Wednesday, November 23, 2005

flat world

When I arrived in Madrid a month or so ago, when meeting people they
would naturally enquire about what I thought about Madrid, as city, its
people, etc. My standard response would be: "In many ways I feel as if
I´ve never left home." And it´s not simply because I´ve been here before
which makes the environment known and familiar. I switch on the tv to
see what
Spanish television is like, and am left wondering what the term "Spanish
television" should mean exactly. What am I expecting to see that I´m not
seeing: Spanish culture?, a Spanish way of presenting the news? What?
Not sure, but what I do see are many of the same ads I see back in SA,
and even one or two ads _made_ in SA; the same tv programmes (e.g. CSI
(plain vanilla), CSI Miami, CSI New York, Desperate Housewives, Missing
(or I think it´s called that, a drama series about FBI agents in their
quest to find missing persons), Las Vegas, etc, etc, except all dubbed
to Spanish) Also, people might
be different because they are of a different nation, but then again,
they´re human, so they are not-so-different when all is said and done.
There is always the "nosy neighbour"; or the working class clerk at the
upmarket store who considers their 9-5 job to be the zenith of his/her
existence, and thinks that this "elevated position" gives them some
sophistication-by-proxy. When I
see that quality in people, I am always saddened.

Anyhow, the point is that people are not so different after all. And far
from this realisation being a disappointment, it can rather be seen as a
potentially unifying factor. Maybe that is where our capacity for
compassion grows, when we see that the other is "not so different, maybe
equally afraid, maybe equally hurt, maybe equally lonely, and yes,
equally happy"

The title of today´s blog is taken from the work of Tom Friedman. I´ve
not read but am familiar with his work. I think my experience of things
as not being so different is based in his "world is flat" theory. Yes,
the world is flat, but it is not Tom Friedman who had this insight.
Rather, Manuel Castells´ work, with far more intellectual rigour, says
the same sort of thing. Castells made the intellectual argument,
Friedman made it into a roadshow, I guess.

What strikes me is that people often make
themselves victim of the old way of thinking, which is that if you hail
from a developing country your experience of life is far more simple,
less sophisticated; that in essence all your country could afford you
was an experience of mostly abject poverty in some rural backwater. The
notion of your being urbanised, modernised, and the possibility of a
middle-class existence does not necessarily occur. "Oh, so you´re from a country
I´ve never heard of. Do animals roam the streets? Are there jungles?" I
am not referring explicitly to experiences in Madrid btw. It is that I
notice how people (in general) treat one another. They treat one another
as if the world is not flat; and I make myself guilty of this at times
too e.g. if you come from country x, you´ve probably never used a
computer, I might presuppose. Or you´re from some small country in the
Caribbean, and so I imagine life there as x, y, z. It is somehow
difficult to imagine, for some, that there are regular kids in
developing countries, in sneakers
listening to the latest global one-hit-wonder on his/her ipod, or doing
something as mundane as hanging out at the
mall. So, on the one hand one can experience this kind of
for-want-of-a-better-word "insult". The
flip side of the latter is when people from other developing countries
on the same continent deign to tell you "You´re from South Africa, and
South Africa isn´t Africa, so therefore your opinions do not represent
a/the developing country perspective."

So, what´s the point? Qstn: Why do people persist in perpetuating an
outmoded notion of unflatness? Are the bygone (1st/2nd/3rd world)
stereotypes so strong and so re-inforced that they continue to persist
even today?


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