Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Far From The Maddening Crowd

The so-called blogosphere is densely populated--like Barbados. I wont get hung up about numbers too much (see World Internet Users and Population Statistics 2008), because it's the magnitudes and trends that matter. The 2008 data show that Internet usage has skyrocketed, rising nearly 350% since 2000--from 360 million users to some 1.6 billion. While growth has been spectacular in all regions, the developed world has seen slower growth (i.e., less than the world average) than the so-called developing world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the growth was about 870%, but that is dwarfed by Middle East (+1300%) and Africa (+1100%). However, developed countries show much wider penetration (around 50-75%) while the other regions are struggling to reach 25%, reflecting both an earlier start and more wealth to be able to facilitate the spread of computer ownership and Internet use.

Trying to be visible in a field that large is hard; trying to be relevant is even harder. I do not think that any of the local blogs are in the stellar area in world terms. The numbers are good, but let's be realistic: the Caribbean is still small potatoes. No doubt, those of us who try to make an online contribution think that what we put out has a wide audience--I stress wide, rather than large. The Caribbean's problem is both amount of recognition as well as extent. It's too funny to me to recall an American tourist who asked, "Where in Jamaica is Barbados?" (with that drawl that gives Bah-bey-doze).

I read very few blogs regularly: that's confined to the other locals blogs that produce many entries daily--Barbados Underground and Barbados Free Press; The Huffington Post; The Onion. Each is very different; I love the irreverence of The Onion, both in its writing and in its videos. See the video below.

White House Reveals Obama Is Bipolar, Has Entered Depressive Phase

Thank goodness that satire is alive and well somewhere, because it is woefully--repeat, woefully--absent in Barbados. I exclude "The Worm" cartoon and "The Lowdown" column (by Richard Hoad).

I also look at blogs related to a whole host of regular publications, such as The Times, Newsweek, The Economist, New York Times, and on broadcast media like CNN, as stories get my interest. Newspapers blogging in Barbados? We looking at it. The Jamaica-Gleaner and The Observer have been blogging for a while and doing it well--I recall the excellent coverage with words, pictures and videos during last year's hurricanes. In Barbados, the newspapers are wuking up a plan, I guess. But I really don't care. The general coverage is so poor I cannot see anything to look forward to on a blog, which currently whispers "Coming soon".

What I know from the direct contacts I have here and from correspondence I receive is that my blog informs well a certain audience. Other blogs have their styles and their following; their information content I cannot truly judge. Many allegations fly around and I don't have so much interest in chasing every 'ambulance' like a yapping dog. Quite naturally, I guess, the local blogs display in content and commentary strong political and national biases. That is good, because you get an idea of how to treat material if you can see that it is partisan. For a foreigner, it takes time to understand what the biases are and which are really strong and which are mere posturing. In that quest, I am glad to have a number of experienced observers and participants in local news and politics. I also do a lot of casual checking of interest. Just asking a question about a topic seen in the newspaper or blogs can reveal a lot. Often, people are not as well informed about local goings on as I seem to be. But, I guess I have fallen into the information business. Still, I find that interesting.

Many people use their Internet access to bypass or supplement local reporting; some people like to get printed copies of foreign papers, daily or weekly, as well as reading the periodicals, such as Time. What goes on in Barbados is not so Earth shattering most of the time. When I mentioned Crop Over to people in New York last fall, most reacted by asking me "Drop over, when?" I did not dare ask if they had heard about how well the Red Plastic Bag had done.

I try to give information that is reliable or at least checkable, often tagging well respected sources--mainly very reputable newspapers. I use Wikipedia, but am leery of its veracity. I often try to do a double check to see if the same story or information is reported independently in at least two places--any monkey can reproduce press copy.

But, I am going to try to do something in coming weeks. I think few people who read my blog regard its style and content and tone as anything like the other local blogs. I breathe a sigh of relief because I know that our views are not at all the same. But, I have tried to introduce a certain slant, perhaps too subtly. I grew up in the English tradition of satire--think of Monty Python and Spitting Image. Public figures need to be kept on their toes. But how that is done can be wide and varied. With no intention of disrespecting any of the media practitioners, they do tend to treat national politicians and senior business people like they are 'untouchable'. The deference is well-evident throughout the region.

