Column: SM Nation

Published on December 11, 2007

I  took part in the 1st Business Education-Industry Summit last week, a dialogue hosted by the Philippine Council of Deans and Educators in Business. PCDEB is an extraordinarily active consortium, achieving in six years (three awards competitions, a complete accreditation process, regular study tours, and so on) what other professional associations take decades to do. My role was simple enough: to give a journalist’s perspective on business education, which is currently in the throes of modernization.

* * *

Randy David has written often on what he has called “the sources of the modern impulse.” His column the other day was an elegant meditation — indeed, more variation than précis — on the substantive speech he read at the third Inquirer Briefing the other week. In that forum, which I had the privilege of moderating, Randy spoke hopefully of a Philippines in transition.

“OFWs [overseas Filipino workers], malls and cell phones — they represent the faces of our modern economic condition, a snapshot of where we are today as an economy. Together with the mass media, they constitute the most powerful driving forces of the Filipino transition to modernity.”

* * *

At the education summit, held at the Asian Institute of Management, I acknowledged the breakthrough importance of the Commission on Higher Education’s Memo Order No. 39, which standardizes the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program nationwide. But I suggested that the world it assumed was skewed. Excerpts:

“The late Roger Silverstone, the pioneering media theorist, once described the media as ‘the texture of our experience.’ Indeed, in all but the remotest locations, we can almost say that human existence seems to be predicated on access to media: think of the ubiquitous cell phone, or the universal television set, or the various forms in which music makes its omnipresence felt.

“But even these — cell phone, TV, radio or MP3 — can be said to be old media.

“The World Wide Web dazzles us with possibility, with its social networks and virtual worlds, its million books and unexpected discoveries. Any parent who has ever spent time in the Neopets universe or seen a teenager absorbed in Facebook knows what I mean.

“But even the Web fails to catch, with its gossamer net, the true meaning of media as ‘texture.’

“Once, in Bangkok, at a meeting of the World Association of Newspapers, I heard a presenter say the most extraordinary thing: Supermarkets, he said, are the new media. That would make Wal-Mart the world’s biggest media company — and bring us closer to Silverstone’s central insight.

“Of course, the presenter was straining at hyperbole to make a point. But he was also being quite literal. Enter a good-sized supermarket now, in any of the country’s bigger cities, and you find yourself in an immediate, even tactile, media environment. Brand names are talking to you; interactive advertising-on-an-endless-loop is waiting for you in the next aisle; moving displays startle you. It isn’t the futuristic world of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’ yet, but does anyone doubt that, for the great majority, this is indeed the shape the future will take?

“Perhaps, if that presenter in Bangkok had spent any time in the Philippines, he would have said: Malls are the new media. Indeed, in the Philippines, we can almost say that the country’s malls form a parallel republic. We shouldn’t underestimate the possibilities that arise when a poor boy from Lubao, Pampanga, (and I mean a real poor boy, not the President’s late father) enters SM San Fernando and finds the exact same environment as would a yuppie shopping in SM Makati. In other words, teenagers in any of the areas with an SM mall can say, ‘Let’s watch a movie in SM,’ and, even though they are hundreds of kilometers apart, visualize the exact same cinema: the same stars on the ceiling, the same popcorn stand, the same seating.

“Welcome to SM Nation.

“Because ‘media is texture,’ what prevents the SM Group from venturing into news media, too? What prevents PLDT [Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.], with its MyTV breakthrough, from assuming the functions of a news network? What prevents San Miguel from producing the news, not merely subsidizing it?

“Too many questions; not enough answers, at least not yet. But this is the world we live in; this is what the world is coming to. As broadly defined, media has become more and more the texture, even the very condition, of our experience. Does the new BSBA program prepare its students for this reality?”

* * *

Having spent the last several months rereading Jose Rizal, I thought it a good idea to end my remarks, at a forum dedicated to “Developing the Global Filipino,” with a word about the country’s most famous globetrotter. I offered three quick notes from Rizal’s own experience, including this riff on his avid use of all available media:

“The Global Filipino needs to develop a sense of practical commitment. This sense is obvious in those scolding letters Rizal wrote, when he complained about his fellow Filipinos wasting their time on gambling and women (and not necessarily in that order). But it is also there in his intuitive grasp of the different opportunities of 19th century media: in his readiness to write for a newspaper, but also in his decision to compose the ‘Noli’ in Spanish, not French; his appropriation of a 250-year-old history book as a teaching moment; his realization, after watching American Indians from the Wild, Wild West perform thrilling acts during the Paris Exposition of 1889, that a similar group he would call Los Indios Bravos could also be potent propaganda.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Rizal

One response to “Column: SM Nation

  1. Jeg

    “Malls are the new media. Indeed, in the Philippines, we can almost say that the country’s malls form a parallel republic.”

    I once blogged about how Mr. Sy could start his own country. 😀

    http://jegohc.blogspot.com/2007/02/sovereign-and-mercantile-order-of-sm.html

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