Is the flat world human?

The following post is a reaction to the recent exchange we’ve had over at this post. These are some ideas I’ve had about the flat world which, if I remember right, I got to share with ’08 but not with ’09.

In this post, I scratch the surface of how the internet has allowed for the formation of new identities, and how these new identities challenge the way people perceive each other online.

First of all, central to the metaphor of the flat world is that the playing field is leveled.

When it comes to blogging and ideas, there is no longer a monopoly of thought. There are no lecturers and students, no professors and junior professors. Traditional forms of discourse are challenged, as information and insight come from innumerable, fractured directions.

While certain degrees of a person’s seniority can still be evident in the writing style, the sophistication of their content, and the depth of their ideas — anyone can literally create a new identity from the ground up on the internet. The institution of search (Google, Wikipedia) — the anti-thesis of being taught — is a very powerful flattener. Combine this with our new ability to upload ideas and content, and indeed, the world is flat.

On the internet, a 20-year old atheist can come across as a professor on the subject, a group of 14-year olds can become cult heroes, a 40-year old lawyer can relive his childhood, a mother of seven can have even more children (as much as her inspiration allows), and overseas workers come home everyday in a truly borderless world where nationalism is no longer anchored on geography.

People can also reach extraordinary levels of fame or infamy on the internet. The nature of the beast allows us to reveal more of ourselves than we usually do, but it also allows us to hide even more as well.

The flat world is a friend of both Google and al-Qaeda. You are in touch with the world now, in all of its extremes and imperfections. The writers you read have no places to hide, and so do you — we can literally see each other’s houses from this screen. Technologies such as Google Earth not only knock down the walls; they blow away the floors and ceilings too.

The moral of the story?

Live good lives.

Especially those who blog (and leave comments on blogs). We’re more exposed than we ever were. Of course we can still choose to hide, but there really are no guarantees now.

Just the other day, a friend and I opined that one reason the NBA is no longer as popular as the 90’s when Rodman, Pippen and Jordan graced the Bulls is because of the internet. People can now learn more about the NBA superstars, thus “demystifying” them and taking away some of their Greco-Roman shine. They’re no longer the ‘gods’ they were before.

Personally now, blogging has taught me to be more honest, both here and in real life. It has helped me articulate my most fundamental beliefs by making sure that I’m consistent with what I write here and with what I manifest in my interactions with people.

I hope my students can see the correspondence between me in the classroom and me here in Inevitable Karma. Of course they get to know me more here than they do in the classroom, and I hope they manage to capture all they see as just one Sir Martin.

But of course, not everything will be received well. No level of articulation on the internet can fully reveal who a person is, much less a blog entry that is read and viewed through different lenses. Therefore, never forget that we’re still facing people no matter how they come across. While it is admirable to remain true to our beliefs, it is more honorable to simply leave an open ear to another person.

Here in the flat world, there is no monopoly of knowledge. No one can claim they know everything anymore — even teachers — since there are now too many ways to gain, verify and impart knowledge. Yet at the end of the day, we are all still people with varying temperaments, intellects and abilities.

The flat world is a level playing field unlike any other in the history of the world. Now, there is no reason not to understand another person.

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2 thoughts on “Is the flat world human?

  1. Sir Martin,

    Nice discourse. I’m also a strong believer of the power of the Internet. Just like you, I’ve been blogging for some time and yes, through this new medium of expression, we can be truly honest about what we feel, see, hear, and taste. One can use blogs to reach out to others. Some have used it to expose corruption. Some are simply using it to start a conversation. Good luck and I hope we have more teachers like you guiding the young people to a better and informed future.

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