Globalization: A World Full of Seinfeld’s Close Talkers?

Globalization: A World Full of Seinfeld’s Close Talkers? March 18, 2014

What is globalization? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides popular as well as precise considerations. On a popular level, globalization is viewed as the liberalization of the world economy and westernization of vast domains of culture, including economics and politics; moreover, it involves the spread of innovative technologies and the cessation of main causes of strife and unification of communities across the globe. On a more in depth level, globalization involves “fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence, according to which the significance of space or territory undergoes shifts in the face of a no less dramatic acceleration in the temporal structure of crucial forms of human activity.”

Given this more formal understanding of globalization, an apparent sense of immediacy develops concerning that which would have previously been viewed as remote and mysterious. Since we often measure geographical distance in the time it takes to get from one place to another, the faster we are able to travel from one place to another the less distant the destination appears to be. Borders on the national or local level tend to lose their significance.

The apparent sense of immediacy can give rise to a feeling of intimacy. But does such seeming immediacy actually convey intimacy? I do not think so. Tourists who can travel quickly across the globe have a sense of immediacy, which can lead them to have a false sense of intimacy. They can come away with the conviction that they have “been there, done that.” Still, intimacy can never be equated with geographical proximity. Tourists often tour places quickly, but they have only scratched the surface of a culture. Or have they? Perhaps tourist spots are only veneers that cover the equivalent of particle board, not veils that offer one mediated exposure to the depth dimensions of particular cultures.

In the future, everyone may become a closer talker, as in the Seinfeld episode. But that does not mean we will all become fast friends who truly know one another. You and I cannot become fast friends with someone fast, no matter how quickly the geographical distance is removed. We may have heard of one another, as was the case with Kramer and the close talker in Seinfeld. We may know what toothpaste each other uses (hopefully) given our level of proximity, but it takes time to know someone, not just the shortening of distance and no matter how many pennies we may pay for someone’s thoughts or energy or bodies.

As the old saying goes, time is money. It takes time with someone to build intimacy. But not just any use of time. It is not enough to sit with someone, though that is important. We do need to share our thoughts and energies and hearts. What is required to become close is the time and space to talk and share story, as the Hawaiians will say, in vulnerability and transparency, inhabiting life and death together, not just airports and airplanes. Otherwise, no matter how close we get we will only be close talkers who are passing ships in the night and a host of other clichés.

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