabbed (Indian) headlines this past weekend with a 10-kilometer incursion into the disputed territory of Ladakh in India. While a Times of India article noted that there have been 600 border violations (across all three sectors: Ladakh, Uttarakhand/Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh) India’s Ministry of Defense is concerned about the “brazen military assertiveness” of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. An official noted that the PLA is going increasingly deeper into Ladakh, in particular, with a potential aim to stake “claims” in the disputed area (planting the flag). In this latest incident, the PLA erected a tent. And haven’t moved. Another Times article notes that the act of erecting a permanent structure (a tent) violates a “Sino-Indian” agreement on managing the disputed border.

In other words, its an escalation. Typically, both sides would retreat to their respective lines after a face-off and flag-waving. While the Indian border guards did so, the PLA pitched a tent and spent the night. The Indian border guards pitched a tent as well, a tit-for-tat escalation (guess the agreement’s void now). Senior military-leader meetings are being held but they have been inconclusive in resolving the dispute. India’s is keeping the option of “rushing troops” to Ladakh, if needed. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out that it did nothing wrong and is merely patrolling the line of actual control (LAC, which nominally divides China and India).

In the BBC’s headlines, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that Japan would respond, with force, “if any attempt is made to land on disputed islands” in the East China Sea. As the article points out, the issue over the Senkaku/Diaoyu (Japanese and Mandarin names respectively) islands was reignited last year when the Japanese state purchased three of the islands from a private owner (“nationalizing” them).

Are these two groups of countries, India-China, Japan-China, heading for a violent conflict? Hard to tell. Violent inter-state conflict is becoming harder to discern these days. Gone are the days when an ambassador was summoned and war declared by a representative body or person of the body politic. I doubt anyone could predict such a cataclysmic event like the beginning of a war. What we can say, however, is that tensions are getting hotter (how hot would be the subject of a research paper, not a blog post). New lines are being crossed: China pitching a tent, Prime Minister Abe mentioning force. But these are a long way from someone pulling a trigger (or pushing a button). But as tensions raise, we have to wonder – how many other levers are there to pull to escalate a situation? And which lever, pulled with the intention to demonstrate resolve, accidentally ignites a conflict?

A lot of this is outside the scope of (political) Geography, of course. For me, the real interest is how these tensions are manifesting in the physical and human landscapes. Why Ladakh? Why the Senkakus? These are discussion points worth their own posts, but to me, Ladakh because there are so few people (civilians) there. Of the four areas listed (Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh) Ladakh has the lowest population density (less than 10 people per square mile). If violence were to erupt, due to a miscalculation by the Chinese or the Indians, it would be largely isolated in a far-flung region dominated by mountains and glaciers. The Senkakus are more than just a set of rocks in the Pacific. They have potential economic value, thanks to local fisheries and underwater petroleum reserves. Beyond this they are symbolic, they are tied up in the turbulent history of East Asia, especially between China and Japan. Though I haven’t read it yet, Council on Foreign Relations published an article this month for “contingency planning” purposes.