Since Mac Luhan spread the haunting leitmotiv of the ‘global village’, it has been relayed by those who think that ‘globalisation’ and ‘the information society’ would help to build it. But what does this affirmation of the publicity and marketing men mean: ‘The world is a village’? What do they mean by that?
Mainly, that the geographic frontiers have been destroyed by ‘new information and communication technology’ (NICT) – with all the consequences that this entails. The world would therefore be a village because my graphic designer in San Francisco, my printer in Singapore and I can talk to each other as if we were all in the same room – because in a matter of seconds I can check the model that my Californian graphic designer has just modified and forward it with the final proof to the Singaporean printer, who can immediately adapt the print characteristics with the graphic designer… But ‘village’ is not just the reduction, or even the disappearance of terrestrial distance: the word is equally a synonym for familiarity. ‘Global village’ means that there will no longer be anything in this world that would be really foreign, that almost everything, on the contrary, would be known or knowable. For if we have not already identified the interlocutors that we need, we will have no difficulty in doing so thanks to our communication networks, our ‘research engines’ and our databases.
From another point of view, the world today resembles anything but ‘a village’… These ‘villagers’ make up a community of interests very different from those of the villages that you can still find today on our country roads. In fact everything about this expression is designed to ‘humanise’ the dehumanised encounters of our time. You pour a little bit of the village into the world in order to make it more palatable – precisely because it is not. Because as efficient as the cooperation between the three professionals from France, United States and Singapore may be, it is above all controlled by the aim for short term profit (for a more ‘competitive’ cost price), rather than the aim to actually meet with the other people. All the more so because spinning the ‘Web’ that makes it possible excludes and leaves de facto out in the cold the majority of the world’s inhabitants. The global village of 2001 is thus anything but a political community of equals. It is more a matter of a small, xenophobic, elitist community, sheltered by its material bubble, which lives on the fringes of the majority of earthlings and their concerns. For the inhabitants of a village, as Aristotle notes with irony, are ‘people who have suckled the same milk’. And the inhabitants of the ‘global village’, from San Francisco to Singapore via Paris, have a lot in common in terms of their ways of life, economic and technological means, if not comparable desires… So, in this sense, you can effectively speak of a ‘village’ – but a village which protects and isolates the world’s inhabitant, as in the expression commented on by Littré: ‘This man is clearly from his village: he is badly informed on what happens in the world.’
The concept of village thus reveals its other dimension. It has a naturally limited horizon: the village of the happy few is only really interested in itself. Thus, this village is only ‘global’ in the sense that its inhabitants are scattered around the whole globe, whilst still being strongly linked together. But it is not the world village, not that the whole world has become a village: it is only the most prosperous and ‘most developed’ part of it.
To clear up the confusion, it would be better to speak of a ‘village in the world’ than a ‘global village’. Indeed, global village is the malicious or naive expression of those who present the world as a single village for all its inhabitants. A ‘village in the world’ is a very different idea that the current world engenders transnational communities regrouping – across geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries – all those who have activities, ways of life and living conditions in common, who know it and talk about it amongst themselves – the first of these villages being none other than the self-designated ‘global village’ of the richest communicators…
Let us not think that it is by chance that the well-meaning globalisation proselytes have developed the notion of a village, rather than that of a city. In fact, with their slogan about the current world which would take the shape and charm of the villages of yesteryear, it also highlights en creux the incredibly political involution which carries a certain conception of ‘globalisation’: the project of returning to a form of communitarian organisation whose aim would be the pure satisfaction of the villagers interests, without any consideration for the ‘rest of the world’.
(This article synthesises a longer study by the same author. It can be found in French at the following address : Le Monde est-il un village ? Et peut-il être une Cité ?)