Globalisation and the Internet

What is globalisation? 

Globalisation is a somewhat difficult concept to ground, but it is an important concept nevertheless for our understandings of the 'big picture' Internet. The term globalisation did (at least in the popular mind) come to the fore around the year 2000 (about the same time as the US led technology boom. And there was a lot of confusion during this period about what ‘globalisation' was and where it was leading us and who were the main instigators.  There were major protests against (a certain type of) globalisation all over the world from Seattle, to Geneva, to Washington, to London (and of course here in Melbourne).

 This is a video taken at the Seattle protest in 1999.


These shot were taken in Seattle in 1999 during the protest against the gathering of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Arguably it was within this anti-globalisation protest movement (that originated in Seattle in 1999) that the Internet was first adapted for political purposes (and it was where the Indymedia network came to the fore). The protests were primarily directed at the institutions that govern world trade and finance (WTO, WEF) and the new-structures of the so-called global economy (and the economy is of course one of the major defining factors of globalisation).

A global economy

Professor Richard Langhore states in his 2001 book ‘the Coming of Globalisation: its evolution and contemporary consequences'.

Since 1979, the turnover in foreign exchange markets has risen to $1.5 trillion each day, 12 times the level of 1979 and over 50 times that of world trade. The effects on societies and individuals can be either catastrophic or enriching, but the circumstances are equally volatile The Coming of Globalisation: Its Evolution and contemporary Consequences, Palgrave, New York, 2001, p.20

Is globalisation inevitable?

(Economic) Globalisation isn't inevitable; it has developed as the direct result of strategic choices by governments and corporations in the past thirty years. In Australia, globalisation was exacerbated by the Hawke/Keating Labor governments (1984-1996) who deregulated large portions of the economy, floated our currency and embraced the all-trade-is-good mantra of global economic policy. Most nations, including Australia, moved away from collective centralised economic planning and publicly managed state owned enterprises to liberal and laissez-faire policies and free trade. This resulted in the formation of a trans-national or 'global economy' that many critics claim only benefits private pursuits and global corporations.

There are probably no great surprises on this map of how the global economy is divided up in terms of wealth and countries. And you will find a fairy similar arrangement in terms of Internet usage.

The Network Society

This it is not the first time that the world has had a global economy; but as the renown sociologist Manuel Castells' claims, it is the first time that we have had a global economy that works in real-time. What he means by this is that the majority of the world's economic activity is now controlled by tens of thousands of flickering computer screens in the world's key financial hubs

The global economy is part of what he terms the 'the network society'. And a network society is characterised by:

 …the almost instantaneous flow and exchange of information, capital and cultural communication. These flows order and condition both consumption and production. The networks themselves reflect and create distinctive cultures. Both they and the traffic they carry are largely outside national regulation. Our dependence on the new models of informational flows gives enormous power to those in a position to control them to control us. (from dust cover, Manual Castells Rise of Network Society, Vol 1, 1999).

This map was made in the early 1990s (and it is from Martin Dodge's and Rob Kitchin's ‘Atlas of Cyberspace)

And it is pretty clear where most of the Internet traffic was at that time and I'm not sure how much it is changed since this time.

And this is one of the most well-know visualisations of the Internet and was it was also made in the early 1990s

Post Industrailisation

There are of course, numerous continuities between the present historical period and past periods of globalisation. The free-trade movement emanating from Britain in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and Colonialism and Socialism were also times of globalisation. Before the First World War, Western Europe controlled most of the world's landmass, and after the Second World War, communism controlled two-thirds of the world's people.(From, Samuel. P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations, Touchstone Books, London,1998, p.84).

The late 19th Century form of globalisation was largest driven by Britain and it also had its defined new technologies, such as the Telegraph and the steamship. Our present global economy couldn't operate without certain economic and technological shifts; the most important shift for our purposes is generally known as ‘post-industrialisation'.

Australia, like all Western economies, has post-industrialised, meaning that the majority of employment and wealth generation is in knowledge production and consumption. This means that most people are employed in industries like banking, insurance, education, administration, call centres, tourism, media, and other industries that are more concerned with ideas and services, rather than manufacturing tangible goods and products.

