In these modern times no one can escape the effects of globalization. What exactly does this neologism mean though? Collins dictionary defines it as “the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications.” Webster’s dictionary defines it more succinctly as: “to make worldwide in scope and application.” In essence it refers to the increasing global relationships of economic activity, people and cultures. This can be viewed as either a benign force for cosmopolitanism or a kind of cancer, inasmuch as the increasing conformity to Western norms is threatening to smother the rich diversity of the world’s peoples.
Globalization is a modern term, but the phenomenon is not a new one: in earlier centuries the conquerors, traders and missionaries aspired to extend their power, faith and commerce all over the globe, and in the process left a huge amount of their own civilization and customs behind. However today what is new is the astonishing speed and scale of the transformative process, in political, economic and cultural terms. One of the negative impacts of the global economy is the dull, boring, homogeneity that it has now imposed on so much of the world: often when travelling it seems that everywhere is becoming just like everywhere else!
In 1962 the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” to describe how the world is getting smaller, and he commented: “Ours is a brand new world of all-at-once-ness.” He attributed this phenomenon to electric circuitry, and primarily the spread of television. His words proved to be uncannily prophetic, since every technological innovation since then has only confirmed this idea. Modern technology such as mobile phones, the Internet, email, and social networking are the present-day indispensable tools of rapid (and often instant) global communications. In equal measure the shrinking of virtual space has been matched in actual, physical space by the availability of cheap international flights which have made the most distant parts of the world easily accessible, and affordable, to millions of ordinary people.
National borders have become increasingly permeable and the USA has had an especially large impact on the world, and has established a kind of global culture. The pro-globalist writers, like Francis Fukuyama, argue that the swift movement of money and goods across the globe, made possible by technology, will bring greater efficiency and benefits to all: i.e. more and cheaper commodities to already wealthy countries, more and better-paid employment to the ones which are currently developing. The theory behind this is that in due course growing prosperity should lead in due course to improved education and greater political evolution (the birth of modern liberal democracies), as has happened in the West, over the course of history.
Sadly the debased and commoditized popular culture of the USA and other Western countries can be viewed as stamping out and destroying local practices and customs. The superficial consumerism is masterminded by aggressive, greedy and cynical multinational corporations, vast businesses who “swindle the West and exploit the rest” by depriving Western workers of jobs and replacing them with slave labour (even child labour) in Third World sweatshops.
In the final analysis it appears that globalization produces a type of hybrid culture: it is a two-way diffusion process. The respective cultures usually have the effect of influencing one another, so that something new comes out of it, a mixing of cultures which may be beneficial to all. Human nature being what it is, people are always curious to experience new tastes and customs, etc., but at the same time they retain a strong sense of belonging to a particular community and nation, and the sharing local beliefs and traditions.