Can a border be closed off?
Can a population be locked in or locked down?
Seems that the topic is much in the news these days…all around the word.
It got me thinking.
Physical and political barriers—fences and road blocks—did used to keep people locked in…and locked up. Without going too far back in time, the specter of the former Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain is a case in point. Ordinary travel and discourse outside of proscribed territories (including many Eastern European countries) was forbidden…as was the exchange of information, news, entertainment, and, of course, culture. In China, the Bamboo Curtain, as it was called, was no different.
The Soviets created a stifling atmosphere, enhanced by manufactured news and information. This was designed to provide fodder for the intellectual vacuum they created, and an alternative narrative to provide rationalized context. Sound familiar?
Yet there were leaks in the dyke. Even in an analog age, radio and print from the democratic West still managed to find its way into the hands of many. Back then, a single picture—a student standing up to a tank in Tiananmen—went “viral”, although we didn’t know the term yet, inspiring the world.
Image via Telegraph
Now we live in an age where we talk constantly about no ‘barriers to entry,” where digital communication connects us and gives us access to the same information across news, entertainment, and culture. Iron or Bamboo Curtains, Berlin Walls, or any other politically, racially or religiously based barrier building cordoning off a geography would be hard to enforce.
We are in a time of almost Utopian possibility, with tools at our disposal to share, build, teach, solve and create like never before. And yet we seem to be cordoning ourselves off in much the same ways as we did in PD Times (pre-digital). We are falling back into tribalism, thought siloes, and fear of others…sadly enhanced by the very tools we deemed preventative.
Fake news feeds our biases. Digital sharing enhances hatred and violence. The sheer volume and velocity of the messages thrown at us, second by second, confuses and confounds.
But lest you think all is lost, the same channels, the same technology, and the same platforms are all being used to bring increased and improved value-based thinking to the world. I am inspired daily by the empathy of what I call Generation World, where people don’t define themselves by age, gender, or any of the other traditional demographic markers, but rather by what is important to them as human beings.
All of this came to a head for me last week, as I read a story about a young woman in the United States who wore a ‘traditional’ Chinese dress as a prom gown. She proudly posted her picture, but was attacked by thousands for cultural appropriation.
Image via USA Today
Then I saw a video of a concert in The Forbidden City in Beijing, where Israeli peace activist Noa performed a duet with a Chinese singer, both singing in Hebrew.
What interested me about both stories was that people from the mainland supported the young women, and as you can hear applauded the singers.
We cannot let what should unite us divide us.
We must use our tools to change the world for the better.
What would Orwell would make of our world today? When I think about Fake News, exclusive narratives, and the entitlement to attack others because we can…I wonder.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows”
- George Orwell
Nostalgic how simple that seems. While at one time it did define the difference between what was open and what was closed, today I’m not so sure.
If we have learned anything, it is that walls fall and curtains come down…in the end.
What do you think?