Homogenization of Global Consciousness: Media, Telecommunications
of the main goals of economic globalization is that every
place on earth should be more or less like every other place.
Whether it's the US, Europe, or once-distant places like Asia,
Africa, or South America, all countries are meant to develop
the same way. The same franchise fast food, the same films
and music, the same jeans, shoes, and cars, the same urban
landscapes, the same personal, cultural, and spiritual values.
Monoculture. If you've traveled a lot, you've seen that this
is rampantly happening already.
a model serves the marketing and efficiency needs of the huge
global corporations that the system is designed to benefit.
Whether cultural, political, or biological, diversity is a
direct threat to the efficiency goals of global corporations,
which operate on a scale that requires, as far as possible,
similar appeals in every market in the world.
trade agreements and bureaucracies like the WTO, NAFTA, and
the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement, have the specific
mandate to create and enforce rules that accelerate the global
homogenization process -- the economic integration of all
countries into the same set of standards and rules created
because they work best for corporations -- meanwhile preventing
any country from regulating corporations to protect local
resources, livelihoods, culture, labor rights, or health standards.
Such local rules defy central planning and control.
But that is only the external homogenization process. To be
truly efficient and successful, they also seek to make over
our internal landscape, to remake human beings themselves
-- our minds, ideas, values, behaviors, and desires -- to
create a monoculture of humans that's compatible with the
redesigned external landscapes so that our minds and values
will match the systems and technologies around us, like standard-gauge
railways or compatible computers.
assignment of internal homogenization goes to the global telecommunications
system -- television, advertising, computers, the Internet,
and e-commerce. We could surely add film, radio, music, and
education, which are increasingly merging with technology.
These instruments speak directly into the minds of people
everywhere, imprinting them with a unified pattern of thought,
a unified set of imagery and ideas, a single framework of
understanding for how life should be lived, thus carrying
the homogenization and commodification mandate directly inside
the brain. What results is a homogenized mental landscape
that nicely matches the franchises, freeways, suburbs, and
is the most important thing in the world that we need to start
talking about again. Television is a more efficient medium
for cloning global consciousness with a homogenized set of
corporate values. I'm going to give you a sense of its scale
and impact by repeating some astounding statistics from the
United States, but similar patterns can be found all over
the United States, 99.5% of all homes have television sets.
Ninety-five percent of the population watches television every
day. The average home has a TV set going more than eight hours
per day, even if no one is watching. The average adult viewer
watches TV more than four hours a day. The average child age
eight to thirteen watches about four hours per day. At age
two to four, they watch almost three hours. That's not counting
television in school.
These are amazing statistics, when you stop to think about
them. Half the population is watching more than four hours
per day. How is that even possible? By heavy viewing every
night and then all weekend also. People watch more TV in the
United States than they do anything else besides sleeping,
working or going to school. In the United States, television
is the main thing people do. It has replaced community life,
family life, culture. It has replaced the environment. It
has become the environment that people interact with every
day. It has become the culture too, and it's not "popular
culture," which sounds somehow democratic. It expresses
corporate culture, and that of very few corporations at that.
Ours is the first generation to have essentially moved its
life inside media, to have largely replaced direct contact
with people and nature for simulated, edited, recreated versions.
Television is the original virtual reality.
you were an anthropologist from the Andromeda Galaxy sent
to study earth people, and you hovered over the United States
chances are you'd report back something like this: They're
sitting night after night in dark rooms; they're staring at
a light. Their eyes are not moving. They're not thinking.
Their brains are in a passive-receptive state -- and nonstop
imagery is pouring into their brains from thousands of miles
away. These images being sent by a very small number of people
are of toothpaste and cars and guns and people running around
in bathing suits. The whole thing looks like some weird experiment
in mind control. And that is what it is.
was once in the advertising business, for many years, actually.
I quit that some time ago, but I learned that people really
doubt the invasive power of television imagery. You are smart.
You are educated. You can select from among the images that
you see. But let's try again. Let me ask you this. Can you
get a picture in your brain of Ronald McDonald? The Energizer
bunny? How about the Taco Bell Chihuahua? Or Dave, the owner
of Wendy's. Or Jerry Springer. Or David Letterman. Or O.J.
images live in your brain. Can you erase them? I don't think
so. They're yours forever. Every advertiser knows that images
are unstoppable. Your intellect cannot save you from them.
average television viewer is seeing about 23,000 television
commercials every year. One may say "toothpaste,"
one may say "car," but the intent of every one of
those 23,000 messages is identical: to get people to view
life as a nonstop stream of commodity satisfactions. Buy something.
Do it now. Commodities are life. This message is the same
everywhere on earth.
