Globalization is a phenomenon too complex even to sketch in this brief introduction.1 So I hope that I shall be forgiven if I am rather casual about many features that would deserve full attention in another context. Here, I wish to highlight just six key transformations characterising the processes of globalization. I shall label them contraction, expansion, porosity, hybridization, synchronization, and correlation. They provide the essential background for making sense of the thesis developed in the rest of the chapter, which is that Information Ethics (IE) can provide a successful approach for coping with the challenges posed by our increasingly globalized reality.
The world has gone through alternating stages of globalization, growing and shrinking, for as long as humanity can remember. Here is a reminder:
In some respects the world economy was more integrated in the late 19th century than it is today. ... Capital markets, too, were well integrated. Only in the past few years, indeed, have international capital flows, relative to the size of the world economy, recovered to the levels of the few decades before the first world war. (The Economist, 1997)
The truth is that, after each “globalization backlash” (think of the end of the Roman or British Empires), the world never really went back to its previous state. Rather, by moving two steps forward and one step back, sometime towards the end of the last century the process of globalization reached a point of no return. Today, revolutions or the collapse of empires can never shrink the world again, short of the complete unravelling of human life as we know it. Globalization is here to stay.
Globalization has become irreversible mainly thanks to radical changes in worldwide transport and communications (Brandt & Henning, 2002). Atoms and bytes have been moving increasingly rapidly, frequently, cheaply, reliably, and widely for the past 50 years or so. This dramatic acceleration has shortened the time required for any interactions: economic exchanges, financial transactions, social relations, information flows, movements of people, and so forth (Hodel, Holderegger & Lüthi, 1998). And this acceleration has meant a more condensed life and a contracted physical space. Ours is a smaller world, in which one may multitask fast enough to give and have the impression of leading parallel lives. We may regain a nineteenth-century sense of distance (space) and duration (time) only if one day we travel to Mars.
Human space in the twenty-first century has not merely shrunk, though. ICTs have also created a new digital environment, which is constantly expanding and becoming progressively more diverse. Again, the origins of this global, transnational common space are old. They are to be found in the invention of recording and communication technologies that range from the alphabet to printing, from photography to television. But it is only in the last few decades that we have witnessed a vast and steady migration of human life to the other side of the screen. When you ask, “Where were you?,” it is now normal and common to receive the answer “Online”. More than 6 million people throughout the world play World of Warcraft, currently the leading subscription-based MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game, http://www.blizzard.com/press/060119.shtml). Globalization also means the emergence of this sort of single virtual space, sharable in principle by anyone, any time, anywhere.