Not Global

(a response to reader karima, who thoughtfully questioned the use of the word "global" given the technological requirements to join the global village basketball game, anticipating some of the same questions that i have been asking myself)

Global Village Basketball 2009 took place last week at gym locations around the world. Despite the seemingly grand title, it was a humble affair: a few thousand points scored by a few hundred people hailing from a handful of countries scattered across a few continents. Can one truly call such an event "global"?

Of course not. But imagine a little. More people learn about the game and more baskets are scored in more places. Do we approach the "global" at this point? There is certainly a technological limit that is eventually reached, since one requires internet connectivity in order to upload one's points and photos to the collective meta-game.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

one. equal area cartogram of worldwide internet users, 2002

As the (slightly outdated) equal area cartogram above shows, worldwide access to the internet is dramatically distorted, which leaves certain areas technologically "in the dark" as concerns communication connectivity. Or does it? The latter word — connectivity — complicates the issue slightly, for connecting to this meta-game of basketball does not necessarily imply a desktop computer, colour monitor, router and ISDN line. It may simply mean the ability to exchange digital bits of information, which one may accomplish just as easily by telephone.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

two. equal area cartogram of worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, 2002

This equal area cartogram from the same year shows worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, and one can easily see in contrast to the first map how certain areas of the world are beginning to expand while others contract. Global? No, but certainly a different context than what we were considering at the outset. And when we shift the analysis from proportion to raw quantity of mobile cellular phones, the question of connectivity is complicated even further. Bangladesh, Colombia and Venezuela have more cellular phones than Canada? Ghana, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more cellular phones than Finland or New Zealand? There seems to be a disconnect between (Western) perceptions of economic prosperity and the reality of connectivity-in-potential around the world (a motif that by no coincidence weaves itself continually through the music of M.I.A.).

Courtesy of Google Analytics

three. geographical distribution of visits to the global village basketball web site

Perhaps the best thing that happened to me personally during the inaugural event is that the technology at our game location didn't work. We had lavish plans to bring a laptop to the gym and upload each game as it was played. We were going to take photos with a digital camera and add them to the Flickr pool while the game was in progress. We were going to hook the laptop to a data projector and display the global meta-score on the wall as it changed in real-time.

Only we didn't have connectivity.

Wireless access was confined to particular areas at the school in which we were playing. We didn't have an ethernet cable long enough to reach a classroom and get connected that way. And the Global Village Basketball web site didn't want to cooperate with an iPhone that one of the players had with him. Despite the wonderful technological capital available to us, we were reduced to keeping score on paper and uploading the information later.

But it didn't matter. Save for the scribbling of a local score on paper at the end of each game and the periodic update of the overall score total from someone's Blackberry, this Wednesday night scrimmage was pretty much like every other Wednesday night scrimmage created by this micro-community of basketball players in terms of structure. Yet in terms of style it was radically different: there was an energy (or affective tonality) in the air that can only be considered the byproduct of an imagined sporting meta-community.

If this is the case — that is, if one can still feel "a part" of the event in an "offline" sense and connect at a later point to "commit" one's local score to the global repository of scores — then the questions about connectivity raised earlier are complicated even further. As Paul Virilio repeatedly illustrates, the speed of instantaneous electronic communications forces us to consider time rather than space as the fundamental parameter governing social relations. For Global Village Basketball, one really needs to be only within 24 hours of a telecommunication access point in order to have the group's baskets count. And this is what the event proposes in its purest distillation: an offer to be counted or accounted for.

Courtesy of YouTube

four. distribution of visits by country to the global village basketball youtube video

Nonetheless, the original question remains: can we really use the world "global" to describe the event, no matter how open-ended its linking infrastructure attempts to be? Absolutely not. The word "global" connotes too much the idea of a "total" system, which is by no means the goal of Global Village Basketball, nor should it be the goal of any sporting multitude. If individual sports are linguistic forms, then it would be akin to seeking one global language and the consequential limits to thought systems this would imply.

But this is not the intent of the event title. Rather than reading "global" one ought to instead read "global" and "village" together as if the two words formed a single concept. The term "global village" was coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, who suggested that the electricity-based technologies of telegraph, radio, television, personal computer, internet, telephone, etc. would reconfigure spatial relations and draw the 6 billion people on the planet intimately closer together as if living in a single village.

This is not to suggest a utopia in the age of telecommunication networks! In fact, claims of utopia by other scholars form the laziest critiques of McLuhan's work, for McLuhan himself was quite ambivalent about the latent promise of the global village.

There is more diversity, less conformity under a single roof in any family than there is with the thousands of families in the same city. The more you create village conditions, the more discontinuity and division and diversity. The global village absolutely insures maximal disagreement on all points. It never occurred to me that uniformity and tranquility were the properties of the global village. It has more spite and envy. The spaces and times are pulled out from between people. A world in which people encounter each other in depth all the time.

The tribal-global village is far more divisive — full of fighting — than any nationalism ever was. Village is fission, not fusion, in depth. People leave small towns to avoid involvement. The big city lined them with its uniformity and impersonal milieu. They sought propriety and in the city, money is made by uniformity and repeatability. Where you have craftsmanlike diversity, you make art, not money. The village is not the place to find ideal peace and harmony. Exact opposite. Nationalism came out of print and provided an extraordinary relief from global village conditions. I don't approve of the global village. I say we live in it (McLuhan: Hot & Cool, 1967, p.272).

When the density of our stereoscopic existence intensifies, in other words, we become increasingly human, all too human.

In conclusion, a note on semantics

We ought to clarify the difference between "global" and "global village" that is implied by Global Village Basketball. To that end, from now on we shall endeavor to call the event Global+Village Basketball, the plus-sign indicating two ideas: first, that the two words must be read together as if one concept; and second, that our ability to play in an environment not conducive to peace and harmony is only possible because of the relationality that fashions each individual who decided to connect and be counted.


5 responses to Not Global

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  1. Karima says:

    you have broadened my notion of ‘connections’…
    i can imagine the energy on Wednesday that was created by new sense of community (fostered by being part of a meta-game…)

    thinking about how connections form 'global villages' makes a lot of sense to me…. it is an interesting concept (seems almost like an oxymoron, global and village… yet it makes sense to describe the many global communities that form over similar interests etc, that may be small but reach over great distances globally….)

    thanks for sharing all your great ideas!

  2. Kalle Jonasson says:

    Good Latourian (we have never been modern, schmodern) catchphrase: "No matter how far you travel - you will never leave the local!

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