The last time I checked the numbers, about eighty percent
of the global population had access to television. Most industrialized
countries report similar viewing habits to our own. In Canada,
England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Greece, Poland, and
many countries in Europe and South America, the average person
watches three or four hours per day. In Japan and Mexico,
they watch more than here. In many parts of the world, the
TV they see comes from the United States and other countries
in the West, with very few local programs. Even in places
on earth where there are no roads--tiny tropical islands,
icy tundras of the north, or log cabins--they are sitting
night after night watching a bunch of white people in Dallas
driving sleek cars, or standing around swimming pools or drinking
martinis while plotting ways to do each other in, or Baywatch,
the most popular show in the world. Life in Texas, California,
and New York is made to seem the ultimate in life's achievements,
while local culture, even where it's still extremely vibrant
and alive, which is true still for a fair amount of the earth,
is made to seem backward and unworthy.
People everywhere are beginning to carry the same images that
we do, and are craving the same commodities that we crave,
from cars to hair sprays to Barbie dolls to Palm Pilots. TV
is turning everyone into everyone else. It's cloning cultures
to be like ours. In Brave New World, Huxley envisioned this
cloning process via drugs and genetic engineering. We have
those too. But TV does nearly as well.
The Global Corporate Monster
next question, of course, is who is sending us these images?
The vast majority of global television imagery, as well as
film, books, newspapers, and entertainment imagery, are being
sent out to billions of people and now Internet outlets as
well, by a tiny number of gigantic global corporations, that
are getting bigger and bigger through mergers and consolidations.
This process is directly assisted by the rules of the WTO
and other global institutions that grease the pathways for
their investments and takeovers and mergers.
We're talking about AOL-Time Warner, Disney, Rupert Murdoch's
News Corporation, and maybe three or four others controlling
a great majority of the world of broadcast, publishing, and
Here is a quick briefing on what AOL-Time Warner owns, (besides
AOL and Time Warner): Warner Brothers Films and Television,
CNN, TNT, TBS, Court TV, HBO, Cartoon Network, CineMax, New
Line Films, Time Magazine, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated;
the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Braves, the Hanna Barbara
animation studio, as well as major shares in movie theater
companies, dozens of TV stations, satellites, cable systems
everywhere on earth including Asia, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.
Disney owns Disneyland, Disney World, Euro Disney, Disney
Channel, ABC TV, ABC Radio, ESPN, A&E, Entertainment and
the History Channel, Miramax, Touchstone and Walt Disney Pictures,
as well as the Anaheim Angels and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
They have tremendous holdings in TV stations, cable systems,
and satellites throughout the world.
Fox News Corporation owns Fox TV Network, Fox News Channel,
Twentieth Century Studios, Golf TV Channel, twenty-two US
TV stations, 130 daily newspapers, twenty-three magazines,
Harper Collins Publishers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They
have interests in satellite companies, TV stations, and other
media throughout Europe, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
Whose Ideal is the Internet, anyway?
Why are we not in front of Disney and Time Warner? Do we love
them ourselves? That's something we have to start to look
at. It's got to be included in our activism. And that's just
television, the old technology. Now we have computers. We
have the Internet. Now we are free and involved and interactive
and independent. We can network with each other and get organized
and mold the world to our wishes. But is the Internet really
our technology or is it theirs? Is it really decentralizing?
The ultimate politics of the computer revolution are still
unclear. But it's surely the oddest of revolutions, since
everybody on all sides seems to be in agreement about it.
Everyone thinks it's great, the right and the left, the corporations
and the anti-corporate activists, the Al Gores and the George
Bushes, the engineers and the artists, all express utopian
visions of democracy and empowerment brought by computers
and the Internet. But is this right? Is it really a new democracy?
Is equity improved?
We know that corporations are pretty excited about this revolution
and they keep selling it to us via terms like "empowerment"
and "freedom" in millions of dollars worth of ads.
A decade ago we saw TV commercials of lines of depressed men
in gray suits marching in a dreary world. Computers would
set them free. Now the ads show happy monks in Asia, happy
children in Africa, happy farmers in Japan, all joining the
Internet revolution. Which you had better do, too. Everyone
should think different, but all at the same time and with
the same machine.
Meanwhile, political leaders advocate wiring up every classroom
here and in the rest of the world, costing taxpayers billions
of dollars. This despite research that proves that immersing
kids in computers doesn't make them happier or smarter or
more creative or alive. Maybe the opposite: alienated, lonely,
and depressed. Kids don't learn better from computers, they
learn best from nature, other kids, live play, teachers. But
we're in a technological stampede.
Are computers empowering? Well, yes and no. They serve us
well in many ways, even I don't deny that. They help us organize
our work, write, edit, and communicate with like-minded people
around the world. We can disseminate ideas, build web pages,
we can build demonstrations through our e-mails. That's the
good news. But what's the rest of the story? There are a couple
of points advertisers have left out.
