- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A couple of years ago, in Bolivia, I spent several days traveling on the altiplano, the frigid, high desert of the Andes.

Roads do not exist. Vegetation barely exists. You travel in Land Cruisers over raw, bleak earth. Occasionally you find a small settlement with no obvious means of support. Otherwise, nothing.

We stopped in a town that was small, primitive and without a good hotel. Walking down the street, I saw a sign in English that said, “High Speed Internet.”

“Right,” I thought. “And I’m Rumpelstiltskin.” Nonetheless, I went in, sat at a computer, and discovered high-speed internet, from a satellite. I could have been in Arlington, except that the keyboard was in Spanish.

Anyone who travels in what is called the Third World knows that you encounter an Internet cafe on practically every block in small cities. International television also is generally available. In Mexico, a Canadian satellite provides pretty much the same television you get in the U.S.

None of this is breaking news. I talked to a Bolivian woman, however, who was not altogether charmed by electro-globalization. She mentioned a tribe of Indians whose name I forget. In their remote town, they always had followed their age-old customs and played tribal music.

In a few short years since the arrival of television, she said, the young had abandoned their past and taken to blue jeans and rock music.

I see this, or hear of it, everywhere. Television now comes to remote Himalayan villages. In the cities of China, I have seen the same Internet cafes, the same jeans-and-running-shoes dress of the young and much the same music that one hears in Washington or Germany. Little of the music blasting from boomboxes in Mexico is Mexican.

What is going on is globalization, yes, but it is also homogenization. It isn’t an intended consequence, at least outside of the entertainment industry, yet it is happening fast. Many have noted that humanity does not so much use technology according to plan as invent it and watch to see what it does.

Some Americans speak with national pride of the global diffusion of American values and culture. Certainly, much of the content of both the Internet and television comes from the United States.

Because few countries have either the capital or experience to compete with Hollywood, a large part of the world chiefly watches U.S. video. In fact, it takes almost no time for a new movie to be pirated in the U.S. and sent over the Internet to Asia. It can be on the street within hours.

Citizens of more conservative countries, which make up much of the world, often see Hollywood’s offerings of sex, secularism and violence as corrosive of their cultures, Islamic nations in particular. An Indian from New Delhi that I met called it “remote programming of our children.” Well, sort of. Never before has one country had such direct access to the living rooms of other countries.

Judge the merits as you will, depending on your politics. One sure thing is that the leveling of cultural differences will continue. I suspect that even totalitarian countries would have a difficult time limiting access to the world’s electronic networks. China blocks politics that it doesn’t like, but not culture.

How much does it matter? Perhaps the answer depends on how much you value the distinctive differences of the world’s people. And, of course, there are positive aspects, such as access to information. But it’s going to be e pluribus unum, with teeth.

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