Global Village?

The image of the Global Village has been nagging at me over the weekend. As a city dweller I was lucky to get to know some people who actually live in a farming community and experience first hand the pluses and minuses of country life. Perhaps the closest thing we have to village life in Australia. As I blow some hay from my keyboard while sitting on a V/Line train back to the big smoke I want to reflect on the concordances and differences between the reality of village life and the Internet version.
The key thing about country life is like it or hate it pretty much everyone knows what you are doing. This is a product of both proximity - they often see you doing it - and intense communication - commonly known as gossip. The gossip aspect is also partly driven by proximity as the topic of conversation is the new and the new is what you encounter. So small villages or country lanes the conversations are dominated by who bought / built what, whose cows escaped, the weather - though that is actually a critical working conversation in any farming community and other very local issues.

The Internet is about as far from local as it is possible to get - it has literally a global horizon - its news cycle is dominated by the global and the big.

So how can the vision of the Global Village be reconciled with the Internet experience? I will argue it is a poor fit, but here are some attempts:

  • Everything is now local - by giving us the news from everywhere we will care about everything as if it were our local immediate concern. A grand vision that doesn’t seem to fit with the psychology of the people participating. Instead of caring deeply about the important global events we seem to be unable to focus on them and they become something important but either happening to someone else or too big to deal with.
  • Everything about you is known - this is a Surveillance Society argument - so you will behave better towards your ‘neighbours’. There are several things wrong with this vision:
    1. anybody who has been in an over the fence backyard feud ought to know that people are most bitchy towards their closest contacts
    2. there is a privacy of the herd - people who perceive themselves as one among many are less bound by conventional behaviour mores. In real villages you are known so your behaviour matters, on the Internet people believe that no-one really knows who you are
  • Communities of interest will replace communities of proximity - this is a pick your own neighbourhood of like minded people argument which misses the most important aspect of a village - love them or hate them they are your neighbours you depend on them they depend on you in a crisis your neighbour will help no matter what disagreement you had because that is what neighbours do and they depend on their neighbours too. If you can enter or leave the community at will then the mutual dependance is no longer there.

In conclusion, the global village metaphor does not stack up well with the reality of village life. Perhaps, a better metaphor for the Internet would be a suburb where people are crammed together with too many people to know by name so no-one actually tries and the few people you do know are little beyond nodding at that vaguely familiar face? A vision far from the wholesome pastoral image of a global village - but probably far more operational.