Post-Industrialism emerged in the past three decades (parallel to globalisation) and is understood as a decline of labour-intensive manufacturing operations through new production efficiencies, automation, and the shift of manufacturing to low-wage developing economies (such as China, Brazil, and India). Popularly Post-Industrailisation is branded the ‘information economy' or even the ‘new economy' and is typified by a prevailing service sector and an expansion of industries that employ most citizens in knowledge production (ie. the media). And this has caused a massive decline in employment in the manufacturing sector (as a percentage of the workforce) and is also, as many argue, caused problems with legitimacy for Leftist and social democratic politics.

And this is a picture of a very famous Melbourne factory in 1906 called Foy and Gibsons on Smith Street, Collingwood. And it was at the time the largest factory in the Southern Hemisphere and was like a Myer or Coles' Variety Store, but the major difference was that it manufactured many of it goods on site.

This last Foy and Gibson's store closed down in the 1960s and most of the buildings are now apartments. And this is a story repeated in many inner-city districts of cities in the western world, where whole districts have de-industrialised and the factories have been converted to apartments (and the manufacturing jobs have been exported overseas). 


An industrial era factory in the US.

A global ideology?

Another important component of the globalisation process is the ascendancy of one major ideology after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. This ideology, driven by national governments, and a number of major corporations, is 'neo-liberalism'. This is an ideology that claims that markets are driven by their own discipline and this is said to be a 'natural' process and governments and communities should not interfere in this 'natural' process. For some, most notably the people that run our largest corporations, neo-liberalism seems to work, but for others, like people that believe in collective decision making, or people who create noncommercial culture, or people who work out side of the market sphere, it is dis- empowering. It is an ideology that is based on competition, individual consumption, and assumes that economic equality is self regulating, not something carefully managed.

(you can figure this cartoon out yourself)

The movement of people

Another component within the globalisation process (that is often conveniently overlooked) is the movement of people. Within the present global framework it is much easier for money and goods and services to move than it is for most people (or in other words it is possible for corporations to invest in nearly any part of the world and profit from the low wages of developing nations, but for low paid workers, it is very difficult to have any geographical mobility at all).

In recent years, migration has become a divisive political issue in Australia and other western countries partly because of the rise of the disaffected popular right in Australia, Europe, and the United States (that many claim that this is a consequence of the structural changes of economic globalisation).

Although the world may be opening up to free-trade and ideas and services (through such means as the Internet), its also closing for refuges,  guest workers, and other migrants.


Capitalism has always been international and relied on internationalism to expand; however it is now largely accepted that this expansion has entered a new stage. Authors such as Richard Falk, Thomas Friedman and Manual Castells concur that the end of the east-west logic of the Cold War ended the eighty year ideological wrestle between centralised state economic planning and market driven models. Likewise, Eric Hobsbawn, in his masterful empirical history The Age of Extremes, claims that what we understand as the Twentieth Century ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.[1]

So what we are left with is a world with only one major superpower, one major economic ideology, one major political system driven by a laissez faire, post-industrial economy (typified and partly driven by the Internet) that is increasing the wealth gap between and within communities everywhere.

Globalisation or ‘globalism' circulates around the belief that complex interconnections are rapidly developing between societies, institutions, cultures, collectives and individuals worldwide. This is partly because if the Internet, but as the Internet can also foster a certain style of globalisation from below, it may also assist in a more positive style of globalisation. The Internet has been a catalyst for the rise of trans-national mechanisms of communication that have obviated the traditional national boundaries of political communication (for better or worse). This could result in a very different vision of what we today understand as the global (as long as the Internet remains on the global stage with its open publishing abilities, and as long as some of the barriers to access are overcome, and as long as progressive forces network globally, and not rabid dogs).

[1] Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes: The short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Abucus, London, 1994.

Alse See: Jerry Everand, Virtual States: The Internet and the Boundaries of the Nation State, Routledge, London, 2000.p45.

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