The events that are taking place in Charlottesville have shocked many in the United States and beyond. They represent the latest manifestation of a growing trend towards racism, nationalism, exclusion and ignorance that are products of technological developments and globalisation. The world around us is changing beyond recognition, and while many bury their heads in the sand, looking to the past and demonising the unfamiliar, every one of us has the power to shape the new world order.
Like never before in history, the chaos and upheaval taking place in one country can be felt on the opposite side of the world. People facing poverty, abuse, inequality and war in African and Asian countries are travelling further afield than ever in search of a better future. Meanwhile, societies in the “West” are becoming increasingly polarised as the competition for resources and opportunities increases and they are confronted by unfamiliar customs, languages and faces.
Riot police control a protest against white supremacists in Charlottesville (image: RT)
Technology is the key factor underpinning these changes. Half of the mobile phones currently sold are smartphones, which now make up about 80% of internet usage worldwide. David Rothkopft, CEO of Foreign Policy, explains that this shift is “changing the way people spend and manage money; identify, make and maintain friendships; participate as citizens; become educated; stay healthy; keep up to date with news; and be entertained, as well as commit crimes, incite revolutions, and seek new disruptive innovations.”
This process has profound implications for the way we see ourselves, our societies and our world. While humans once found commonality with those who share their geography, we might now have more in common with people on the other side of the globe in terms of our interests, behaviours and beliefs. This new reality seems to render the concept of nation states divided by physical borders outdated, though right now there doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative.
There are fundamental questions to which we need answers in order to navigate this strange new world of unlimited connectivity. While some of these are questions are personal ones about our own identities, others are political, economic and legal questions with complicated and far reaching implications. How do we police the new online spaces that technology is opening up? Whose responsibility is this? And should they even be policed in the first place? These are just a few such questions.
One thing is clear: some of the most powerful people in the world have turned their backs to these changes and seem to be doing their best to ignore, or even blatantly deny them. Some of these people might be intimidated by their scale and implications, while others have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which got them where they are in the first place.
Instead of asking and having to answer difficult questions, they look to the past for answers and validation, championing a return to the historical strength and success of nations in times gone by in an attempt to silence progressive – and disruptive – voices. They resort to fearmongering, positioning themselves as the only people prepared to stand up for the hard-working, patriotic people who live in outdated political and economic systems that no longer represent their interests. These calls for a return to past greatness often fall on welcome ears, as people facing an uncertain future want to believe that there is an easy solution to their problems.
“Technology is obliterating borders, and some people who feel that their identity is in flux are clinging, in vain, to keep it rigidly fixed … Nostalgia for divisions between people is one of the most dangerous – and frequently exploited – forces in history.” – David Rothkopf (image: CNN)
Fearmongering and demonization of the “other” has become out of control in societies in Europe and the United States, as the recent events in Charlottesville clearly demonstrate. People on both sides of the political spectrum are becoming increasingly unwilling to listen to and learn from other points of view, to which they are also becoming less exposed. This, again, is partly due to technology, as the algorithms of social media platforms like Facebook show their users only content they will “like”, meaning potentially balancing content representing other perspectives often fails to even hit their timelines.
It is ironic that the same ground-breaking technology that facilitates interaction between people of different cultures, backgrounds, languages and beliefs is also making it easier for people to solidify their differences and communicate only with people who agree with their point of view.
As long as technology and globalisation continue to pose complex political, economic and societal challenges, and as long as communities respond by becoming increasingly divided, events like Charlottesville will continue to take place. Some have compared the current period with the Dark Ages, arguing that a renaissance is coming that is, like the last, fuelled by the colossal changes taking place in the world.
White supremacists march in Charlottesville, VA (image: ABC News)
A new world order is emerging, where people are not limited by physical borders as long as they have access to technology. No amount of political bickering, debate or violence will prevent this new world order, though it will shape it. This is where we need to take a step back and think about what we want the future to look like.
Technology is central to almost everything we do. We are becoming increasingly reliant on it to communicate, pay for things, travel freely, stay healthy, complete our education, apply for jobs… the list goes on. This means that the people who control this technology have the ultimate power to determine what the future will look like. So, while we fixate over yesterday’s White House Twitter scandal, influential individuals and big tech companies are making decisions that will massively impact our lives tomorrow.
While we can’t stop technological development and globalisation in their tracks (and would we really want to?), we CAN help shape the future it is creating, if we are paying attention to it. Arguably if we don’t, the current pattern of conflict and destabilisation will prevail. If we all have smartphones, then we all hold in our hands a tiny piece of power over how they are used. We all have the means to use technology to help create a new world order that is inclusive, innovative, vibrant and progressive; that celebrates different cultures and beliefs but also encourages the sharing of ideas.
We must not lose sight of the power of technology to connect people of different backgrounds, cultures, languages and beliefs. Learning from one another and sharing ideas, insights and experiences would not only create a world where there is less division, conflict and polarisation, but it would also better equip us to face the complex challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change, nationalism, migration and new kinds of crime and warfare.
Pink Jinn is founded on the idea that cultural exchange and the sharing of ideas will ultimately make the world a better place. That is why we are constantly trying to show a different side to the Middle East to the narratives that seem to prevail in the Western media. We hope that, by celebrating the cultures of this often-misunderstood region and sharing the ideas of some of its most inspiring and progressive minds, we can encourage greater genuine engagement with this beautiful part of the world and its amazing people.
(image: Mint Press News)
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