A cliquey global village

The growing crisis in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (see the Oxfam link: Oxfam – Crisis in Ivory Coast on the refugee problem) is already turning into a humanitarian disaster and threatens to get much worse. As a fairly recent visitor to Abidjan – I managed some audience research there for the BBC World Service in 2009 – my thoughts are with the fantastic people I met in Ivory Coast and I cross my fingers for all of them. Abidjan felt like it was slowly recovering from a trauma even then; this fresh wave of fighting will set the country back once again. But the situation in Ivory Coast also throws up some interesting questions about how inter-connected we really feel, us humans. Because I sense a lot people in Britain don’t much care about it.

It seems to me to illustrate that Marshall McLuhan‘s “global village” is still a cliquey, hierarchical place. The interconnectedness between countries and peoples is real. The world is building and tightening global networks, for sure. It’s getting easier to source good qual researchers around the world, for example.  Last week I was thrilled with myself for managing a Skype video call to Amman, Jordan to advise former colleague Mai Omar (omarmai@gmail.com) there on setting up her own MENA region qual consultancy. It felt very 2011 (to me at least). But those global interconnections that we might like to think are ubiquitous are still crackly and indistinct in a lot of places.

Compare the interest in France in all things Ivorian, compared to the profile of the story in the UK. I’ve started reading Le Monde occasionally on my iPhone to try and brush up on my French and it’s been noticeable how much coverage it has been giving all along to the unfolding Ivory Coast story, while it was falling off the radar in the UK: Le Monde on Gbagbo and crisis in Cote d\’Ivoire.

No surprise there, you might say: France is the former colonial power, with a large Ivorian community.  And the French and British media are only reflecting the level of interest among the audiences they serve. But is this not out of keeping with what we are all supposed to feel in 2011? What does this say about our ability to empathise with our fellow humans – and treat them all as equals?

Clearly, we don’t empathise equally: it’s not enough that someone is a fellow human, we need some kind of a hook before we allow ourselves to empathise fully. With Ivory Coast, we have Chelsea star Didier Drogba – that will be a way in for many British people who do get involved in the story. But God help people in countries that don’t produce celebrities or a punchy narrative. Perhaps we worry that empathy is a finite resource we need to conserve. Not very “global village”, though, is it?

In the big Linked In that is the “global village”, we in the sharp-elbowed West are still at the centre of the social network. We might have connected with places like Abidjan, Harare or Dakka in the past, but we flick past their updates and messages pretty quickly.  That unevenness of sentiment – which can lead to downright unfairness – is as much down to our attitudes as individuals, as it is to those of the political leaders we elect and (often lazily) criticise. Because, even now, we still see the world much more locally than globally.

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About Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.
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