The irony is that many of these people are prepared to engage fully: I recall P.J. Patterson holding 'court' on a flight last summer, glad handing people and talking about a few personal matters. Admitted, he is no longer active in politics but he is a revered statesman. I often see former PM Owen Arthur standing in the school yard, and also at school fair, it was rare for anyone to approach him even to say "Hello". That's too much. (Challenge for next term: I will introduce myself to him.) My chance brushes against former BLP Cabinet ministers a few weeks back reinforces my view that they are willing to talk, at least have a discussion. I have not yet heard "No comment."

The converse of that standing off is how we treat those related to the 'big men' (they are mostly men) are treated. I do not know many of the families of current politicians. But, I have met some of their children--that happens when you have young children. I was startled to find David Thompson's daughter sitting in the back seat of a friend's car. Where was the security guard I asked. My friend (a dreaded, though not dread-locked, Jamaican) looked at me like I was mad: "The who? This is Barbados, man. They don't check for that." I could see that. Good job that no one so far has given reason to change that need.

But, again. Let's be real. When one of our PMs goes to the US they often get little recognition as anything other than the ordinary citizen coming from "one o' those little islands down thayre in tha Carrybeen". I do not intend to try to change that. Bigger events will do that, such as Usain Bolt breaking both 100 metres and 200 metres world records again. I'm sure that would annoy some from other islands as it spotlights again Jamaica and maybe overshadows them, at least for a while. But, many people now know about Renta yam and the supposed benefits of eating callaloo and salt fish. "To the world" has taken on meaning.

So, I do not promise sparks and rockets and flash. I will try to poke fun a bit (see a recent attempt, Ten Effective Ways To Deal With Your Critics, and I know that some people have bought the whole shop--well, there are mugs everywhere). I know already that people take things very literally here. It is so odd that in a culture that can have nicknames like "Shorty" for a tall man, or "Clock" for a many with a amputated arm, we do not seem to get simple jokes. "You sey dat bout our Pyam Minista?? You. You...."

Even in Guinea, where the President was known to be no lover of the press, especially because they wrote in French and not in his native language, they regularly had him dragged around in cartoons and humours articles, often using his nickname. Le Lynx was the satirical weekly there. It was gobbled up like hot cakes every week, because it poked fun at all--I remember how they kicked at the IMF Resident Representative, but they also had some of the best sourced and most accurate information. If it's not in the Lynx then don't believe it, was the word. From time to time its Editor would be summoned to see the President or his henchmen, and periodically the newspapers were cleared off the shelves of newspaper stands across the country, but Le Lynx kept on biting.

In The Bahamas, too. The Punch is snapped up so fast each week that it's obscene. Look at, and listen to, some fall out from a recent story it ran about another the CEO of Jones Communications Int’l Ltd. (see The Punch). Words like 'gutter' and 'rag' sheet fly around.

Well, as the day starts for other people--though at 6.30am my wife is already nearly an hour inte her tennis, and I settle knowing that I have at least produced something, I see that sparks may fly later and I may need to go carefully with the former PM. I read today's Nation online and see the lead article, 'Wrong path' and the loud statement: 'Owen Arthur has accused the David Thompson Government of placing the country in serious turmoil. "Barbados is going down rapidly,"...' Maybe some thing's happening, after all.

In a society that has real freedom of choice it is truly wonderful that news and information comes from many places. Not everyone has only one state-controlled paper to read (with a picture of the head of state always on page one) and/or one radio station pumping out drivel and inane music--lived through that, thanks. When you are really repressed you go crazy for Elvis Presley in 1994 because you have been told that the king is not dead. There is a home for everyone, I believe, and it is true about blogs. We can all choose what we read and take from that what we will. I like to test out ideas and see if people who have a record of good sense laugh themselves onto the floor saying "You must be kidding" or "No, man. That is rubbish." When they do that, I take it out. When they say, "Hmmm. That's astute," then I do venture a little smile and a raised eyebrow. In the same way that you are particular at whose house your child goes to play, so too with which blogs to read.

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