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This Is The Technology Making The World Much Smaller

Published: 10/10/2017 - Filed under: Home » News »

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In January 1914, the world’s first passenger flight took place, and the globe drastically shrank in size. Journeys that would have taken months could suddenly take mere hours. It was not the first harbinger of globalization. Railways and cars had already sped things up, and the printing press had, hundreds of years earlier, made popular culture spread that much quicker. But it was certainly the biggest single step.


Over a century later and the world has continued to shrink at an unthinkable pace. Science fiction had figured that teleportation would be what brought us closer, but the internet has done a good enough job. From the early days of chat rooms and forums, to today’s social media culture, with all our pop culture intermingled (think about the VPN trend, that’s not so much for safety as for getting access to overseas content, like BBC iPlayer USA).

But what is the driving factor that has factory workers in South Africa obsessed with Donald Trump, and soccer fans in Brazil avidly watching Catalan’s fight for independence?

The usual suspects

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace imagines a world in which video calling has become so ubiquitous that people have to use digital avatars of themselves in order to look good on the phone. His thinking made sense. Once we had video calling technology, we’d be able to step right into each other’s lives, even when we were on the other side of the world.

But, while just about every call or messaging service has a video option, it hasn’t caught on in the way we would have expected. Sure, you can have conference calls with people around the world. But that hasn’t eliminated the need for business trips. And, rather than video calling our friends these days, we’re more likely to text.

What science fiction imagined would make the world smaller hasn’t panned out. It made the world more convenient, but did not drive us into each other’s countries.

Rather, what’s brought the world closer is aggregation, or trending, algorithms.

What’s trending?

Google is the biggest driver in this area, not Twitter or other social media. See, Google has for a long time been finishing our sentences, based on what our counterparts are asking around the world. I recently saw Google autocomplete described as the most organized database of our collective consciousness.

Now, we can click on the search bar and immediately see what’s on everyone’s minds. We don’t even have to start typing before we learn that Puerto Rico is trending, or Selena Gomez’s lupus.

This technology has seeped into everything. While a lot has been said about Facebook and the like showing us only what we want to see, they manage to keep us focused on the same news and events. People in the Philippines have opinions on Trump’s handling of the Puerto Rico crisis, for example.

The major problem with this is that it’s made the world smaller by depleting the importance of poorer regions. While 3rd world countries know what’s going on in the U.S. and Europe, the same is not true the other way around.

Aggregation technology has made the world a much smaller place. Unfortunately, it might just come at a big cost to the places that most need foreign interest.

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