A friend recently told me she had texted a colleague in Zimbabwe about travel needs for an upcoming visit. The reply came with questions and an admonishment for prompt answers. We chuckled at the reality of the need for immediacy across an ocean and a continent.
Once, a trip to Africa required long advance planning. Communication was hit or miss (telegram, telephone or weeks-long delivery by snail mail). No more. With cell phones, we’re as near as if we were next door. As a result, our expectations and behaviors have changed.
Upon entering a rural village in Sierra Leone not long ago, I discovered could send photos of our impressive welcoming celebration immediately from my iPad with its cellular capability. From the dashboard of our vehicle, I sent photos and sounds in near-real time. We are interconnected in ways that stretch the imagination.
Globalization is about more than global supply chains and assembly lines. When we buy food, clothing, gasoline, automobiles and many other products, we’re experiencing globalization, and we hardly bat an eye. Sometimes, globalization is threatening and unwelcome, particularly when it means jobs shipped elsewhere. Despite this, the pace of globalization hasn’t slowed. On the contrary, it has sped up.
In contrast, global interconnectedness is about interaction, interdependence and cross-cultural influence. It’s not about the supply chain; it’s about the flow of information and ideas across borders.
We have Facebook friends around the world. Our children connect with peers oceans away, and some have even talked with astronauts in space. Online education is occurring across vast reaches of geography. For some, this interconnectedness has become routine, and for digital natives it is their natural state.
In a recent survey by United Methodist Communications, 60 percent of the population in the United States concur we’re more globally interconnected, but, interestingly, a smaller number seek news about global issues. The majority know we live in an interconnected world but accept it without seeking to know more about our global neighbors.
Whether that’s a bad thing or simply a fact of life in our media-overloaded world is open to debate. But it seems to me that understanding one another is more necessary than ever. At least we should know something about the injustices, inequities and abuses that feed the uprisings and instability that can affect our own quality of life and social stability. That is the change the 9/11 tragedy ushered in.
We should be concerned about this because with knowledge our interactions can create better conditions for all peoples. Interconnection can deliver positive benefits. It’s a stimulus for innovation, creativity and greater awareness of our common problems. It opens the door to cooperation. Of course, it can have harmful consequences, but that’s all the more reason to learn more, not less.
We’re on this small planet hurtling through space with a common destiny. Increasingly, we have the ability to overcome the barriers of time and geography that once separated us. For the first time in human history, we have an opportunity to interact, learn and discuss together the common good using tools widely available and remarkably empowering.
More than ever before, people are moving out of poverty as knowledge is shared and skills are transferred. The tide of history is sweeping us toward a more interconnected and interactive world. It is better to embrace this reality than to ignore it and be swept up in the current.
Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.