Last week I read two contradictory texts that each struck me as equally true. The first, in the form of a six-word “tweet” came from Romina Oliverio, an Argentine-Canadian who I believe is currently in Peru. She said:
My roots are people, not places.
Of course that’s the kind of pithy declaration that would strike me as all too sensible. And it fits with my current mode of living. I could be anywhere in the world and, so long as there is an internet connection, daily newspaper, coffee or tea shop, and local gymnasium, I will live roughly the same daily routine. Just like Romina, my stability, my sense of place, comes from those who I talk to throughout the day. Friday I had an hour long phone conversation with someone in New York City. Saturday morning I spoke with some old and new friends in Serbia. This morning it was France.
It wouldn’t have mattered if I were in Buenos Aires, Sumatra, or India – no matter where I was, my weekend would have been relatively the same. Coffee, reading, writing, walking, talking.
But then I read another piece of text, slightly longer than six words, that struck me as equally true and compelling. The post, titled “Coming Home Online“, was written by Steven Clift who I first met in Toronto last autumn and who I will see again in Las Vegas in just over a week.
Steven points out that when you ask most people what is great about the internet, myself included, they are quick to point out that it allows you to connect with like-minded people on the other side of the globe. Which it does. I mean, who would have thought five years ago that, thanks to the world of blogs and podcasts, one of my best friends would share neither my generation nor nationality nor ethnicity nor gender? Steven argues, however, that increasingly we are not looking to connect with like-minded people on the other side of the world, but unlike-minded people who live in our neighborhood. The internet, it seems, is really good at that too.
I realize that, as much as I want to agree with Romina’s “people not places” motto, for me, it’s just not entirely true. Places are important to me. How the afternoon sun shines on my favorite park bench. The best table at my favorite cafe. The smells of my neighborhood. The walking and running paths. My favorite buildings, houses, and gardens. Those small delights that take months to discover and which mean so little to those who are just passing through.
Developing a local sense of community is and has always been important to me – even as a teenager when familiarity is usually a synonym for suffocation. I want to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows who I am and I know who everyone else is.
I am thinking of a recent post by Cindylu [en], a friend from Los Angeles. She has lived in the same apartment building for more than seven years, but only knows the names of two of her neighbors. What might be even more surprising is that, for the United States, this isn’t surprising at all. So few Americans know the names of their neighbors.
Glocalization, according to a poorly constructed article on Wikipedia, refers to the capacity of a person, product, or piece of information to scale from local to global and back to local communities. You can think of glocalization as a two-way process. Whereas globalization makes a local product (sushi, tennis shoes, a popular novel) available to a global market, localization is the process of making that global product appealing and suitable to a particular local community. For sushi, that means the California and Philadelphia rolls in the United States and jalapeño flavored soy sauce in Mexico. For a popular novel like Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits, it means a different cover for each country where her books are published. Globalizing a product is to make it easily adaptable. Localizing it is to actually adapt it.
Of course, the term came from the business world – in fact, the Japanese business world, where CEO’s and product managers wanted to make more efficient the process of marketing and distributing their products in different markets around the world. Soon though, sociologists like Roland Robertson and Barry Wellman realized that the term also applied to people. Just like products, people also have a capacity to adapt – and when they move to new communities with new cultures, that capacity is put into action. Glocalization and glocal have since become buzz words, lending themselves to institutions like The Glocal Forum and The Glocal Initiative.
I first came across the word glocalization in a 2005 blog post by Danah Boyd. Here is what strikes me as the choice excerpt:
The complex relationship between personal, local collectives, and global must all be modeled in glocalized networks for Web2.0 to work. We need to break out of the global village model, the universal “truth” approach to information access. We need to situate information access in glocalized culture. … Glocalized information access does not mean separate but equal. Instead, globally accessible information needs to be organized in a local context where meaning is made. Recommendations emerge as a way for local collectives to organize information, sitting on top of individual recommendations combined with networks and reputation.
My last three years at Global Voices has been about globalizing both information and myself. I have taken thousands of local narratives and adapted them for an international audience. (This means translating to English, adding context, explaining acronyms, etc.). Likewise, I have become more globalized as a person, more easily adaptable to new places, cultures, cuisines, and languages. I can land at just about any international airport in the world and feel just about equally confident and comfortable with my surroundings.
But I have yet to localize. I have yet to tap into a local community, discover the roots of that community, and allow them to entangle me.
Welcome to a new chapter of my life and this blog. From today on, this blog will be written mostly in Spanish. I will continue to write in English on Rising Voices, Idea Lab, and G5, and will occasionally republish those posts here, but from now on this blog will be about bringing my global experiences and perspective to a local community.
I have selected Buenos Aires as the city I want to call home. I am hardly the only foreigner to do so, but I hope to adapt to Buenos Aires, its people, and its history unlike most expats. I hope to listen first and talk second. Over the next few months I’ll be talking more about what I do for work, about where in Buenos Aires I plan on living and why, and about the other blogs I read.
Spanish is obviously not my first language and I know I will make many mistakes. Likewise, during my research of Buenos Aires and its many neighborhoods, I’m sure I’ll make many more mistakes. Please feel free to correct me – you would be doing me a big favor.