The use of new communication technologies and social changes in rural Romania.

Author:Marinescu, Valentina

ABSTRACT The goal of the present study is to identify and define the role of new communication technologies in structuring the general definition of the situation of ordinary Romanians e.g. optimistic versus pessimistic attitudes vis-a-vis the future of the country in the European project. Using a longitudinal set of data, the analysis showed that in the period 2000-2006 the Romanian rural citizens' degree of information about the local government information was dependent first of all by the interest in involvement in collective actions (there rise in information was a result of the declared need of involvement). On the second place, the uses of new communication technologies and the self-declared need in collective local actions was dependent on the self-assessment of material well being and the trust in social institutions (the Church, the School, the Mayor). ********** The general socio-political changes that took place in Romania after the downfall of communism (1989) included the emergence of a new social actor: the mass media. Generally speaking, the media in the Central-Eastern European countries in the last sixteen years was best positioned to link various groups in society, and all groups with the new power structures. The Romanian mono-centric media system, centrally controlled by the political power, was gradually replaced by a demonopolized system. The fact that the mass media had an important influence on human action was taken for granted. In Romania, a country with a short history of democratic processes, this perspective involved the danger of an authoritarian relationship between communication technologies and society, including politics. The question is: How, and in what direction, is the social choice exercised by the population after 1989? More specifically, how do Romanians use various types of communication technologies i.e. the traditional ones, and the "new" ones and what is the influence exercised by these consumption behaviors on their attitudes and opinions regarding their "communitarian" engagements, both at the local level and at the social, general one. The goal of the present study is to identify and define the role of new communication technologies in structuring the general definition of the situation of ordinary Romanians e.g. optimistic versus pessimistic attitudes vis-a-vis the future of the country in the European project. Secondly, the explanatory argument will try to designate some evolution "trends" on the "temporal" axis for two categories of predictors: "traditional" media reception/consumption vs. "new" media reception/consumption in connection to the adjustment of opinions and attitudes towards the future integration of Romania into the European Union. To what extent did pro- or anti-European integration attitudes and opinions change, and during which period of time? Finally, what predictors (e.g. "old" versus "new" technologies) are the most significant in explaining the changes in attitudes and opinions regarding Romania's European integration? RESEARCH ISSUES At a very general level of analysis, primary sociological data point out that Romanians have atypical "social behavior" regarding their country's integration in the European Union. In 2004 and 2005, for example, Euro Barometer data showed that 74% (in 2004) and 68% (in 2005) of Romanians had a high level of confidence in the EU, placing them at the top of the 29 countries included in the survey on confidence in EU (Euro Barometer 2005b: 8). Perhaps the very high level of confidence in EU is not determined only by the Romanians' cultural-historical desires, of Occidental nature. The low level of comprehension as far as the European institutions are concerned, plays a major part. As the Romanians' euro-information will become more solid, we might expect an increase of the degree of euro-skepticism. These comments are fully compatible with earlier Euro Barometer data (2004), which indicated major differences between the Romanian people and the citizens of other EU member countries regarding their reliance in certain institutions. For the citizens of EU member countries the following were the institutions in which citizens exhibited the greatest confidence: the Military (69%); NGOs (68%) and Legal systems (68%). In the case of the citizens of Romania, the hierarchy was completely different: first came the Church (82%), followed by the European Union (74%) and the Military (74%). One possible reason for this difference is the lack of basic knowledge on the part of the citizens of Romania concerning the way various public sectors work. (Euro Barometer 2005a). A causal correlation between "knowledge-confidence in institutions and efficient social action" was clear at the macro social level in Romania Interpersonal and mass communication plays an important part in the way any social system works. On a primary level of analysis, "communication" is, simultaneously, a fundamental social process (Dragan 1996) and an absolute social fact (Sandu 1996). In most East-European countries, this matter seems so obvious that it is often considered an axiomatic, prime truth. Therefore, there is no need to explain the mechanisms and the connections, which make social communication function. The written press, the radio and the television were (and still are) considered as "social actors" within their own universe, motivation, value sets and operational purposes. In spite of that, the media are not considered "first degree entities" in the social system, their analysis being connected to economic and politic components. Neither was true about the Internet or the New Communication technologies. The existing literature focused on other parts of the world, such as Asia, Africa and Latin America, (Siebers 2003) and gives little or no attention to the empirical analysis of the data gathered from Easter-European countries. On the basis of existing literature it was stated that in the developing countries of the Asia, Africa and Latin America the real social transformation that media could bring implied the development of an applied framework of socio-economic strategies, which shows sensitivity to the cultural diversities present in these societies. The presence of necessary information networks is a prerequisite for the relevant application of the IT enabled knowledge-based development strategy in these societies. Paul Armington (Ellerman & Armington 1998) suggested that: The idea is to use the information-gathering capabilities of modern information technologies (IT) to strengthen social organization (as opposed to predatory governmental structures) and simultaneously to increase the ability of local government to provide worthwhile public goods and services. Four important areas can be identified, where the New Communication Technologies enabled knowledge-based development, and these are: 1) Public administration and governance; 2) Rural and urban development; 3) Transport management; 4) Quality of life and work (Caldow 2002). New information technologies have a considerable potential to cut administrative costs through reorganization of internal administration and through alternative provision of services (Lee, Moon, Damhorst 2002). Due to the lack of the empirical explanation if the real changes that took place in Eastern European countries, the present article will try to offer some punctual answers to some general research questions: 1. What relationship exists between media messages' consumption and the socio-demographic features of a certain group of individuals? 2. What form of relationship constitutes between traditional media messages' consumption, new communication technologies message's consumption and attitudes towards the future integration of Romania into the European Union? Thus, in the present article, we shall try to identify and define: the main social groups from the entire "public/audience" of a media channel and the "common characteristics" as well as the "differences" regarding the two types of media "reception/consumption" in accordance with their separation between "old" and "new" technology. Secondly, the explanatory...

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