Indonesia | Economics

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To gossip or to watch gossip

Nahldatul Ulama (NU) declared gossip shows to be a vice because they exposed others’ personal failings to public scrutiny, something that is prohibited in Islam. But Wanti, a housewife interviewed by The Jakarta Post disagrees: Her watching of gossip shows, she argues, reduces time for actual gossiping with neighbours. The question is, were this edict enforceable, would it increase “gossiping with neighbours”?

The answer is a probably yes. No, this is not a mere hypothesis. A study by Ben Olken of Harvard University provides an empirical evidence to support such an answer. But before we discuss Olken’s findings, let’s ask this: What is the most extreme way to enforce this edict? Ban television. Guess what: It’s been done in Indonesia. Not deliberately, of course, but by virtue of poor television-signal reception due to geography.

So, Olken used variations in the strength of television signals in East and Central Java to investigate whether poorer signal reception results in less social activities. Here are his findings:
I find that better signal reception, which is associated with more time spent watching television and listening to radio, is associated with substantially lower levels of participation in social activities and with lower self-reported measures of trust. I find particularly strong effects on participation in local government activities, as well on participation in informal savings groups.

So, Wanti’s probably right: More gossip shows, less gossiping. However, gossiping with neighbours might not be all bad: When done within reason, this activity can increase social capital by increasing trust between neighbours. Pity, it's unlikely to be enforceable. From Wanti again:
I heard that they are going to make it (watching gossip shows) haram (sinful)…I don't care. If I feel like watching them, then I will…What's wrong with it anyway? It's just news.


  • Arya, there was a discussion about an older version of this paper in our Cafe a while back (I have not read this new version.) As you will see from the comments there, some of us still need some convincing in particular about how one should go about measuring "social capital" and how to interpret it.

    By Blogger Ujang, at 8/09/2006 10:46:00 am  

  • Ujang, even a step beyond that, I find the concept "social capital" and its virtue elusive.

    Unlike material capital, more social capital isn't always better: Beyond a certain point, its excluding power might be so dominant that it creates polarization.

    I think, in reading Olken's paper, one should stick to what it really shows: namely, the "obvious" trade-off between watching TV and social activities.

    By Blogger Arya, at 8/09/2006 05:35:00 pm  

  • I agree. And it will take time before there's a consensus of what "social capital" really is (if ever), probably longer than what it took for "human capital" before it was accepted into economic vernacular.

    By Blogger Ujang, at 8/15/2006 10:44:00 am  

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