Although humanity has in one sense always lived in an interconnected way since the first humans stepped forth into the wider world, it goes without saying that the extent of our interconnectedness has never been higher than it is today.
Modern human society is inescapably interconnected, and this occurs at all levels of human activity.
The economy, for example, is so interconnected that we tend to talk of the ‘world economy’ rather than just the ‘economy’ in a domestic sense, which reflects the fact that all economies across the world are interlinked. As evidence of this economic interrelationship, minor contractions in the domestic economy of, for example, the United States will send create shockwaves and ripples that will be felt across the world. Similarly, a slowdown in the economic output could have repercussions for consumer trends in countries on the opposite side of the globe.
But the economy is not the only area of human activity that is being affected by our increasing interconnectedness as humans belonging to and coming from our own unique cultures. With instantaneous forms of global communication facilitated by technology, the reality of being interconnected is also having an impact on humans at a cultural and social level.
This social and cultural phenomenon, which is a natural consequence of globalisation, was the subject of a recent article by The Economist, which sought to investigate the ''flat white world'' we now find ourselves living in. Here, the term ''flat white world'' is used to capture the fact that a local coffee trend that started in Australia – which itself is built on a coffee tradition inherited from Italian migrants – quickly spread across the globe. In this sense, the flat white provides a good example of how the wheels of globalisation turn in an interconnected world. By looking at how coffee trends spread, particularly through the influence of multinational corporations such as Starbucks, we begin to get a sense of how globalised trends like the flat white can shape or dislodge local cultures.
In their article, The Economist highlights how this new type of globalisation signals the emergence of a new form of interconnectedness, which is different to older types of globalisation, which primarily involved direct foreign investment by multinational companies. In the modern age, globalisation takes the form of a kind of cultural globalisation, where social trends spread quickly across the world. This form of interconnectedness is hastened by social media platforms, which accelerate the homogenisation of culture in the global age.
And it is for this reason, The Economist notes, that even in countries such as Kabul, that were relatively closed off from the wider world until recently, we can find bearded hipsters sipping flat whites in their local co-working space.
This new form of globalised interconnectedness is clearly having a profound impact on shaping local tastes, preferences and trends. Beyond beards, anchor tattoos and flat whites, another good example of this trend is the rise of online iGaming. Up until a few years ago, the Finns, much like citizens of other Nordic countries, viewed iGaming as a social taboo. In recent years, however, iGaming has also exploded in popularity in the Nordic countries, with hundreds of new gaming sites popping up in a short period. Finland and other Nordic countries are now an epicentre of online games development, with new platforms such as Thrills setting up shop recently.
But what are the consequences of living in an interconnected world like this? Is cultural and social homogenisation all negative, or are there some benefits to be had?
The honest answer is that there are both positive and negative aspects to cultural globalisation. On the negative end of the spectrum, we can see how the importation of foreign coffee cultures through corporations like Starbucks could dislodge local coffee cultures that are steeped in hundreds of years of history. This might involve, for example, rich, complex, Turkish coffee being ditched for a comparatively flavourless latte.
But on the other hand, there are also potential benefits that this kind of interconnectedness can bring. In the Finnish example, we can see how rising global trends can help to dislodge or combat social taboos to open up society.
We begin to get a sense, then, that modern humans find themselves faced with tension in their daily lives between the demands of local and global society. How a balance between these two poles of existence can be struck, however, remains to be seen.