A Global Village?

Assuming, of course, that the world actually survives this century:

When historians look back on our century, they may remember it most, not for space travel or the release of nuclear energy, but as the time when the peoples of the world first came to take one another seriously.

Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (1991), pg. 7.

A little rosy, perhaps – I would put the quote in this century and change the last bit to: “… when some of the peoples of the world were forced to take one another seriously” – but I still like it.

One anthropologist we’ve read considers the “global village” idea, which – you may have noticed – is part of our blog’s tagline, to be misleading and naive.

Societies may appear to be growing similar as politics, products, technologies, Wal-Mart, Coke, Nike, Pokemon, and (please spare us) Hello Kitty spread around the globe. But meanings, worldview assumptions, thought processes… these things don’t change nearly as fast or as easily. Writing in 1996, this author points out that we often speak of Japan as a “Westernized” nation, but the deeper and more important cultural differences remain vast.

We have geographic proximity; international urban centres boast diverse populations, and advances in travel and communication make every corner of the globe easily accessible. But this does not mean we are living together the same world; such an assumption seems, according to him, “the height of naiveness.” In our languages and worldview differences, we in effect participate in separate realities at the deepest levels; the close physical proximity of our homes and products doesn’t change this fact.

Living in Taiwan and listening to our boss talk about underlying causes for differences in everything from rule of law to driving habits has made me consider this critique more than I would have before arriving in Asia. I still think that the spread of technology and products will continue to have a profound effect on the world’s cultures, including our own. But perhaps it’s less potent and slower than I previously assumed.

Regardless of how poorly people of different cultures understand one another, how separate our ‘thought-worlds’ are, or how little of our selves and others meaningfully transcends the cultural differences as we attempt to share our lives, we must at least still deal with one another’s increasing influence on our lives whether we understand it or not.

The way I see it (thanks for asking), we live in a global village that contains many different worlds, and the sooner we learn to understand one another and communicate, the better (in spite of what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says).

2 thoughts on “A Global Village?”

  1. Wow, this is so true. I never imagined how different the thought-world here could be. It is so difficult to fathom the way people here view driving habits, interpersonal communication (what seems to us as the lack thereof), gender roles, and a thousand other things.

    Often we think of culture differences being equivalent to the technological disparity between two places. Technology here meets and exceeds our expectations. The people in Taiwan are not without many techno conveniences. But this does not mean we can understand each other. We’ve got a long way to go…

  2. ha… I can almost guarantee that there’s plenty of interpersonal communication, it’s just broadcasted on channels that we aren’t normal tuned in to.

    That’s one thing that’s great about Taipei – you can see how modern everything is, yet at the same time it can still be so different. I learned in Taiwan that I was wrong to assume that modernization pretty much meant Westernization. It just ain’t so.

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