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Understanding the Modern Global Village


The modern global village is a concept that applies to the online community and has its roots in the 1960s when writer/media researcher Marshall McLuhan proclaimed that "the medium is the message." In his bestselling book The Medium Is The Massage he explained how the explosion of mass media was leading to a global village. While the internet was a secret government project at that time, developed by DARPA, McLuhan may or may not have known about the internet, or he merely saw interconnectivity as inevitable.

Where Has the Global Village Gotten Us?

Part of McLuhan's interpretation of the global village was that it would allow each of us to have about 15 minutes of fame. He may not have foreseen that people who play on Facebook or Twitter all day can't get enough of limited amounts of global attention. A crowd of social media addicts has literally redefined the meaning of popularity. At one time it meant selling millions of records or being a movie star, but now it can mean getting 25-200 "likes" on Facebook.

Nevermind that "likes" don't necessarily mean each like corresponds with a person who likes that person or post. Since likes can be rigged multiple ways, it's safe to say that they've become more of a measure of fake popularity than anything scientific. YouTube has an even worse problem distorting popularity, more in the millions. Stats have become a big part of pop culture to create the impression that posts, videos, photos and online authors have legitimacy based on rigged or riggable statistics. This dynamic hurts the credibility of online content that lacks stats.

At one time, audience stats mattered mostly to industry people who could then use the info to adjust their art, marketing or programming. Radio program directors certainly didn't want to make a big deal that the records they were selecting for their playlists were based on research such as record sales and focus groups. Yet they weren't afraid to brag they were playing the biggest hits. In those days there was an effort by marketers to boost the stats either by buying their own products or getting product buyers to exaggerate sales in their reports to other vendors.

Now stats can be rigged at multiple levels, even by audience members trying to bluff bigger audiences. YouTube stats have been rigged with botnets (networks full of computers programmed to click certain links), in which people like Justin Bieber and Britney Spears got busted. In that sense, Google and YouTube have contributed to the fake popularity of an emerging fake pop culture.

How Far Off Have We Drifted From McLuhan's Vision?

McLuhan believed that interconnectivity was good for society and that it could bring us closer together. He saw it as a vehicle for world peace and integration.

In some ways the modern global village allows networks to become more closely knit, especially when it comes to politics and social media gurus preaching to their choirs, racking up likes all day, swapping them with "friends." Opposing views probably don't convert that many minds and are more likely to create further distance than in real life. In other words, everyone on social media is now just one click away from getting deleted in any given vast network just by sharing an opinion that doesn't jibe with carefully manicured manifestos.

The democratization of social discourse is what McLuhan envisioned. It wasn't so much a crystal ball forecast as it was his understanding of how media worked and how it could involve the audience as interactive participants instead of just consumers of one-way mass media. The global village is still in its infancy and it could potentially be incredibly powerful, giving society its loudest voice ever. At the moment, however, it's more of a fun playhouse that means something different to every user. Very few have used social media for its ultimate strength, which is to share meaningful information that empowers society.

Created by Alex Cosper