The shrinking widening world

No doubt that technology’s made the world a lot smaller in terms of communications, travel, information and idea exchanges, social networking, etc. It is the basis of the modern era, without which everything – from managing and moving around 6+ billion people, to understanding the way the planet works etc.

Yet there are still some stubborn vestiges of our past notions of cultural and spatial individuality that linger, which frustrates a true harmonization of the single human race. Beyond language and direct cultural differences, which are outside the purview of this blog, there are simple things that we can’t agree on with respect to how we live our lives, and when technology shrinks the world, these vestiges stick out like a field of sore thumbs.

Let’s talk about successes first. Green lights unversally mean ‘go’ at traffic intersections, and I hope people all know what a nuclear waste/danger symbol looks like! Almost all countries have gone metric in some form or another – only the USA, Burma and Libya officially remain exclusively non-metric, though the sciences generally conform to a metric standard.

Let’s start simple: why can’t we decide which side of the road to drive on? The real reasons for the side we drive on developed based on individual societies, but once mass production and mass shipments made vehicles available to all, the reasons held for which side of the road we drive on is more a cultural relic than anything practical. At the same time, why can’t we agree on which side of the car the gas tank should be? We see a lot of car-related issues dealing with technology non-standardization when the Japanese domestic imports – our “deportees” – arrive unable to access local radios and run on higher-octane fuel.

Ok let’s move this to something more complex and directly related to modern technologies. We can’t agree on standardizing which voltage to use in our electrical supply systems, and this has led to a cottage industry of travel plug adapters. We can’t buy DVDs in Europe or Asia to play in Jamaica because we’re wired for Region 1 DVDs, the same as the USA, which also can’t play DVDs from Europe or Asia. Sure, I know this is built in for copy-protection etc, but seriously, in the age of the internet allowing for the downloading of anything, or simply going to YouTube?

So while we need and crave the smaller world to live and work and play in, we – and they – don’t really want it, do we? A smaller world for some things, and an individualized world for other things? Who decides?

This is where the issue of standards is critically important. The Bureau of Standards does a pretty good educational campaign on this, and here’s where the practical application of science comes out swinging. Standardizing technologies is as much psychological science and hardcore chemistry and physics, as it is about understanding cultural norms in different societies, which plays into the social SCIENCE of business and marketing.

But in the meantime, why can’t we just agree on a PLUG type? I’m not talking about voltage cycles etc, simply the plug itself… I’m overseas now, and now I have to go hunt for an adapter… Serves me right for forgetting the simple things.

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1 comment so far
parris Posted by: parris September 30, 2010 at 2:42 am