The year is 2020. Some people call it the Digital Age. Others call it the Internet Era. By any name, our time is one marked by globalization, a process of interaction and integration between various stakeholders worldwide.
Economically-speaking, it has spawned raw materials and investment opportunities on a global scale. Politically, it has altered diplomatic relations with the rise of intergovernmentalism, evidenced by organizations such as the United Nations, European Union, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Seemingly a result of these alliances, the rate of cultural diffusion has never been higher, correlating with rises in global migration and tourism.
Enter me. Among the countless byproducts of globalization is my life. In 1997, I was adopted from Russia by American parents. Especially given my roots, I grew up with a global mindset which later led me to live abroad. To date, I’ve thrived in the globalized world. I’ve reaped its benefits. Yet, I’ve also witnessed its shortcomings.
To be fair, globalization is not new, only faster and thus denser. Its hastened pace is a subject of scrutiny and celebration. With the ability to send messages instantly across thousands of miles, we’re sharing information at an unprecedented speed. Yet, it’s not just the delivery of information that has been expedited. As an American, I’m well-acquainted with consumerism, especially the kind that comes delivered to your doorstep, often bearing a label that says “Amazon Prime”. It serves as further testament to the accelerated lifestyles of 2020. Speed means we can do and have more and many of us take full advantage of it. At this time, there’s no end in sight for materialism. As we continue to click “check-out”, the environment is being raped of its resources and assaulted by pollution. It’s not that we don’t care. Simply, we’re disconnected from the processes that bring us the newest versions of sliced bread. Globalization is leaving irremovable stains on our planet while we’re still enamored with the wonder that is two-day shipping.
In addition to the transport of products is that of people. While I’m a major proponent for cultural exchange via travel, I’ve become disillusioned. Tourism and migration are major strains on our planet and people. We’ve been conditioned to believe that tourism is a sought-after stimulant for economic growth. On the other side, tourism can overwhelm communities and exhaust resources.
Clearly, we need to be prepared to counter the negative effects of this aspect of globalization. The reality is that cultural diffusion comes with growing pains, especially when growing so rapidly. Cultures are under threat because, even though pluralism is advantageous, humans inevitably create hierarchies. Sometimes, we unintentionally perpetuate singular perspectives. Often, this is due to global marketing which has hijacked the role of defining various cultural identities whereas, traditionally, local communities fulfilled this job (Lohan, 2011). Furthermore, the growth and dominance of singular perspectives is a result of culture shock. When we place ourselves in unfamiliar environments, we often experience discomfort and manage it by reflecting on what is familiar to us. While that can be a useful strategy for dealing with the psychological challenges of going abroad, it can lead to ethnocentrism. A better approach is cultural relativism, “the principle that an individual person’s beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s own culture” (3.1E: Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism, 2019). Trust me, it’s not easy, especially when homesick. It’ll take time before we can properly navigate the globalized world in terms of cultural exchange. Even then, it won’t be perfect but we’ll better understand the give-and-take that’s necessary. The ideal system of cultural exchange is based on reciprocity. It’s about speaking and listening; showing and watching; teaching and learning. When that balance is struck, the world is an astonishingly colorful place.
Despite my international trajectory, I can’t bring myself to label globalization as either good or bad. I have a love-hate relationship with my expatriate life. The fact remains that globalization is our reality. The globalized world is nuanced and complex like every time that came before it. Since it’s unlikely that we will reverse its effects, we simply must learn to navigate it with ease and allow it to inform the bright future we’re constantly trying to build.
3.1E: Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism. (2019, October 7). Retrieved February 3, 2020, from https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Book:_Sociology_(Boundless)/3:_Culture/3.1:_Culture_and_Society/3.1E:_Ethnocentrism_and_Cultural_Relativism
Lohan, T. (2011, January 16). Eight Reasons Global Capitalism Makes our Lives Worse. Retrieved February 3, 2020, from https://www.globalpolicy.org/globalization/globalization-of-the-economy-2-1/general-analysis-on-globalization-of-the-economy/49750-eight-reasons-global-capitalism-makes-our-lives-worse.html
Featured photo: “Desk Globe on End Table Beside Chair” is courtesy of @kankra via Pexels.