Saturday, November 19, 2005

Global prestige & local anonymity

Thinking about prestige and money and the economies in the two seems to bring a lot of other things together nicely. The latest for me is the idea of the "global village." I'm not sure what I used to think the idea was--maybe just that every place and every culture is accessible and becoming familiar to every other. Now to me it seems to mean that geography is becoming irrelevant, which I suppose is just the flip side; except that now I'm thinking the irrelevance is on more than just the global scale. The "global-village trend" looks like it belongs with the U.S. national trends toward suburbs and sprawl, away from neighborhoodliness, toward cross-country migrations for school and job, and into the cyberworld for all kinds of things.

I'm thinking we can blame the whole thing on the invention of money. I blogged before (and Adam Smith pointed out before me) that money serves partly to substitute for reputation. There exist symbolic articles and privileges you can buy with money to establish your prestige and status to others. Meanwhile, services for sale enable you to make others dance around and do your bidding with money alone. So money caters to the desire for prestige and influence alike.

Because the U.S. dollar and other modern currencies work everywhere, your money gives you this same power everywhere. Because you can go in principle and will pay to do so for business and pleasure, inventors and industrialists have provided the technologies to do it in practice--as well as devices to communicate with the far flung friends and acquaintances you make. The communication spreads the symbols of prestige, so that symbols that work one place get adopted by others and the world diversity of symbols (a.k.a. "culture") goes down. Because transportation enables you to commute long distances to work and to the malls, you don't get to know your neighbors and you have no local merchants. Because it's now more sure-fire and easier to find commonality with people online than either next door to you or at your at-will workplace, you have even less incentive to get to know your neighbors and coworkers. You hop a plane to conference with colleagues and to congregate with family and to socialize with friends and to vacation alone or among strangers. Locally you become anonymous and online it doesn't matter where you are.

At least until you have kids, because the global village sucks for raising a child. It's also gotta be a drag to be poor. What are those non-jet-setting folks across the digital divide up to? Watching TV, boozing and bonking? Singing and thumping Bibles? If so, it hardly seems a wonder.

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