Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Living in the Age of Homogeneity

I received a "courtesy call" from AT&T Wireless, this morning.

Ranjit Something-or-other was calling to remind me that my wireless bill had just become past due, and to remind me that there would be a $36 reconnection charge if service was interrupted, and would I like to avoid that, by authorizing him to charge my ATM card ending in "2177" right now?

Sure. No problem. My mom died... I've had things other than bills on my mind.

Ranjit, of course, was most likely calling from Mumbai, or Bengaluru or one of the other major outsourcing call center havens of the world.

And, for some reason, Ranjit's call led me to ponder our shrinking world. Our culturally shrinking world.

When I was a kid, we traveled a lot-- to many many foreign countries. Some of my clearest memories of those traveling days are precisely that these places were all very "foreign." These days, foreign countries seem to have become less "foreign," somehow. In this age of the Internet, the individual "flavors" of places are slowly fading away as we truly are becoming a Global Village. The skylines of Mumbai, Medellin, Melbourne and Munich-- seemed so very different and unique, in my childhood-- now all seem to have taken on a certain sameness, a certain homogeneity.

Don't get me wrong-- each place remains uniquely its own, but still. There's a "sameness" there... whether you look at the 30-story glass and steel office towers that dominate the skylines, or the fact that you can get a Big Mac in all of these cities, or the fact that the Internet has spread the English language with far greater effectiveness than any British empirical aspirations ever could.

But it feels like something has been lost, along the way.

As I thought about this-- without any compulsion to assign "good" or "bad" tags to this state of affairs-- I also noticed that there's a certain growing incongruity in humanity's approach to cross-cultural experiences. The other day, I was reading a post on Marilyn's blog, which brought up a memory of standing in modern downtown Copenhagen, in the summer, watching droves of American tourists congregate around McDonalds. And I pondered (then, as now) how they had spent a large chunk of their savings to experience something "different," yet were supporting this growing homogeneity of cultures by choosing to eat the SAME Big Mac they could get around the corner, at home... for a couple of bucks.

On a deeper level, these subtle changes perhaps all reflect a deeper human need to seek "safety." And there's safety in numbers, and in sameness. We "know" this, somehow, regardless of whether we feel predisposed to jump out of airplanes, or live under a large rock. So perhaps we feel safer about going to Mumbai because the knowledge that we can have a Big Mac is comforting, somehow... and (almost entirely subconsciously, I'm sure) removes some small layer of concern about "What will we EAT there?"

It is said that "the only constant in life is change" (attributed to 17th century French author Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld), and perhaps this is true. And the true challenge is to stay awake and present in our own lives, and remember to "vote" with our dollars, rupees or euros in a way that reflect our individual truths, regardless of the changes around us.

1 comment:

  1. I have often reflected how fortunate it was for me to have English as my first language, since all air traffic controllers, and probably at least one person in most towns and all big cities everywhere on the planet, speaks English. In some things like this, we're developing an overlay of homogeneity. At the same time, we are keeping some of the old differences and making new ones, too. Order can be imposed upon chaos within limits, but chaos erupts spontaneously, too.

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