A Scotsman in a green tartan kilt tweedled his bagpipe from the roof of Edinburgh Castle. A bare-chested Samoan blared a conch shell on the beach. A Native American danced in feathered headdress outside Denver's city hall. At the easternmost point of New Zealand, Kiri Te Kanawa sang a Maori karanga. On the biggest stage in Tokyo, Suizenji Kyoko spun in her kimono as she belted out "The Light of the Firefly," Japan's home-grown version of "Auld Lang Syne."
On the first night of what is supposed to be a century of "globalization," the images that danced across our TV and computer screens were in fact intensely local. If it was Marshall McLuhan's "global village" that greeted the year 2000 Friday night, it was a village with one heck of a lot of ethnic neighborhoods.
As the planet's 6 billion people woke up on New Year's Day, with the spent champagne corks still on the floor and the TV news still showing fireworks over various global landmarks, there wasn't even agreement about what year was being celebrated. Jews, Japanese, Muslims, and Chinese all count the years their own way. And in Ethiopia, a small but proud state that writes its own ticket on matters pertaining to the calendar, it is still 1992.
Contemporary technology has brought the world closer together. Billions of people watched the New Year's parties in Kiribati, Colombo and Caracas on live TV. People everywhere have seen that darling black-haired boy born in Wellington, New Zealand, one second after midnight: celebrated as the first child of the millennium. At New Year's parties around the world, people ate American Big Macs, exploded Chinese fireworks and emptied bottles of French champagne.
But the irony of this wired-up, online, Starbucks-studded world is that it is less connected in many ways than what we had before telephones, television, and the World Wide Web. On the first day of 2000, this planet is a more local, more various, and less unified than it was on the first day of 1900.
At latest count, there were 188 sovereign nations on Earth--not to mention scores of independence movements hoping to carve out yet another rectangle on the globe. Almost all are eager to take advantage of the benefits of globalization, but almost all are equally wary of its pitfalls.
Even the world's great technical achievement this New Year--the global drive to squelch the Y2K computer bug--sparked different assessments in different corners of the globe.
How computer systems are managing will not be fully known until Monday or Tuesday, when banks, other businesses and governments go back to work. But so far, the few known Y2K problems have been so minor as to be laughable. Example: Several hundred customers of Britain's Portman Building Society were mailed monthly statements dated "Jan. 7, 1900." This provoked chuckles, and an announcement that the bank will send out amended statements Tuesday.
In the Western press, the conquest of the Millennium Bug is being treated as a famous victory of man over machine. But in much of the Third World, the absence of Y2K problems will probably strengthen the notion that the computer scare was a scam all along, a panic manufactured to force poor nations to hire high-priced programmers from the rich ones. A newspaper in Dar es Salaam argued that Tanzania was "Y2Krazy" to pay European consulting companies to solve a nonexistent problem.
"We run into this all the time," noted Chris Webster, an executive with the Paris-based consulting firm Cap Gemini. "We warn some government or business that the 2000 problem is a serious threat. And people respond, 'You would say that, wouldn't you? You're trying to sell us services.' "
In the end, the worldwide bill for Y2K services came to $500 billion or so. And it created a billion-dollar credibility problem for the developed world. The term "Y2K" has become another piece of evidence--along with genetically modified "terminator" seeds, anti-dumping laws, and global financial institutions run by bankers from New York and London--that globalization is just another way for rich nations to dominate poor ones.
Even if that perception is true, though, the old patterns of political dominance have given way to a much more complex geopolitical reality.
A century ago, huge swaths of the world map were colored pink, red, or yellow, depicting the territory controlled by a few European colonial powers. Across the vast sweep of Asia, from Egypt to the China Sea, hundreds of millions of people were subjects of the British queen. China was nominally independent, but the minister of trade and commerce in the Imperial Chinese court in Beijing was an Englishman.
The hijacking drama played out in south Asia last week was a complicated mess to resolve because it involved three governments--India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan's Taliban--plus a rebel movement in the Indian state of Kashmir. Things would have been considerably simpler if such an event had occurred in 1900. Back then, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir were all mere sub-provinces under the firm control of the British Raj that maintained a unified government over the entire subcontinent.
European colonial rule around the world continued for half of the 20th century. In his comprehensive geographic study "Inside Asia," published in 1939, John Gunther observed, with complete absence of irony, "As everybody knows, the greatest Asiatic power is Great Britain."
It's rather poignant to be here in Britain as the century ends, for the print media and television are full of memoirs looking back to the glory days a hundred years ago. Today, Britain is still a wealthy and important player, but it has been reduced to supporting roles in a global drama where America commands center stage. Even the ever-optimistic prime minister, Tony Blair, conceded recently that his country has experienced "a century of decline."
It's important for Americans to remember that history will eventually bring an end to the current "American century," just as it did to the Roman centuries (c. 100 B.C. to 300 A.D.), the Spanish century (the 16th), the British century (c. 1815 to 1945), and the various Chinese centuries that President Jiang Zemin was crowing about at the Beijing celebration Friday night.
What kind of world will the next century bring? With the huge population and growing financial power of East Asia, it's not far-fetched to foresee a Chinese, or perhaps an East Asian, century. If current growth trends continue, the next "Chinese century" might begin about the time the New Year's babies of 2000 reach middle age.
But many prognosticators say the era of the superpower, of dominance by a single nation-state, is coming to an end. They suggest instead that the new century will belong to huge regional collectives--a unified Europe, for example, or an expanded NAFTA, or an Asian confederation built on Chinese manpower and Japanese money.
And while the various space probes over the past 40 years have yet to find life in the void, it is not entirely science fiction to speculate that, over the next 100 years, something will be found Out There. That could lead to a genuine state of "globalization" on Earth as mankind unites to face another civilization.
The key problem with these ideas of global union and regional confederation is the glorious diversity seen on those TV broadcasts from around the world on New Year's Eve.
As this weekend made clear, the 6 billion people on Earth still glory in their local costumes, customs, credos and calendars. They will globalize, to a degree--but only as long as they can do it in their own language and their own way.
That point came through vividly Saturday afternoon at Picadilly Circus as London hosted an event it proudly calls "the biggest New Year's parade on Earth" (a title also claimed by similar extravaganzas in Sydney and Pasadena).
There were American cheerleaders with red and white pon-poms. There were East African drummers and Jamaican steel bands and a Japanese string ensemble, complete with an instrument known as a koto on a rolling platform. There were Pakistanis in turbans and French motorcyclists in helmets and the Iowa State Cyclones football team, which didn't make a bowl game and decided to march through central London instead. Near the end of the three-hour promenade came a perfect troupe of bagpipers in red tartan kilts and white spats playing "My Bonnie Lassie"--and the entire pipe band was composed of Indians from the Shree Muktajeevan temple here in England.
It was globalization on parade, 2000-style--an intensely, noisily, and proudly localized form of globalization.
CAPTION: Ngati Porou Maori dancers perform traditional songs at a ceremony on the north island of New Zealand to celebrate the first sunrise of the year 2000.
CAPTION: Strollers along the beach watch Dublin's New Year's fireworks show.