What will they do to our privacy? Make a purchase online and
you are automatically adding to huge accessible data banks
that know everything about you, your job, your family, your
buying habits, credit status, social security number, and
habits you might rather nobody knew about. Computers have
let loose the greatest invasion of privacy in history and
there is a thriving industry selling data about you. The same
technology is being used in the workplace to achieve a kind
of surveillance impossible until now. Anyone with a clerical
job has to worry a lot about having their keystrokes counted
and I'm not even mentioning its uses in military or police
surveillance or corporate surveillance.
Are we empowered yet?
What about the digital revolution's impact on our environment?
They love to describe computers as a "clean" industry,
unlike those dreadful smokestack industries, but the real
difference is that the junk from computers goes into the ground
and water rather than into the air. Computer chip manufacture
is responsible for more superfund sites than any other industry,
especially in California, and we now realize that silicon
chip manufacture requires huge amounts of pure water, exacerbating
the global water crisis.
What about e-commerce? The gigantic effort by the United States
government to push rules through the global trading system
to ban all tariffs and taxes on e-commerce is cynical and
undemocratic. It was one of our least-noted victories that
we stopped that "no taxes, no tariffs on e-commerce"
in Seattle. That would have been a deathblow to an entire
class of hands-on, small-scale retailers and artisans, particularly
in the Third World. This entire effort amounts to the old
planned obsolescence strategy, but this time to entire economic
systems, and in many cases, entire ways of life.
The editors of Wired magazine like to say the computer revolution
has brought a new political structure to the planet. The symbol
of today is no longer the atom, it's the Web, a decentralized
form. The new Web structure "elevates the power of the
small player" and brings a new techno-spiritualism. Judging
by the amount of people ritually engaged with their computers,
I would say techno-spiritualism is here. But this idea that
the old political center has been wiped out by PCs and e-mail
and web pages, and that we're now in a new, computer-enhanced
democracy. Well, somebody forgot to tell the transnational
corporations that the real power is no longer in the center
and that they have lost control.
The news might surprise the two-hundred largest corporations
in the world that amount for thirty percent of all economic
activity on the planet. They don't seem to have noticed that
they lost power. They keep cutting down forests, building
huge dams, monopolizing oil, dominating communications, and
controlling publications. They know their powers are growing
and computers have had a central role in encouraging corporate
giantism. In fact, the modern global corporation could not
exist at its present scale, operate at the speed that it does,
without the global networks to keep thousand-armed enterprises
in touch seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, instantaneously
moving billions of dollars in assets around the world without
the ability of any nation state to regulate it.
So what kind of revolution is this? To use a term like "individual
empowerment" to summarize the effects of the computer
revolution is badly misjudging the ultimate social, political,
and economic outcomes of this revolution. While the Internet
and computer surely can help us feel powerful and are terribly
useful in very many ways, while we're e-mailing and networking
among our virtual communities, global corporations use these
same instruments at a scale that makes our use pale by comparison.
When they hit their keys they move billions of dollars from
banks in Geneva to, say, Sarawak, and a forest gets cut down.
Or they buy billions in national currencies, resell them an
hour later, causing whole currencies to crash. While we move
information, they express power. There's a difference.
And, in conclusion, I'll say there's a homily to remember:
it's not just who benefits from this technology, it's who
benefits most. It's like dear old George Bush's tax plan.
He says everybody benefits -- and everybody does. But who
benefits most? You may get a hundred-dollar rebate at the
end of the year; he and his friends get hundreds of thousands.
So it is with the computer revolution. It's not the small
player that benefits most, it's the big players. And for the
rest of us, it's a net loss. I think that some day we will
conclude that global computer networks that we've celebrated
for their democratic potential, that we call empowering, are
facilitating the greatest centralization of unregulated, unaccountable
global corporate power ever.
It's crucial for democracy and for our own effectiveness that
we think this through. It's not that we should give up computers,
but let's stop calling them empowering.
The International Forum on Globalization
1009 General Kennedy Avenue #2
San Francisco, CA 94129
(415) 561-7650 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ifg.org
Mander is one of the foremost critics of current trends in
globalization and technology. He is the program director of
the Foundation for Deep Ecology, co-founder of the International
Forum on Globalization, author of In the Absence of the Sacred,
and co-author of The Case Against the Global Economy.
article is an excerpt of a lecture given at the Technology
& Globalization 2001 conference, cosponsored with Lapis,
IFG and the New York Open Center.
all the recent focus on war and terrorism, the question of
the globalization of media has slipped into the background.
It needs, however, to return rapidly to center stage in our
awareness. The war has shown us more clearly than ever the
crucial need for independent media voices. And the disturbing
changes currently proposed by the Federal Communications Commission
to deregulate corporate control of media markets are slipping
by almost unnoticed despite their capacity to further homogenize
opinion and limit freedom of expression.