Our World Is Shrinking

As global population booms towards the fourth stage of demographic transition and a predicted nine billion peak, we still manage to cram nearly four hundred thousand new people onto our tiny planet each and every day. It’s no secret that newborn babies are quite small, but even if we deny all evidence that our global land mass is shrinking, that’s still a whole bunch of baby toys to make room for. Thankfully, some of the brighter crayons in our global box came up with recycling or we’d all be swimming in Duplo by now.

The upside to our rampant population growth is that every day, we create another four hundred thousand minds, complete with unique thoughts, ideas and inspiration to join our humming, thrumming, global human think-tank. With so many active contributors, it’s little surprise that our universal melting pot sustains an uncanny knack for the impressive, the astounding, and the unusual. You know what I’m talking about. Things like teleporting the atom, controlling electronic devices with our mind, or generating electricity just by wearing a shirt. At very least, it seems abundantly clear that the mobile devices we carry near our genitals and press against our heads aren’t adversely affecting our fertility just yet.

So if the idea of thumping out two hundred and fifty new children a minute feels a little cramped for you right now, the cascading social and cultural implications of our postmodern new world order are probably downright claustrophobic. Current thinking suggests that pretty much everything we conceive requires some form of space and time to exist within. This notion could be tangible, such as the physical area a particular artwork might occupy, or metaphysical, like the fleeting moment of inspiration that exists only within the artist’s mind. Both are critically important to human development, and arguably our very existence.

All this talk of space and time delivers us neatly into the grasping hands of our ever incremental globalisation through technology. Using modern science to reduce the physical or metaphysical distance between formerly unattainable experiences or unreachable destinations is what draws together the farthest edges of our humanity. In this context our world is indeed becoming smaller, but have we considered the repercussions as we rush headlong towards some form of technological singularity? As we fill our space and time with exponentially more people, ideas and new things, the gaps between become narrower, and our world becomes smaller. Inevitably we’re left with less physical and metaphysical room to manoeuvre, and like most everything else, culture and identity depend on this space to exist. In equal measure, individuality and originality is best nurtured when free of controlling influence.

If the metaphysical gaps between different cultures become small enough, they effectively share the same space, and it is only a matter of time before each begins to exert influence over the others. Whether this influence is objectively beneficial or detrimental, active or passive, direct or indirect; both entities become entangled through a mechanism of mutual causality. Taking this concept to a conclusive extreme, what if every culture that currently exists became entangled with every other? If we accept that the strongest entities exert the greatest influence, eventually all cultures would mimic the most powerful, or be destroyed then absorbed as a functioning part of the original. Individuality, originality and innovation is replaced with globalised, uniform homogeneity, and human diversity becomes weaker as a result. On the bright side, if complete globalisation brings an end to our potentially miserable, homogeneous existence with a deft precision strike of corporate branded fridge magnets, at least we’d all go out in unison.

While we anxiously await the impending fridge magnet apocalypse, it’s just lucky that our global cultural supermarket remains stuffed full of new things to consume; and as consumers, our choices say a whole lot more about us than just the fine print on our favourite brand of toothpaste. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe, but do any of these choices actually provide a meaningful path towards expressing our true selves? Or are they just the end result of a bland equation where economic dominance delivers better product placement? Do I choose Android or Apple? Should I wear Nike or Adidas? Shall I drink Coke or Pepsi? Am I a Star-belly or Plain-belly Sneetch? And what does that last sentence even mean?

Dr. Seuss’s tale of The Sneetches was penned in 1963 as a parable that satirises discrimination between races and cultures. Although probably never Seuss’ intention, we can draw a surprisingly robust analogy from the plight of his Sneetches, and apply it to questions of modern identity. Like The Sneetches, whether born with stars on our bellies or without, defining and continually re-defining ourselves is an increasingly expensive commercial venture; our choices are not free. Like The Sneetches, prejudice, status, discrimination, and the burning need for acceptance can all drive critical decisions about our identity. Like The Sneetches, people will strive, suffer and sacrifice in a quest to belong, but it’s Seuss’ wily representation of commercialism – namely Mr Sylvester McMonkey McBean, and his money spinning “Star Off” and “Star On” machines – who really win out in the end. Whatever the outcome for The Sneetches, the money is already made, and he smugly rides off into the sunset with a quip about how those Sneetches will never learn. Are we those Sneetches of the beaches? And if so, will we truly never learn?

So after a long day of shopping for our identities, or counter-balancing the semi-automatic birth rate by slaughtering each other over ideological differences,  how else do we choose to occupy our time? If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re one of over 1.2 billion social networking account holders, and it probably comes as no surprise that people are talking to each other over the Internet. Multiple accounts aside, this figure is more than a sixth of our current global population, yet doesn’t even begin to touch on the multitude of other methods we could use to interact. The wealthy, the poor, male and female, young and the old, what intrinsic value could such a significant and eclectic group of people all glean from staring at screens or poking fingers at portable devices?

By opening our minds to the full measure of online experience, conversation, expression and interaction, perhaps we begin to appreciate just how diverse, intricate and incredible all the living cogs of our shrinking world have become. While the Internet is hardly a viable nominee for the next Nobel Peace Prize, and it would be laughable to suggest the majority are using our new technologies for solely educational purposes, surely it’s refreshing to entertain the notion that all this online interaction,  no matter how menial,  holds enough value to unwittingly propel us into an era of increased awareness, acceptance and understanding?

If nothing else, it’s a promising thought. Perhaps we should all blog about it?