Friday, February 3, 2012

Globalization and the Global Village

In elementary school, one of the things I wished for was to have lived in a small town.  (I have to admit, the year that we did just that, I discovered I didn't like it.)  Looking back, I believe what I truly was yearning for was the concept of the village.  This is much the same "village" in the oft-quoted proverb "It takes a village to raise a child." (See here for a discussion of the phrase's origins.)

I have heard that proverb used in many contexts.  Ever since Hillary Clinton used it as the title of her book, I have heard some Conservatives mock the phrase.  Which confuses me, considering how traditional the concept  is.  I've also heard many people talk about how, when they were children, it didn't matter how fast they ran home - the gossip of their mischief would reach their mother's ears faster than their legs could carry them.

The closest I have seen to "the village" in action has been at school and/or church family events.  In particular, our parish in South Bend would do a pitch-in soup & supper dinner on Fridays during Lent.  The adults, naturally, would tend to converse around the tables even after the meal had finished.  The smaller children would wander over to the empty side of the gymnasium to run around.  Nobody would be officially minding the children, but if any adult or teen saw any activity that seemed out of bounds (risk of injury, meanness, etc.), they would put a stop to it.

The concept of "village" was harder in our block of Base housing.  We had neighbors moving in and moving out all the time.  Some we'd get to know, fairly well.  Others we'd barely see.  It was easiest when they had children of similar ages:

The nearest extended family lived over 600 miles away, and long-distance phone calls cost a lot of money.  Maybe once a month, it seemed like Mom would catch up with some relative or another.  We usually traveled to Grandma & Grandpa's house about once per year.  The rest of Mom's siblings were scattered around the country, and sometimes around the world.  Growing up, it seems like I was lucky to see them once in a few years.

I contrast this with my mother's childhood.  Her parents both graduated from Oaklandon High School, which used to be on the Northeast side of Indianapolis.  Great-grandma's farm was not too far off German Church Road (I'd have to ask an aunt or uncle for anything more specific than that).

My grandparents bought a farm in Fishers, where my mom grew up.  Grandpa's two sisters married two brothers.  One of Grandma's sisters married a third brother from the same family.  That gave my mother three sets of cousins with the same surname.  On Sunday afternoons, they could drive to Grandma's for dinner, and play with her cousins. Even if the gathering split to "adults" and "kids," it still gave opportunities for the extended family to see how they interacted.

One of my aunts started a tradition of inviting the family every other Thanksgiving, for a reunion. I was nearly through college by the time I made it to one of those reunions, perhaps the 6th time she'd held it. I've made a point of attending ever since. The family is still scattered around the U.S., and some around the world. But making the effort, time, and ritual to be together helps to build connection, community, a little more of that "tribe," even in a scattered world.

In "The World is Flat," Thomas Friedman refers to globalization occurring in three phases of international trade and commerce
1) 1492 to ~1800, by countries and governments
2) ~1800 to ~2000, by multinational companies
3) present day, by individuals

One of the reasons that my parents weren't able to travel 600+ miles more than ~once per year, was resources, specifically time and money.  Globalization, the ability to transport people and products long distances, takes a lot of resources.  And so, I think that the three phases of globalization reflect the shifts in power and resources.  First, to governments.  Then to corporations.

I am reluctant to say the power has shifted to the people.  It seems to me that "the people" are dependent upon corporations to be globalized.  In "The World is Flat" terms, the people who operate international businesses from their home office rely heavily on companies like UPS or FedEx, and services like PayPal.

In personal terms: Facebook has allowed me to pick up the threads of my scattered life.  I can connect with friends, classmates, and some coworkers from Nebraska, Indiana, Texas, Alabama, and wherever they have scattered to since I knew them.  LinkedIn lets me connect with the business contacts, resources that I want to stay in touch with but don't necessarily want to share the whole mundane life.  Twitter helps me to meet other people who share my interests.  I rely heavily on iGoogle and this Blogger, but I am not a strong user of Google+ yet.  But through these social networks, I'm beginning to knit a "village" that spans the world.  And that is powerful.