Is a “global culture” possible?

One of National Geographic’s cover stories in 1999 was on global culture – with an image juxtaposing the traditional and modern in a developing country: India. The idea of a “global culture” certainly permeates much more than our outward appearance, but the way we think and act as “global citizens”. In a Tampa Bay Times exclusive by David Jacobson, who directs the Citizenship Initiative at the University of South Florida in Tampa, the idea of a global culture is described as the “next frontier” – one of the next machinations on our planet’s path of globalization:

The arc of human history shows a continuous ratcheting up in the scale of community. Hunting bands were…replaced by agricultural societies. Agricultural societies coalesced into empires. From roughly the 17th century we see the emergence of centralized states and cohesive nations.

What next? A global order, suggests Jacobson. A culture that is shared by a significant number of the Earth’s inhabitants – complete with a set of values and behavioral norms that inform the way we think and act. A guidebook that defines what’s right and wrong between people from countries around the world, unified by a single language. We already have communication technology allowing us to converse across national boundaries, eliciting responses from people far away that have an opinion and want to contribute. How do we temper a global culture with many players (states, corporations, individuals, etc.) vying to influence the way we see the world?

We may be far from a cohesive global culture, but we can begin to identify the preferences many of us share from country to country. One might be instantaneous communication. Whether we use email, instant messaging, videoconferencing or SMS, there is a growing expectation that we’re accountable to ourselves and to our employers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (or else be left behind by those more willing and eager). As our mobile devices have quickly become appendages to our bodies (for some, we may feel “naked” without them), we can indeed communicate around the clock from a plethora of locations outside the office and home.

There is also a widespread expectation that technology will continue to innovate, thereby facilitating our dealings and further molding our values around communication, relationships and business competence. How would instantaneous travel (the ability to physically move from one location to a distant other in a matter of nanoseconds) impact this global culture? How much easier would it be to build trusting relationships with our counterparts half-way around the world? Would this negate our need to communicate in text, and instead, simply materialize in front of our business partners and colleagues for a quick meeting instead?

What other global phenomena might continue to evolve and inform a global set of norms – norms we would rely on for an effective, global civil society?


Comments (5 Comments)
  1. Daragh

    Not sure a single homogeneous global culture is even desirable, let alone likely – it is one of the joys of travelling and working internationally that there is such variety of human experience, of culture, and that diversity is also in my view a powerful force for innovation, flexibility and resilience, not just potential conflict or misunderstanding. Strikes me that this desire to flatten the world culturally (and impliedly in a very western, technological way, incidentally) is an extremely US view of the future. Would the same enthusiasm be demonstrated if it were Chinese or Muslim culture or values that were propagated from East to West?

  2. Chris Carlson

    Daragh’s comment is quite accurate, in my opinion. Different cultures are desirable, and I wouldn’t want all cultures to become “westernized” or “easternized.”

    On the other hand, cultures of hate and disrespect should be halted.

    What do we say about giving people the freedom to choose the culture in which they want to live. Should societies restrict people from switching to a culture they prefer? Once again, this freedom is a western ideal.

  3. Kellly

    McDonalds, Starbucks, and KFC everywhere – there is a certain level of homogenization already and some people like this. There are some people who, when traveling, want to go to the same familiar spots they have at home. Personally, I agree with Daragh. Part of the travel experience is in experiencing new and unfamiliar things. But there is a segement of society that feels more comfortable with all the same things they have at home. I sometimes wonder what drives people like that to even want to travel, but that starts getting into judgments regarding what other people choose to do, and I’d rather not go there.

  4. Barbara Pirie

    I suppose we might see a global culture in some areas – mostly economic and technical.

    In terms of identity, we’d have to start with accepting multiple identities with which one comes to the fore by context. Socially we mostly favor our ‘first culture, politically a national culture, and economically we might see music, business, etc. But even in these areas are some norms REALLY shared?

    If we look at norms that would ensure global peaceful co-existence, I think this is a long way away as political and social contexts tend to favor different/preferred and clashing cultural norms often to meet different goals.

  5. kevin

    A global culture in the world of business may be a little more acceptable than a global culture throughout one’s personal life. But I don’t see that happening.

    As an example, if an American is in Japan, should they be expected to greet and trade business cards in the Japanese business tradtion? And if a Japanese businessman is in the US, would they greet with a handshake or still want to trade meishi and bow without a handshake?

    I think instead of becoming clones, we just respect our differences.

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