A Father's Lament After Justin Bieber Graffiti Brouhaha

Leaving his mark in Bogota
Leaving his mark in Bogota
Gustavo Trejos*


BOGOTA — The urge to wander the streets and feel the adrenaline rush that comes when painting on a public wall or bridge is condemned in our society, which has demonized this colorful art form and freedom of expression.

This is a fundamental right — to communicate through letters and images painted on surfaces that are otherwise cold and without expression. The finest wall comes to life with lines turned to art or just a “signature” visible to an unsuspecting passer-by.

These lines identify authors who wish to leave a trace, express themselves, and tell society “I’m here.” The artists and their work call attention to social inequalities and the causes of generalized indignation: poverty, bad government, hungry children, people dying in hospitals. Graffiti is a silent but all-powerful cry, and it creates social awareness.

Such manifestations on bridges, tunnels and public walls in Colombia’s major cities are, in short, a general protest against government and police authorities for their double standards and hostility to home-grown urban artists dismissed as mere vandals.

Photo: Guache

The police who have mercilessly turned young Colombians into military targets are the same authorities who apparently now perceive the childish, infantile, school-boy tracings of a foreign pop star a legitimate work of art. They even prepared him a spot, usually restricted to local graffiti, where the idol could express his rebellious feelings before a nation's youth eager for someone to admire.

It was more a novelty act on singer Justin Bieber’s part than the expression of some deep idea, yet the head of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police described it as art. The National Police chief told a radio station, “We have to evolve. Graffiti expresses a feeling or motivation. It is an artistic expression. Those painting graffiti want to tell us something, and we have to listen.”

They weren’t listening, though, when a certain young man named Diego Felipe Becerra went out with his friends in August 2011 and painted his beloved Felix cats along street walls. He never dreamed that night would be his last, that a policeman would shoot him dead for his actions.

photo: Bixentro

So perhaps now the police chief words appear wise, uncovering as they do the reality of graffiti as a form of art within society — and accomplishing as well a diplomatic, if weak, response to the storm of criticisms the Bieber incident provoked across the Internet social networks in Colombia.

Young artists are justly demanding equality from authorities and respect for the right to freely express themselves. They want a law that will help them create spaces where they can display their art without risking punishment, police apprehension — or death by police handgun.

* Gustavo Trejos is the father of Diego Felipe Becerra, a young graffiti artist who was killed by Bogota police on Aug. 19, 2011.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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