The earthquake off the coast of Chile on Wednesday evening sent its waves rippling out across the Pacific Ocean, with tsunami warnings as far afield as Japan and Australia.
The news rippled out across the world too, reaching as far as Room 5 at OISE where our Chilean student, Natalia, told us about her father’s experience back in Santiago, and we shared earthquake anecdotes (mine limited to a wobbling chair during the Assisi earthquake of 1997 and a moment of panic when a small earthquake near Rome had me wondering about earthquake drill).
There are no firewalls anymore to this sort of experience, especially if you work in a language school. The interconnected, globalised world becomes hyper-connected, hyper-globalised, when you have not just news but people sitting in front of you who are, so to speak, in the news.
I discussed whatever was happening in the Chinese economy a couple of weeks ago with half-a-dozen Chinese entrepreneurs all looking nervously at their smartphones and making wry jokes about government intervention. I have looked at real-time feeds of the weather in Istanbul with Turkish students; I have swung past a student’s house in Omsk in Siberia, on Street View, and checked and discussed the implications of last night’s Japanese baseball results with Japanese baseball fans.
This is all very interesting, but there is also a sense of loss. Herman Melville, in Moby Dick (1851), was able to conjure a sense of the wide-open space of the world, and the intense local-ness of private experience, by quoting at random some headlines of world news:
“Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States”
“Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael”
“Bloody Battle in Afghanistan”
The world, in the nineteenth century, was compendious, vast, unknowable; experience which loomed large in one place, in another place was nothing, not even a rumour. Now all information about all places is omnipresent: we with a shrug, or with mild interest. Or, if we are lucky, with a quarter of a lesson and some earthquake anecdotes.