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|As an American, it's very easy for me to forget that the
rest of the world is out there. It was quite a shock for me when I lived in
Canada in 1989 and realized that the sports segment on the national newscast
I was watching had named the winner of a golf tournament and then showed
extensive highlights of the Canadian participants. I was so used to seeing
how the Americans did that it took me a minute to understand what was
happening. When I did, I learned a valuable lesson about how your frame of
reference changes your view of the world.
There's no real substitute for living abroad, but you can get a feel for how the world works by reading as much as you can, learning foreign languages, and traveling as you are able. Reading cultural literature and comparative government texts is valuable, but if you're interested in the bare facts of how the media and information industries in different countries compare, you need to look for a specialized reference.
The Penguin Atlas of Media and Information is a solid resource for anyone who needs basic information about the distribution and changes of the global information and media industries. Discussions of American cultural hegemony, for example, invariably center on the power of Hollywood, and the Atlas doesn't shirk the question of how American programs, films, and music can take over other countries' markets. The entirety of Chapter 3 is devoted to the film industry, giving figures for each country's box office revenue, screen density (which is the number of screens per 100 citizens), and audience demographics. There's also a discussion of how European governments have taken action to ensure their local productions aren't drowned out by California imports. For television, which is covered in Chapter 4, the Atlas reviews the role of local content restrictions, and cites an Australian policy which requires their cable channels to carry at least 10% local dramas (p. 48).
For those readers who are more interested in the spread of telephony and the Internet, you can turn to Chapter 7, "Information and Communication Technologies", and get loads of information about how telephones, cell phones, fax machines, Internet connections, and electronic mail are distributed around the globe. There's no doubt this information is valuable on its own, but it's real value is in the context of all the other information in the atlas.
At 128 full-color pages and a very reasonable price point of $20 (often discounted substantially by online merchants), The Penguin Atlas of Media and Information is an invaluable resource for students and researchers who need data about the world's media make-up. While it's far from a complete reference, the Atlas gives everyone a strong base from which to proceed with their own investigations.
Curtis D. Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is also the author of three online courses and ten books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.