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(Dis)connecting the Pearl River Delta: Case study of a borderland telecommunications infrastructure in South China, 1978-2002
Unformatted Document Text:  7 establishment of such a complex Telecommunications Infrastructure on top of the regional built environment marks the emergence of a new way by which urban ecology undergoes restructuration – not only at faster speed and leading to more diaspora, but most importantly, with more unintended consequences. In this process, some socio-historical fabrics are maintained and renewed, whereas others, including certain ties essential to the sustenance of local community, are ignored and lost, hence giving rise to a seemingly paradoxical hypothesis: more technical connectedness does not necessarily lead to less social disconnections; on the contrary, it generates more. More Connections, More Disconnections This subtitle may look perplexing. But it is an idea ready for comprehension from an ecological point of view. Like the development of most systems, when a regional Telecommunications Infrastructure grows, it will first acquire an increasing degree of complexity and then face the challenge of potential segmentation among its parts. The concern for escalating disconnectivity accompanying the rise of more complicated form of social organization is a theme in Durkheim’s analyses on division of labor as well as the conception of bureaucracy a la Max Weber. This issue is prominent in the case of telecommunications because multiple types of technologies are involved and, most importantly, there is no single rationale governing the contemporary Telecommunications Infrastructure as opposed to the pre-determined goal of classic bureaucracy and modernist forms of division of labor. A telecommuni- cations infrastructure, as will be demonstrated in this case study, is a system with varying degree of openness where multiple logics exist, compete, and co-evolve, at different levels of analysis, engendering a metabolism of (dis)connections in the regional storytelling system about telecommunications. What, then, are these connections and disconnections? Reflecting on my fieldwork, I propose four generic types of disconnections, which also helps enrich the understanding of communication connectedness. They are: (1) Breaks, disconnections resulted directly from temporal and spatial discontinui- ties, which are what telecom technologies are designed to overcome; (2) Gaps, i.e. stratificational schisms among social groups (e.g. the digital divide) that emerge in tandem with the growth of telecommunications; (3) Blockades, institutional constraints that may take three forms:

Authors: Qiu, Jack.
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7
establishment of such a complex Telecommunications Infrastructure on top of the
regional built environment marks the emergence of a new way by which urban
ecology undergoes restructuration – not only at faster speed and leading to more
diaspora, but most importantly, with more unintended consequences. In this
process, some socio-historical fabrics are maintained and renewed, whereas others,
including certain ties essential to the sustenance of local community, are ignored and
lost, hence giving rise to a seemingly paradoxical hypothesis: more technical
connectedness does not necessarily lead to less social disconnections; on the
contrary, it generates more.
More Connections, More Disconnections
This subtitle may look perplexing. But it is an idea ready for comprehension from an
ecological point of view. Like the development of most systems, when a regional
Telecommunications Infrastructure grows, it will first acquire an increasing degree of
complexity and then face the challenge of potential segmentation among its parts.
The concern for escalating disconnectivity accompanying the rise of more
complicated form of social organization is a theme in Durkheim’s analyses on division
of labor as well as the conception of bureaucracy a la Max Weber. This issue is
prominent in the case of telecommunications because multiple types of technologies
are involved and, most importantly, there is no single rationale governing the
contemporary Telecommunications Infrastructure as opposed to the pre-determined
goal of classic bureaucracy and modernist forms of division of labor. A telecommuni-
cations infrastructure, as will be demonstrated in this case study, is a system with
varying degree of openness where multiple logics exist, compete, and co-evolve, at
different levels of analysis, engendering a metabolism of (dis)connections in the
regional storytelling system about telecommunications.
What, then, are these connections and disconnections? Reflecting on my fieldwork, I
propose four generic types of disconnections, which also helps enrich the
understanding of communication connectedness. They are:
(1) Breaks, disconnections resulted directly from temporal and spatial discontinui-
ties, which are what telecom technologies are designed to overcome;
(2) Gaps, i.e. stratificational schisms among social groups (e.g. the digital divide)
that emerge in tandem with the growth of telecommunications;
(3) Blockades, institutional constraints that may take three forms:


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