Posted by Cameron @ 8:18 pm on March 29th 2014

Why Local is Shit

This is the year 2014. It’s a wonderful time to be a human. We have so thoroughly improved our existence that it is easy to forget how comparatively hellish our livelihood was prior to the industrial revolution. Lives were short and brutal. Disease wiped out large portions of otherwise healthy individuals – undoubtedly many brilliant minds have been lost throughout the eons. It was difficult to to generate enough food to eat, let alone to thrive. The foods that people did eat were generally awful by modern standards. Most folks were born, grew up, lived and died within a small geographic area. The world beyond was unknown, unimaginably vast and unreachable.

This changed as technology arrived on the scene with gusto. As boats became better, the shores of distant continents were suddenly within reach for a small portion of the population. Traversing land was still arduous; beasts of burden were the only option to transport significant loads of materials.

It helps to remember that prior to the invention of trains, the fastest land speed of any man who had ever lived was probably about 30 mph – the speed of a horse at full gallop. No faster. Ever. This changed forever with the development of trains. Suddenly locomotives afforded unimaginable efficiency and speed compared to prior alternatives. Transportation to distant areas was possible for great swaths of humanity and the costs to move cargo plummeted. Easy transportation of men and goods shaped nations and kindled the spark which has driven our species forward.

Many of the greatest technological advancements have served to shrink the world. and have brought ever increasing rates of return on human effort. The wheel served to multiply what man and beast could carry. Motors attached to those wheels exponentially increased what was possible. Wings attached to those motors brought staggering levels of speed and efficiency. Measly copper wires first afforded instantaneous communications; subsequent telecommunication developments have allowed vast amounts of information to be transported across the globe in milliseconds.

Every one of these advancements share a single element – they have each shrunk the world.

The story of technology is one of a shrinking world. Barriers to transportation have been so thoroughly abolished by technology that a prior state is almost unimaginable. A transcontinental airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York exists today for $133 USD – which is 18.3 hours of labor at the federal minimum wage and only 6 hours of labor at the mean US hourly wage of $22.

To put it another way, less than one day’s work in 2014 pays the average American well enough to move themselves 500 mph for 5.5 hours across 2,500 miles of mountains and rivers and swamps and deserts and plains. That is an astounding accomplishment and one worth celebrating.

It is this accomplishment which allows copper mined on one continent to be smashed up with silicon refined on second continent, in a design engineered on a third continent, manufactured on a fourth and sold in a fifth to carry electrons that allow grandparents to see their grandkid’s birthday on a sixth while they’re on a cruise docking at the shore of a seventh continent.

That is the power of global.

Local affords none of this. Local is isolated. Local is limited. Local is blind and backwards. Local is not something to yearn for. Local is a curse that humanity has escaped by its own ingenuity. It harks back to times of less, not plenty.

Global food allows billions to eat. Without it, humanity is cursed to again gather local flora and fauna*.

Global creativity brings once unimaginable diversity of music and art within reach. Without it,
humanity is cursed to only experience local talent – no Beatles or Picasso or Beethoven or Wes Anderson.

Global immigration/travel affords billions of people better lives. Without it, humanity is cursed to again trek by foot or horse and is limited to the range of each.

Global trade raises living standard of all of humanity. Without it, humanity is again cursed only items producible at a local level.

Global communication allows staggering levels of efficiency and closeness. Without it, distance is again an enormous barrier.

Local is shit. Everything that is good about humanity is global. It’s time to embrace it and fully live in the present.

*Yearning for piecemeal return to ‘local food’ that consists of global species and cultivars is as hypocritical as being a Christmas-and-Easter Jew.
**This may or may not morph into a “Why…is Shit” series of posts. I was inspired to post in the first time in a year today so we shall see if the spirit continues.

1 Comment »

  1. You are assigning the modern version of “local” the technology of the preidindustrial age, while granting “global” the advantages of our latest tech. This is hardly a fair or reasonable comparison.

    Comment by Jack — 4/15/2014 @ 6:50 pm

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