Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Our Global Shrinking World

The other day, I took my students on a class trip. As we entered the Israel Supreme Court one of the student's cellphone's rang. It was her Mom calling from the U.S. And I was struck by a certain irony.

On the one hand we have become global. Worldwide travel has expanded as once "exotic" travel locations have become rather ordinary tourist destinations. We can reach other countries and continents at the click of our mouse. We can talk from any place in the universe. One would imagine that this would expand our horizons, widen our vision, give us the opportunity to explore and experience beyond our home upbringing, the community and lifestyle in which we were raised so that we might become truly global.

But in fact, the opposite has frequently become true. Globalisation has allowed people to closet themselves inside a small comfortable compartment and not to encounter anything new, challenging, different, "other". My student in Israel doesn't necessarily talk to Israelis. She walks down Emek Refaim listening to her iPod, talking to her circle of American friends on her cellphone. She barely sees the streets around her. She spends her evenings watching American TV shows that she downloads on the internet. One can keep up with the baseball at home. Why attend an Israeli Basketball game? One can have the music that one likes; Why get to know Israeli music? One can read the NYTimes; Why read Maariv or Yediot? And this is true all the way around the world. A Muslim child in Birmingham will grow up watching Al Jazeera instead of the BBC. People walk through the streets and ignore everyone around as they communicate on their cellphones. I can pick up my email anywhere in the Globe, can take comfort in my favourite websites! I never leave home; my parents are always at the other end of the phone line!

I cannot help but feel that this is horribly regrettable. We are supposed to interact with our surroundings. To integrate, to be challenged, to watch and learn, to experience that which is different as it challenges our assumptions about what is "normal" and "right," as we can connect with people who live around us, recognizing them as people, embracing the landscape - urban, human, natural, national - around us. We are supposed to leave home and express our independence and learn how to fend for ourselves. I have always hated walkmans etc. as they cut me off from the environment around me... I resent the virtual reality that earphones thrust me into. And that is without even stepping beyond my immediate environment. Of course this is far more extreme when we travel. How can someone reside in another country without truly engaging in the most basic cultural building block – a foreign language?

I intend to write a follow up to this email with specific attention to Israel Yeshiva Year-Programs. But this is enough for now.

I'll summarise. The selfsame technology that facilitates our ability to extend our global reach as we can see further a-field mysteriously allows us to cocoon ourselves inwards in a cosy familiar environment which eclipses challenge and self-expansion. That is very unfortunate indeed.

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