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From numbers to interconnectedness
Thoughts about globalisation

If there is one word the media are full of, it must be globalisation. But what does that mean? Is it simply a reference to an activity taking place world-wide? Or is there more to going global than that? Is anything really becoming global? And if so what? And to what end?

Interconnectedness and all-embracing activities

There are two related but quite different processes at work here:
  1. The growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all facets of life on a world-level;
  2. The insatiable drive of certain human activities to englobe all other human activities - if not everything else - in their logic.
The Global Information Society (GIS) is both a prime driving force and an important manifestation of interconnectedness. At the same time, the tools of the GIS are powerful weapons in the hands of would-be all-embracing activities.


The rediscovery of the interconnected nature of the world is part of a long term process. In the field of science, for example, the concept of the world as a series of discrete phenomena that can be reproduced in a laboratory is slowly giving way to the vision of a complex world in which anything and everything potentially interacts with anything else. In the political sphere, the rise of ecology, as epitomised by the initial call of the Club of Rome in 1979, stresses a similar world-wide inter-relationship in terms of resources, climate and pollution. Ethically speaking, the quest for world-wide co-operation and understanding is clearly a highly desirable ideal. To defend such an ideal is to combat racism, oppression, war, pollution, ...

The Global Information Society is both a symbol and a major tool in the increasing awareness of interconnectedness and the resulting restructuring of ways of thinking and ways of doing things. Care must be taken however not to be misled by the name. The GIS is not and never will be global. Even if standardisation makes it technically possible, it is sufficent to consider telephone connection statistics to realise that many will remain disconnected in the foreseeable future. What's more, the enormous diversity of cultures and languages in the world will cut short the dreams of those who see "global" as meaning "monolingual" or "homogeneous". The Global Information Society will be a highly interconnected world in its own right in which such ideals as those of co-operation and understanding can flourish ... unless, of course, the GIS gets totally gobbled up and transformed by the market.

An insatiable desire to englobe all else

Certain human activities become obsessed with their own growth and seek to englobe as many other activities as possible. Organised education, health-care and welfare are examples. Think of "life-long" learning where all activities are seen as an occasion to introduce organised learning. Unfortunately for them their colonial ambitions have been stopped short by stronger than them: the market. "Too expensive", say market forces and governments alike. "They can only continue if they pay their way on the open market" say the former.

The market attaches a numerical value to anything and everything whether it is meaningful or not. Everyone learns to do this in school. It is the major lesson of the schooling system. Officially called receiving marks, I prefer to call it school book-keeping. Five out of six for this essay, ten out of ten for that drawing, 1'000 ECU for this brain, 10 ECU for that activity. Once you've given the number, it is possible to trade in numbers without wasting time and energy paying so much attention to the thing itself. You might hesitate if you had to think about what it was you were buying or selling and that wouldn't be good for trade.

One aspect of the insatiable appetite of the market place is the need to deliver goods to anybody anywhere right away. The Global Information Infrastructure (GII) is seen as a useful tool for this. At the same time, anything and everything must be converted into a sellable commodity. Just imagine, in a few years, some of your children's genes may be patented by a large pharmaceutical company to whom royalties will be due. In another field, the GII makes it possible for insatiable market forces to turn human exchange and thinking processes into lucrative products. As exchange and thinking know no limits, those who plan to trade in them have maybe hit the jackpot!

And us?

But what about us? Those of us who still believe we are people and not a collection of numbers up for sale? Should we not consider the fast dwindling world of the non-saleable as our most precious resource? Somebody has to say "STOP!" to the market. Somebody has to set limits before the global market gobbles everything up and coverts it to figures.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise.

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Created: November 26th, 1996 - Last up-dated: November 26th, 1996