Iconoclasm in the global village

Are really living in a global village? Or was Marshall McLuhan naive in his belief that the electronic media revolution would speed up society and transform all of us into global citizens?

Blogger Boyd Stowe, who loves "social tools", doesn't love me (I've actually got very nice social tools, especially after a few beers). In response to an essay I published this week on the Britannica website, which was critical of the Cluetrain Manifesto's 4 sacred C's: "community", "conversation", "customer" and "citizenship" (btw: Doc Searls says, quite fairly I admit, that I'm wrong about citizenship), Boyd wrote:

 Keen tries to be an iconoclast, and so he attacks the notions advanced in The Cluetrain Manifesto, which have become the backdrop to much of what is going on in social media. (I suppose next he will go after the patron saint of the Internet, Marshall McLuhan, and explain to us in petulant tones that the world isn't a global village and that modern media have not led to a speed-up of society.

Well, to please Boyd Stowe, I've crawled into the uniform of an iconoclast today (soiled boxers and a ripped t-shirt). So let me be an arrogant elitist and petulantly confirm that, yes, social media isn't transforming the world into a global village. I don't see much evidence that social media sites in Korea or Japan are having any impact on America or Europe -- and vice versa. How many Japanese bloggers have you interacted with recently (even though Japanese blogs make up 37% of today's 70 million blogs)? How many of you have made e-mail buddies with people in Bulgaria or Morocco? How many of you hang out on the Korean Cyworld? And of the supposedly 90% of South Koreans who apparently have Cyworld accounts, how many of them have even visited the American Cyworld? I interviewed Professor Steve Epstein, the head of the East Asian program at Wellington University, on my afterTV show a few months ago and he confirmed that the Korean Internet world remains as inward looking as Korean society.

The global village was and still is a figment of Saint McLuhan's fertile imagination. Everywhere I look, I see the reverse. Even the most self-absorbed blogger can't deny the rebirth of tribalism in Iraq, near universal hostility to globalism in France, increasingly radical economic and cultural between the rich post-industrialized and poor under-industrialized nations, the closing of borders, the resurrection of religious intolerance and ethnic hatred. And all this social media might actually be making us more parochial, more tribal, more self-reverential. Social media is just one more way that late capitalist free market is destroying the universalist promise of the Enlightenment. If you don't trust me on this, then read Slavoj Zizek -- whose magnificent "You don't have to be vile" essay in the London Review of Books identifies globalizers like Boyd Stowe as "liberal communists".

So where does the global village exist? It exists in the no-less fertile imagination of digital utopians like Boyd Stowe and his saintly social media buddies at establishments like Harvard's Berkmann Center. These guys resemble the peripatetic academics in David Lodge's novel Small World. They travel around the world (Zizek calls them the Davos crowd) confirming each other's theories about the global village and the speeding-up of society. That's what Freud called wish fulfillment. But as Marx reminds us in his 13th Thesis on Feuerbach, there actually is a difference between theory and practice. To will something doesn't mean it actually exists. And a small world of like minded digital utopians is not the same thing as a global village of all the world's citizens.

Nor am I convinced that the social tools of "modern media" has led to a "speeding-up" of society (whatever that really means). I live in Berkeley and I don't see people moving quicker in and out of the Berkeley Bowl when they buy their groceries. Nor do I see any quickening of the way in which my trash is collected. Sure, guys like Boyd Stowe are getting pretty speedy on their blogs and their interactive social networks and their interactive conferences about interactive blogging and interactive social networks. But that's not a "speeding-up" of society. It's guys like Boyd Stowe with expensive computers playing in the sandlot of their small world (which they call a "global village").

So there, Boyd Stowe. That's enough iconoclasm for today. Society is speeding by my window and I'm gonna try to jump on before it runs off without me.