17 December 2007

The World Might Not Be Flat, But It Certainly Is Getting Smaller; Or: What I Learned In Korea

I'm in Korea visiting my family for Christmas. For those wondering, it's a fourteen and a half hour flight from Atlanta to the Incheon airport and covers a distance of nearly 9,000 miles (flying over Siberia was very interesting - well, as interesting as flying over a barren, snow covered landscape can be).

I was on the plane flying to from Incheon to the city my parents are stationed in when the girl in front of me (a college student making the same trek I was) started a conversation with the old Korean woman sitting next to her. After about five minutes, it was discovered the old woman's son was the American girl's dentist and neighbor. "It really is a small world," the Korean woman said (in near-perfect English).

At first, I chuckled silently at the cliche and thought about how a small world would never have as long of a flight as I endured.

But after about half a minute, it occurred to me that the conversation in front of me had just proven Thomas Freidman right - the world is flat (though I understand flat to mean no barriers to entry in the market - we're not quite there yet), small, shrinking, however you want to phrase it. Considering that I had traveled half-way around the world in little more than half a day, there is definitely something to be said about this. How we connect to each other was forever changed by the first intercontinental flight. No place in the world is more than a twenty-four hour flight away.

The fact that an old Korean woman is very fluent in English is amazing. I can understand a younger generation being bilingual. But we're now at the point where the retiring generation is also bilingual - and it's not just in Korea (the long-term US presence obviously has something to do with it, but it can't be the only variable). With international travel becoming an every-day, no, every-hour occurrence, English channels on Korean television, and any number of other factors, I shouldn't be at all surprised. It is said that if you speak English and Chinese, you can communicate with half of the people in the world. Imagine if you threw in French! Don't get me wrong - the language barrier when I'm walking around off post is a problem, but the number of English speakers is astounding.

Then there's the fact that I'm sitting in Korea writing a blog to be read by friends in the US and parts of Europe (and occasionally a few other more remote locations). When my father was in Korea in the early 90s, we got email (then called E-Mail) just to communicate with him, and as far as middle-class Americans were concerned, we were very early adopters. Now I have three different email accounts, all hosted for free, maintain a blog with very few technical skills, and use Facebook to keep up with friends from high school who live halfway across the country from me. Friends who live in California and Alaska can be communicated with in real time with IM services.

Most friends know that I am not the biggest fan of technology - I'd rather go out for coffee than talk over IM, rather climb a tree than play a video game, and rather go hiking than watch TV. But despite my qualms, there is something astounding about the opportunity for the sharing of ideas and maintaining of friendships (vital to military kids such as myself) allowed for by technology.

Rock on.