December 02, 2008

Globalization and Global Awareness

I almost went into work the day after Thanksgiving, even though I had the time off. Why? I have coworkers in Mumbai, and the only way I was going to find out how they were doing was to log into the intranet.

In the end, I stayed home. I realized that whether I knew or not made zero difference to what was happening there. In fact, I don't know any of these coworkers, have never spoken to them.

But I was still relieved yesterday to find out that they were all safe, freaked out to hear that one had been rescued from one of the attacked hotels, and hurt by their losses of friends and family. Even not knowing them, the tie we share, just by working for the same company, makes the whole tragedy more real to me.

We talk a lot about the pitfalls of globalization, but we don't talk much about the positive side effects. There are frequently improvements to infrastructure, standards of living and education that go along with companies dumping even small amounts of money across the world, but I think the connections made across national borders are nearly as important.

Would we know nearly as much about child labor practices if someone weren't able to point at people and tell them that what they're wearing was made by an eight-year-old? Isn't it harder to think of someone as completely other when you see them marked with the same brands that surround you? I know it's much harder to think of world tragedies as distant events when my company tells me that the people they're affecting matter to them and should matter to me.

This doesn't just happen through business, of course. I've traveled outside the U.S.--four countries. I went to school with someone who moved to another. Through this blog and others, I know people who are personally affected by events in at least a dozen countries, just off the top of my head. Because I mentored an exchange student for a while, I know more about the presidential politics of one former Soviet country than anyone else I know will ever find interesting.

Still, I work for a company with offices in more than forty countries (I think; I don't have to keep that straight anymore). That's a large chunk of the world about which I get "this is the scope of events but everyone is okay" messages. That's a large chunk of the world that heard that I was okay when the 35W bridge collapsed last year. That's a lot of people who aren't ignoring each other.

For all the problems of globalization, this little piece of it is a very good thing.


Dr. J said...

Great post!

Glad to hear your colleagues are ok.

By instinct, I think globalization has to be a good thing. Anything that will help get people thinking of other people as people rather than defined by the physical confines of geography or by ridiculous dogmatic belief is surely a good thing? As you say you have ties that have come about because of the company you work for. It would be great if that sort of opportunity was available to more people, to allow them to see others as people and tied by humanity. I can't help but feel it would open more minds. People seem to insist on focussing on the negative, but I certainly hope that the fact that we're collectively learning how to work together better is going to help us minimize some of the horrible conflicts that have marred our history as a species.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Dr. J.

I think there's certainly room to abuse the concept of globalization, with poorer countries being less willing to insist on environmental and worker protections, but I don't think that's reason enough to condemn it. If we're willing to do it, we can place significant restrictions on the operations of any company that wants to do business in our countries. That's significant leverage (you know, as long as we still have an economy). There's no reason we can't make it a less-bad thing.

Of course, there are still the problems inherent in broadening the consumerist culture....