Rich is visiting me in Amsterdam today. We’ve hired him a bike, as that’s the only way to travel in the city. “Handbrake or pedal?“, they asked in the shop. Dutch bikes have brakes that are activated by pedalling backwards. English bikes all have handbrakes (or disk brakes if you can afford them). We’re all cyclists, but some things we think are common are strangely diversified.
Like pants and pants. It’s no secret that the United Kingdom and the United States are two countries divided by a common language. Walk to work in the UK without pants and only you would know about it. In New York, it would raise more eyebrows.
Pants and pedals aside, other notions show remarkable elasticity when we unpack their meaning. Recently i explored ‘equality‘ in more detail, commenting on how what initially seems like a simple idea turns out to be more complex in the execution. Especially when we deal with it in a global context, crossing legal, ethical, cultural and moral boundaries, as well as the simply physical.
Indeed, if you are a regular reader, you’ll have noticed that many of my recent posts have been working around these ideas of complexity and clarity, reflecting my unfolding and evolving understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the Social Age.
Many apparently simple and clear concepts are divided through a global lens: fairness, freedom, leadership, duty, honour, trust, humility.
I’m excited to be taking part in a conference later this year on ‘cross cultural decision making‘, which is partly driving my curiosity in these spaces, but overall it’s about this: historically we were divided by geography and technology. You used to have to book an international phone line. It used to take weeks to travel round the world. But now the technology connects us instantly and travel is much easier. So the barriers we put in place are deliberate: governments, organisations, entities restricting our ability to communicate.
In the Social Age, ideas travel fast: they catch fire and spread. The democratisation of technology and publishing, the rise of social authority, the nature of community all supports that. But we shouldn’t confuse global communication with global commonality. Whilst we are united in ideas, we may be divided by our understanding of what those ideas mean.