Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Horizons

When I was a child, my horizon was the building I was in, my home. I could reach out and touch my family and whomever wandered into the house.

As a teenager, I got a bicycle, and my horizon was the neighborhoods within cycling range. I could reach out and touch my friends in nearby neighborhoods. And I felt less constrained.

Later, I learned to drive, and my horizon grew to the city I was living in. I could reach out and meet people from any neighborhood in the city. And I felt less constrained.

And one day, I got on a plane and went to another city in another country, and my horizons expanded to the city I was visiting. I could reach out and touch people in other cities. And I felt even less constrained.

Technology pushed these horizons even further away. I got a telephone and my horizon was wherever I could call. I could live in one place and still talk to people in other places, as long as I had their number.

But when we got the Internet, our horizons ceased to exist. All constraints fell away. With the Internet, we can talk to anyone, anywhere on this planet at any time. We can reach out in seconds and touch them anywhere, even if we do not know them personally. And they can do the same with us.

I like having no more horizons. I like being able to sit in New York and share a virtual breakfast with my nephews in Sydney, chat about a Springsteen concert a friend is just leaving in Melbourne, see the new clothing my mate in Malta just purchased, discuss bourbon with a buddy in North Carolina, see the latest creation a chef friend made in Tokyo, discuss luggage and scotch with a person I have never met in Edinburgh, try out a new software product with another new friend in Wisconsin and collaborate on software with a new mate in Germany.

Its a wonderful connected world.

But our communities and institutions have not yet adapted to this new reality. They still reflect a local constrained horizon based on the limitations of paper mail delivery, slow trains or boats. On the mindset where reaching out could take days, weeks or even months. Where the impact of local affairs on individual’s horizons used to be strong, and where local affairs did not affect the horizons of others elsewhere.

But that is no longer true.

No longer is a demonstration in Turkey which affects my Turkish friend’s safety, a building collapse in Bangladesh that affects my local T-shirt shop, or a madman running North Korea that affects my family in Japan, no longer are these things that do not affect us elsewhere. The people impacted by those events in those places reach out and touch other people in other places who care about them. The ripples of these local events are felt globally.

Think about it. Almost nothing we buy these days is made locally. It’s made elsewhere, with components from even farther afield and shipped to us.

Almost no-one we reach out to these days is local. They live and work all over the globe, and yet we still interact with them every day as if they were close by.

So, if people and products are global, why do we still have to deal with artificial horizons created by these institutions? Borders, nationality, roaming, passports, different local rules, barriers and tariffs, localized politics and localized interests all combine to try to constrain our horizons, to recreate them. Because of these antiquated and artificial horizons, bigger picture issues do not get addressed. Global warming, global disease, global hunger, global access to education are all being ignored. We depend on globalness for our people and our products, but we have no way of dealing with global issues.

Going back to the people I was in contact without horizons, many of them cannot just get on a plane and come and visit or live in New York. They need “permission” in terms of visas. Their mobile phone calls still go via their own countries even when they are not in them and the call is to down the road. Their money and buying power is different even though the products are exactly the same. These are all artificial, and unnecessary, horizons. On the Internet we’re all equal, in the physical world, we’re hemmed in.

As individuals we no longer have horizons, and this is wonderful. We can talk and share and care with anyone anywhere at any time. As a group, we need to find ways to eliminate the artificial ones. Then we can all gather to tackle the big issues the way we do now as local communities, just bigger, without horizons.

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Images from The Noun Project, including some by Louie McPherson, Mark McRory, and Catia G.

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