The process of globalization typically is presumed to be a one-way street, with America, by dint of its economic and cultural power, slowly refashioning other nations in its own, somewhat crass, image.
There is, though, a technology-enabled “reverse globalization” occurring, in which ideas from the rest of the world are swimming upstream into America. I don’t pretend that this opposing current is anywhere near as strong as the main one, but I do think it is helping to reshape this country in potentially significant ways.
The Internet is perhaps the most obvious agent for this reversal process. For example, I am sure I am not the only one these days who regularly goes online to read newspapers from abroad. And Web sites such as Google feature overseas dispatches about breaking stories. Often, the difference in perspective is obvious.
More striking, though, is the number of Americans who now watch television that originates abroad, taking advantage of the international programming packages that are increasingly common from satellite and cable TV companies.
If you drive through any neighborhood of new immigrants in any U.S. city, the sort of neighborhood where you see shops with Korean or Greek or Hindi writing outside, you can be sure that upstairs, people are watching television in those languages, too.
America is a nation of immigrants, and the time-worn pattern is for succeeding generations to speak more and more English. By the time the third generation rolls around, children often can’t understand their grandparents.
In the past, there were few ways in which the native language was reinforced. What will happen now that there is constant native-language television — news, music videos, talk shows, soap operas — from back home?
One possibility, of course, is that this will create a nation of balkanized ethnic tribes, with no sense of common citizenship, as seems to be happening in much of Northern Europe. On the other hand, Americans may have something to teach the world about being hyphenated citizens: Italian-Americans, African-Americans, etc. It’s not one or the other, but both.
It would serve the country well to have a significant population of bilingual citizens who, while firmly grounded in America, also have a deep interest in another part of the world.