Why Does It Matter That Our World Is Getting Smaller?
It’s challenging to avoid lofty words like “the globe is shrinking and world is getting smaller,” “we live in a global village,” “speed has overcome distance,” and “time has demolished space.” We’ve heard that distance has died and that geography has died as well. (However, we are then vulnerable to claims of the “end of history.”)
Olympian assertions about “eras,” or transitions between significant historical periods, are always problematic, not least because of their universalizing pretensions. However, subsequent modifications have raised additional concerns.
Zygmunt Bauman proposed one of the more insightful interpretations concerning this world is getting smaller (see “Time and space reunited,” Time and Society, 9/2-3, 2000). He claims that there has been a transition from “heavy modernity” to “light modernity.” Heavy modernism is territorializing and size-obsessed. Light modernism is all about movement and fluidity; it is light on its feet.
But what exactly does “count” imply? Things only matter to Bauman if they are valued in proportion to the expense of acquisition. Because traveling is so simple these days, Space isn’t as important as it once was world is getting smaller.
The depressing flattening of the earth into locations to visit (“where shall we travel this year?”) is captured by Bauman here. “I heard Mongolia is beautiful”). But, of fact, Bauman’s thesis isn’t exactly correct – at least not in ways that are instantly uplifting.
It is not true that all places may be reached in the same amount of time (“no-time”). There has been a scrumpling of Space, a topological scrumpling. New York has been brought closer to London than
Alma Ata world is getting smaller, even though they are both kilometers apart (or near).
Internal, uneven geographies exist in both cyberspace and the immediate worlds of finance. Moreover, because of the centralization of speedy transit through hubs, certain regions in between are much more challenging to reach.
The contact with the other
It is, however, more than that. Space is the dimension of simultaneity, whereas time is the dimension of change and succession. It is the dimension of coexistence in the present world is getting smaller.
It’s the magnitude of the fact that, as I write this in Kilburn, north London, fighting is raging in the southern Philippines (about which I’ll learn more later), women in south Africa are fighting for water and survival daily. Poor children in squatter settlements in Latin America’s great cities are preparing for another day.
Space is a symphony of previously told stories; it has a multiplicity dimension. While air travel, emails, and cyberspace can all help lessen the costs and impacts of physical distance, they do not eliminate it world is getting smaller. Although a phone conversation can be immediate and the Space between us can be minimized for a short time, we are not united into one thing.
Thus, Space is a social dimension: it informs us of the existence of others (see Doreen Massey, For Space, 2005). In Bauman’s scenario, “visiting” a location entails more than merely getting there. Visiting is a form of interaction, a meeting with people. The “cost” (and the value) may be quantified during the process of developing a relationship world is getting smaller.
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Susan Sontag concluded her memorable essay Trip to Hanoi (1968) with the incidental but tantalizing observation that the world appeared wider than when she arrived. This is the difference between social and cultural distance. It refers to the chasms that might occur between one’s comprehension and experience of the world. This is the disruptiveness, or discontinuity, of Space.
It occurs on all scales. Even the person next to you, whom you know well, you never know what they’re thinking or feeling (a cent for them?) world is getting smaller. Maurice Blanchot wrote about this: “A gap, a rupture, exists in the very instant of the encounter.” How much more so in the Sontag case, and how much more so now…
What are the distances that must be covered? How long do you think it’ll take? What is the “cost”?
The fact is that we have a habit of avoiding the problem of Space. Instead, we develop alternate imaginations that deflect the truth of plurality frequently without even realizing it world is getting smaller. Little creative maneuvers that make life a little more straightforward in the world.
The concept of a shrinking world is precisely such a maneuver, projected above all in support of the “Davos man” project: that new global elite of neoliberal wealth.
Their universe (of commerce, virtual communication, and technology hotspots in the global south) is
presented as the world. Distance is always a burden in their universe (Negroponte was already writing on the “limitations” of geography in Being Digital ) world is getting smaller; there is no mention of the pleasures of mobility or travel. The goal is to “unearth” us from any entanglement, as well as from the planet itself.
The related language of “equal playing fields” and a flat world (indeed, the earth is already balanced and shrinking – it will soon eat itself up into a black hole).
Turning Space into time and geography into history is another evasive mental maneuver with comparable results. When confronted with issues concerning today’s neoliberal globalization’s poverty and inequality world is getting smaller (for proof, check the yearly United Nations Development Programme reports), the response is frequently: don’t worry, they’re only behind; they’ll catch up.
This type of globalization assumes that the entire globe is moving in the same direction. The whole of uneven topography of the earth gets reorganized into a historical queue in such a framing imagination. History is transformed from geography (a spatial simultaneity of contrasts) (seen as a single succession).
Both Space and time suffer due to this: on the one hand, Space’s contemporaneity is annihilated, while temporality is confined to the single. On the other hand, there is only one historical queue (one development model, for example), world is getting smaller and it is established by those “in charge” (there is one voice).
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