The famous phrase, “think global, act local” arose in the 1970s to 90s era. During that span, global interconnectivity sped up and separations like borders and hemispheres took a back seat to real-time communications. At first glance, this change might appear to be only about devices or software, but that was only part of the equation. Human culture is a constellation of factors, including material, narrative, biological, and behavioral. “Think global, act local” was also about shifts in perception: what’s the role of regionalism in a world where almost nothing is subject to location for long.
Refresher on tech is a useful start for context. Of course plenty of other connectivity existed prior, but these systems for communication were speedier and available for those who could afford them) to an unprecedented degree: commercial fax, widespread pager technology, the first-ever mobile call, and wide adoption of video calling all erupted in the era of “think global, act local.” These methods changed business operations, but they also gave functional shape to the emotional web of continuous touch humans require for psychosocial function.
Then the blue marble dwarfed everything else: a simple image of our planet floating in an infinite universe, drove the point home. Our brightest lights and our tallest skyscrapers looked cute beside breathtaking infinitum. Earth was re-mythologized as one little part of something larger, which had direct links not only on inter-continental, but on inter-planetary science as well.
So if Western culture went through its Copernican awakening ages ago, why are some economists and businesses still fretting over regionalism?
Take the current kerfuffle between California and Texas, with both regions fixated on domestic residences and company headquarters. California’s moment to panic about credibility already happened when it went status quo and invested 3X in prisons over schools. Plus, people don’t come to Hollywood for the popcorn or to Silicon Valley for the black turtlenecks. They come because they want to make it big… as in global.
This squabble misses that supply chain, human resources, healthcare, among other fundamentals, have not geographically-bound for decades. Or take the hand-wringing about the emptying streets of New York for cheaper and sunnier places like Florida and Puerto Rico. The name of the game is tax base and cost of living.
Regionalism is extremely helpful for data collection and for breaking data down into pieces that our minds can relate to and digest. But regionalism isn't terribly relevant to resources any more, including money and taxes. We’re all aware that many of the world’s richest people and companies don’t pay much in taxes, particularly in relation to their valuation. Wealth, just like company staff, is moveable.
But culture, science, and politics are showing us that those considerations are small potatoes.
Should all this seem like quaint cultural anthropology, let’s recall that human behavior is the underlying principle to economic, political, and health systems successes. Other than fear mongering or pandering, cheap and terrifying but effective means of influencing results, actually empathizing with human behavior in its systemic totality is the inroad for lasting success.
Regional leaders are wasting their time worrying about short term micro-wins: those supposed successes are a mirage. This is the era of “think local, act global.” Adaptation, agility, and active cooperation are where the impact--and the power--lies.
It’s not that physical location isn’t important--we see how ongoing racism creates mortality, morbidity, and incarceration. But COVID and Climate Change are the ultimate tutors here, as they do not discriminate in and of themselves, but reveal how institutions discriminate through responses to these phenomena. Much of 2020 in the US was spent in regional squabbles while people died or went into crushing debt. Impact-focused leadership doesn’t waste time pitting one region against another. Global leadership is too busy focusing on cooperation for much bigger successes.
50 years after “think global, act local,” we’ve had ample time to observe and measure how impact works. Regions are a great place to measure bite-sized changes in comparison to the entire global scale. But regions show symptoms of a wildly intricate system. Global scale matters not because it’s better than measuring by states or regions, but because it’s the only scale that leads to measurable and beneficial outcomes in the long run.
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