There is great significance in a Dutchman being helped by a Peruvian speaking English in a shop in Japan. Better still, the item in question boasts a label that reads: “Designed by Apple in California” and goes on to say “Assembled in China.”
In short, when you’re iPhone is on the fritz – or more accurately the crappy headphones that come with it – it brings together the nations of the world in a way that politics has failed to do since someone first suggested “you know what, I think someone should be in charge” and the phenomenon began.
I like the globalization of our planet in a theoretical sense. I think matters of language, culture, and race are poor indicators of a person’s potential and I firmly believe we are not so different from one another. In a very real and measurable scientific sense of course, we aren’t. I know we all like to think we are unique little snowflakes, but make no mistake that my DNA is not only more or less interchangeable with yours, unless you were a learned expert you’d have a hell of a time telling your own DNA apart from that of most other mammals.
But enough scientific jibber-jabber; let us on to the issue at hand. The world is shrinking – not physically mind you – but shrinking nonetheless. Although the speed of air travel is often cited as the reason for this social phenomenon, let’s quickly remember that the Anglo-French Concorde and the blatant Russian rip-off, the Tupolev 144, first flew in 1969 and have since been retired. So in essence, air travel has slowed down – significantly actually – and I haven’t even started to talk about the excessive security at airports and all the fun and games we are subjected to during the hours of pre-flight, lay overs, and being made to feel ‘welcome’ by immigration.
Still, despite this, I maintain the world is shrinking. There are over seven billion of us now, and although you’ve likely heard that number before, very few people can wrap their minds adequately around the true size of the population it implies. Seven billion is the kind of number that most of us will never use in conversation in any other context than our population, or how many Italian lire will add up to a dollar if the Euro implodes. It simply isn’t enough to skim over this number and allow your apathetic brain to saddle you with the insufficient notion that it is merely ‘a large number.’ Seven billion is in fact a vast number – large in ways it is difficult to explain without resorting to tortured clichés such as how many Jelly Beans fit in a jumbo jet.
But seven billion people is a number that starts making more sense when you break into (only slightly) more manageable chunks. The US population is estimated at around 280-300 million individuals. (I say estimated because your census is amongst the least accurate in the developed world) 300 million – still a larger number than has true meaning to us must then be broken down further so that some people start catching on to what we are talking about. A medium sized stadium seats around 30,000 people (large ones upwards of 50,000), and so we can fairly easily work out using more common numerical figures that to seat the US population in stadia (the correct Latin plural of ‘stadium’) we would need 10,000 of them. Please note that I am refraining from making the obvious joke that quite a few Americans would require two seats due to their bulk. Fucking fatties. By that same logic the world population would fit in 233,334 stadia, where I happily concede the last stadium may not be filled to capacity due to rounding margins.
Why is this relevant to a shrinking planet? Simple, there are now so many of us that we simply don’t all ‘fit’ anymore. Some big cities like Tokyo, Moscow, New York, and Beijing are over full; saturated by a biomass predominantly human, each individual within which must go about its life beleaguered on all sides, at all times, by hordes of his or her peers. Peers, you may recall, that include those from other countries in droves, themselves displaced by choice or by necessity, all interacting in the busy metropolis. (again, Latin – the root language for much of our vaunted, internationally popular English) These interactions – cultural exchanges and collisions – are happening more and more, as people move around the globe, do business, travel as tourists, and even marry those of ‘foreign’ descent. (You will note the quotation marks denote the fact that we are all foreigners to some people – most people in fact!)
Thus do traditional, isolationist ways dilute into a more internationally fathomable culture, rich with compromise and understanding. (Incidentally fact that politics is slow to catch on to this wholly natural process is the reason why we still send armies of young men and women to go kill each other because the older generation never learned to get along.)
Don’t like what you are reading? Stop, no one is making you, but know that I sugarcoat for no man.
The world is shrinking because though they are still not quite sure what to do with me, the Japanese are no longer surprised when they see a white face on their islands. Similarly, no one is surprised anymore than a black person can be French or American without the necessity for his or her ancestors having been forcibly removed from Africa. (Call Michael Clark Duncan or Ronnie Coleman a slave to their face – I dare you) The world is shrinking because there are just so many of us, doing so many things, in so many places, and now, with 24-hour news channels and a level of interconnectedness unrivaled since the entire human population (Adam and Eve for some of you, the first few homo sapiens to emerge from ancient Africa to the rest of us) could be counted by a clever monkey. I like this – as I have said – in theory. But the truth is we are not all ready for our world to shrink. We are not all willing to be connected to everyone else. Some of us do not want there to be an internet, nor an international stock exchange, or even air travel. These people are not wrong in the traditional sense of the word; they are merely ill informed, ill prepared, and perhaps even just plain mentally ill.
People fear change. This is natural. We take great comfort in things we understand and are naturally skeptical of things we don’t. This is what safeguards the status quo and is the root of the tortured saying: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”
Yet this world is in constant flux – as is the universe at large – and, other than the laws of physics (and we are not 100% sure on those either), nothing is constant. There is, in effect, no status quo. Even the people who swear by “living in the now” do so only by way of definition, not by a chosen space in time – a decision that is not left to the likes of us by the forces of the cosmos. Moreover, change – the very change some loathe and fear – is the catalyst of all the things that you love and upon whose advent you now depend. Had some dapper ancient hominid not bravely and ingeniously sharpened a piece of flint rock into a crude but ostensibly functional knife, you and I may no be here now, much less the aforementioned internet, international stock exchange, and yes, jet travel. It is change that safeguards our right, not just to simply be, but also to maintain our place atop the food chain as the dominant species of this planet. It is and ever has been change that has moved us forward, not simply in time, but in our understanding of it, the lives we live, and the universe we live them in.
It is this never ending series of changes that has brought us to this point: a Peruvian man furiously inspecting my Chinese technological marvel designed in the US by people whose ancestors hailed from Europe. Thus the world is round just as it has been globalized. I have said I like this globalization in theory, and I do for the rather convoluted reasons herein, but there remains one problem; the reason why I don’t like globalization in practice.
Globalization, the free market, jet planes and Internet – these things all contribute to the shrinking and ever more crowded world of man. In it I feel claustrophobic, trapped, and powerless to free myself from its oppressive grasp. Worse, I admit only a part of me wants this autonomy – my heart – whereas my rational mind knows it to be folly and impractical, a flight of fancy based in emotion and not in reason and practical considerations. The world is shrinking, like an island sinking slowly into the sea, and so the beaches grow more crowded. One cannot move without bumping into a neighbor – perhaps equally reluctant to share this shrinking world with you as you are with him or her – and the situation is deteriorating. Our ballooning world population has a voracious and growing appetite for increasingly limited resources and, barring one of the great changes that have allowed us to come this far coming soon, I fear the life we have come to know is unsustainable. Thus I find myself longing for the times of past generations, without internet and a world market, where each man carved for himself a miniscule place in this world, called it his own, and wanted for nothing. The shrinking world has made the elective isolation of the individual a practical impossibility and hence I labor, typing away even now to pay the bills, still my hunger, and quench my thirst in a world whose busy hum drones out the echoes of paradise in my mind.