Citizen of the World

The world has always been a tribal sphere, a place of kingdoms, borders and empires. Throughout history, borders have changed, lands have been occupied, won and lost, or simply decimated by invaders. The dominant forces have changed over the centuries, but the stories have remained the same; the strong, bully the weak and hold all the power until someone stronger comes along.

Photo by Ali Yahya

That pattern looked like changing for a while. Relative peace took hold between old foes, East and West. Walls came down in Europe and new friends were embraced, taken into the wider community. China looked beyond its own wall, becoming part of the narrative, even if it had a long way to go before it could truly be called an open society. Borders came down between nations, and alliances replaced grievances, trading agreements replaced ceasefires. The world looked like it may, at last, be moving towards global cooperation and mutual respect on an unprecedented scale. John Lennon imagined it; “a brotherhood of man.” At the same time, global, affordable travel bridged gaps between people of far-flung nations. It was easier to live, work and trade overseas. Along with the internet, this era allowed us to interact and understand each other, despite our differences. We were becoming citizens of the world.

A brotherhood of man

Photos by Rick Lee

Perhaps it was naïve of me to think the world had slowly been changing, that we were embracing cultures of every colour and creed, and creating a new world order. Like so many travellers who hop the planet, I had come to think of myself as a global species, a nomad who found a home wherever I hung my hat. I’ve spent more time abroad now than in my native England, calling Canada home before settling here in Australia. I’ve worked for Germans, French Canadians, worked with Italians, Spaniards, Dutch, Americans, and Chinese. I have friends of every colour and faith–real friends–in countries all around the world, eaten and slept in their homes in Japan, China, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan and more. I cherish these relationships because they go beyond borders, there are no barriers between friends.

There are no barriers between friends

Photo by Duy Pham

Of one thing I’m certain, people are the same the world over; there’s good, bad and indifferent, no matter what the culture, no matter how distant the lands. I’ve seen enough to know that good, loving, generous people come from all walks of life. All we have to do is open up our arms and greet them. So it makes me mad to see so-called leaders, turning the clock back. Putting up new walls, isolating countries that have previously preached freedom, and leaving friends behind as a consequence.

All we have to do is open our arms and greet them

The new America promotes self above all others, suspicion above trust; it wants to block its borders, build barbed wire fences and concrete walls to keep the world at bay. Britain wants to go back in time, live behind its moat and dream of the glory days. Forget the community of friends beyond the channel, a community that’s done more for European peace and unity than any army over the preceding years.

Photo by Humberto Chavez 

No one is saying that life was on the road to perfect; true global unity is a lengthy, ongoing process, one that needs work and cannot be taken for granted. Open markets bring their own problems, rampant consumerism for one. But I’d rather have to deal with that than war and the destruction it brings. When leaders whip up sentiments of division and hate, create enemies by conjuring up unwarranted fear and suspicion, the sheep amongst us follow enthusiastically, convinced by fast-talking popularists, and those good at heart soon find themselves outnumbered.

Photo by Marc Pell

When the so-called leader of the free world sees dictators and despots as wonderful people and shuns partners who strive for inclusion, compassion and friendship, it’s time to start worrying.

I for one would rather be a citizen of the world than holed up in my castle.

That’s what friends are for

Technology, it’s changed our lives completely, and it doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. It’s all designed to make life easier, right? Well, that’s the idea. Everything is digital, and there’s an app for everything, from counting your heartbeats to counting your money–not mine; that’s kept under my analogue mattress.

Photo by Rawpixel

Embracing the digital age means making digital friends. Even if we never see them in person, we can communicate with friends and send our love and selfies to the far reaches of the world, the galaxy even–don’t laugh, there’s a little green alien been texting me lately, something to do with cleaning my carpets at half price; today only, conditions apply. When we’re not getting sold something special, we need our technological devices to keep in touch with our growing list of acquaintances, and just because we don’t have friends of our own, doesn’t mean we can’t join in the fun; there’s an app that allows us to invent them. Seriously! It’s available from the Apple store, and it’s called, I am important. Download the app, and you can create fake friends and have them send you messages and love to impress those non-friends who might be watching. It even has a phoney diary to arrange your busy schedule, lunch dates, parties and such, with all your fake friends. Wow! How good would that make you feel; important, right? Check it out if you need someone special in your life.

I Am Important App

Social media apps don’t make our lives easier, but they do sometimes take over our existence. They’re like babies; they demand all our time. They change the way we think, communicate and interact with other human beings, especially real ones. Whatever the application, we’re drawn continuously to our smartphones, tablets and computer screens. We panic if they are not within reach. Go to the shops and realise you left your phone lying on the kitchen table, and it’s as if the sky has fallen in on you. You rush to phone home and check it’s still there on the table, then scream, because you don’t have your phone. It’s a nightmare. I can hear the modern day Lindy Chamberlain cry out, ‘Help, the dingo’s got my smartphone!’

Dingoes photo courtesy of Perth Zoo

Help! The Dingo’s got my i-phone!

Without the means for instant communication, there’s a real sense of anxiety; we feel naked, cut adrift from the real world–it is the real world isn’t it, that cyber world of information and social media? We’ve developed a need to know who’s online and if they are talking about us, or to us. We need to know if they’ve seen our latest silly photo, and we need to know there’s someone out there in cyberspace waiting to hear from us. Go ahead and laugh, but to many, that is the real world. So are we escaping; are we bypassing reality and living a life of make-believe, or is this the new reality?

When you forget your smartphone               Photo by Aaron Blanco-Tejedor

I myself am not addicted. I can go for minutes without looking at my phone. I once mistakenly allowed the battery to die completely and didn’t panic. I calmly put it on charge and fired up my i-pad; no harm done. Back-ups are so important for your hardware and software; it’s like having a friend you can count on when all your real friends are busy.

I wonder how many of us could go cold turkey and dump the smartphone and tablets altogether? Imagine using the phone only when you had to call someone to talk; now that would be different. But dropping out of the real world–the one where apps control the laws of nature–wouldn’t be so easy. If we did put the phone in the drawer and throw away the key, how would we know about all those cool things to purchase, things we never imagined we needed? Isn’t it funny how your phone knows when you need something? It’s as though they’re listening in through that tiny microphone. I broke wind the other day and an ad for air freshener popped up on my phone. And if we didn’t have smartphones, how would I let everyone know that I’ve put up my latest blog post? Enough said; I’m in it for the long-haul and my digital devices will tell me how long that will be–there’s an app called Heaven I might try.


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski

Call me!