Responding to Article #4 of The Globalization Reader, Jihad vs. McWorld
In his article, Barber discusses what he calls the “Information-Technology Imperative” in reference to his concept of McWorld. In explaining this idea, he references how technologies represent “an unswerving embrace of objectivity.” While he clearly recognizes the many applications of technology (and even goes on to describe several of them in the following paragraph), he seems to be underestimating, or at the very least understating, the wider potential of technology in bringing people’s individual experiences to light within the process of globalization.
When we think of technology in the frame of objectivity, we might first picture technologies that operate in purely “scientific” means, in other words, collecting direct data and statistics (such as anemometers, barometers, etc.); because hard sciences are seen as objective, or at least relatively so when compared to the social sciences, this kind of data tends to be thought of as more useful and reliable, or more widely applicable in everyday life. While this can certainly be true, Barber is discussing globalization, which involves the expansion of numerous networks across the world and the configuration of an infinite number of relationships between people and places. This is to say that, since none of these connections can be reduced to raw numbers or mere measurements, objectivity should not necessarily be the goal of those studying the phenomenon of globalization; rather, the focus should be on intersubjectivity. Such an approach allows for better study of the peoples and processes of globalization, because it aids in counteracting any particular frame that might unwittingly dominate an anthropologist’s study. The combination of different frames and their subsequent analyses allows for the incorporation of both edic and emic perspectives, thereby helping to create a much more holistic view of whatever issue is at hand. For example, for much of history, a plethora of theories and concepts (and indeed, the core of anthropology itself) has proclaimed objectivity, while in truth operating under distinct Western and double-male biases, among others. In countering ethnographic silences, few tools seem as useful as social media, which can allow people who have historically lived in isolated communities a chance to both take from and contribute to the growing hive of knowledge that is the internet and world wide web.
From the style of his article, as well as the first publication of the article being in The Atlantic, we can assume that Barber is to some extent an authority on the process of globalization, even if his particular theory of “Jihad vs. McWorld” is not widely supported. As such, it seems fitting that he would elaborate on the capacity of technology to provide a platform for intersubjectivity. While his brief description includes a discussion of the power of various machines in aiding social revolution or rebellion, namely in Soviet-era societies, he fails to acknowledge the power of the individual in these and other situations where technology is used. After all, it is the young woman Asmaa Mahfouz, using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter as her platform, who is widely credited for kickstarting the Egyptian Revolution, a movement that quickly drew both global attention and support largely due to expanded and globalized networks of communication. Before and since then, many others have harnessed technology to prompt discussions that reach all corners of the earth, creating new flows of information and forming (sometimes unwittingly) new connections. It is worth noting of course that at the time the article was written, such connections did not exist to the extent they do today; however, the potential for meaningful change by an individual was still hugely important and possible, despite less advanced technology. So while Barber’s larger thesis may not be overly focused on the role of technology in globalization, his article, and by extension his argument, would be substantially enriched by a deeper discussion of how an individual’s use of technology can have significant, globalized ramifications.