TED Conversations

Closing Statement from Daniel Raven-Ellison

Thank you TED community for taking the time to join our conversation. I have been fascinated by the diverse range of contributions that have been made. The stories that have been shared are particularly powerful, with examples of how globalisation is impacting on the communities that we live in, visit and influence.

What is clear is that many of us are working from very different definitions of what 'local' means. Ronald Estrada describes local as "minimal, ecological, and symbiotic" while Iain Ellwood says it is more of "a state of mind not a geographic destination". This idea links well to Dustin Smith's suggestion that technology "changes who we spend time with, and allows us to choose "our own local".

The diversity of definitions of 'local' goes a long way to explain why we have so many different predictions about the future. Steve Knight had the most radical prediction, suggesting that personal air travel "will allow people to re-populate currently remote and unpopulated areas of the world". Pabitra Mukhopadhyay, Dorian Knus and many others share our concern that global forces are damaging local places and raise valid concerns for the future. These worries are met by many points that express the advantages of globalisation, including one by David Rogers who asks "Is the advantage of globalisation the ability to start a conversation anywhere in the world around common experiences?"

There have been a number of engaging solutions, including ways for tourists, travel companies and host communities to act more responsibly and sustainably. The common areas here appear to be high quality research, learning, education, empowerment and participation. Scan through to find some real gems.

Finally, thank you to InterContinental Hotels & Resorts for sponsoring this conversation. This specific discussion is closed, but you can follow the "Future of Local" project via Twitter on #FutureOfLocal. And we'll begin a new conversation on TED.com in the coming weeks.

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  • Mar 1 2013: For me local is a state of mind not a geographic destination.
    It's about a group of people who share proximity based on specific customs, behaviours and language. The challenge is to stimulate and nurture a level of proximity without homogenising those behaviours and customs.
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    Mar 13 2013: With 89 comments so far, I have been fascinated by the diverse range of contributions that have been made. The stories that have been shared are particularly powerful, with examples of how globalisation is impacting on the communities that we live in, visit and influence.

    What is clear is that many of us are working from very different definitions of what 'local' means. Ronald Estrada describes local as "minimal, ecological, and symbiotic" while Iain Ellwood says it is more of "a state of mind not a geographic destination". This idea links well to Dustin Smith's suggestion that technology "changes who we spend time with, and allows us to choose "our own local".

    The diversity of definitions of what 'local' means goes a long way to explain why we have so many different predictions about what the future may hold. Steve Knight had the most radical prediction, suggesting that personal air travel "will allow people to re-populate currently remote and unpopulated areas of the world". Pabitra Mukhopadhyay, Dorian Knus and many others share our concern that global forces are damaging local places and raise valid concerns for the future. These worries are met by many points that express the advantages of globalisation, including one by David Rogers who asks "Is the advantage of globalisation the ability to start a conversation anywhere in the world around common experiences?"

    There have been a number engaging solutions suggested that tackle many of the problems that have been raised. These have included ways for tourists, travel companies and host communities to act more responsibly and sustainably. From my point of view the common areas here are in high quality research, learning, education, empowerment and participation. Scan through and you will find some real gems.

    This specific conversation is now closing on TED, but it has not come to an end. You can follow the progress of the "Future of Local" project via Twitter on #FutureOfLocal.

    Thank you all!
  • Feb 24 2013: Currently studying Global Cultures for A2 and often we look at cultures from local to global. I think sometimes I can be too skeptical and think its doom and gloom for all local cultures due to the globalisation of certain culture clusters - sped up by technological leaps and economic power. But like a few comments here, what is 'local'? I immediately think of the close physical vicinity - a city, a town - but even then those consist of multiple cultures living side by side.

    I live in Slough, a town known for it's diversity due to it's history of factories and offices offering migrants livelihoods, resulting in enclaves. The local culture here is the fact that it is multicultural (if that makes sense...) Living here for most of my life, it's safe to say we're used to seeing shops shoot up aimed for the assimilating cultures, a new market. An example is increasing Polish migrants due to the accession in 2004 has led to shops and services introduce to satisfy growing Polish market.

    The point is culture is dynamic, always changing due to politics, society etc. and even more so with transportation causing space-time compression. Some cultures might have more influences, such as 'Americanisation' - sometimes seen negatively causing culture erosion through culture hybrids, mixing old traditions with new ideas. Another view is that it is heading to a unipolar world.

    However, I believed that stronger cultures do have great spatial influence but it dilutes as it is globally spread, and so does their power. Local cultures are changed from the outside by these powering cultures, but wasn't it changing from the inside too? This is more evident in cultures receptive to change - like Manila's westernised culture through televised showbiz, TV, internet etc. The youth wanted to have a unique identity, so they take from what they see. Culture is not lost, just ever-changing, adapting to the people. Locals have the power to change their culture more than the outside players.
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    Feb 24 2013: I've always thought that diversity in all aspects of life is closely related to health, on every scale - genetically, individually, culturally and globally.

    Although I admire and would encourage exploration, it is the expectations and the attitudes of those who follow on from the initial explorer that is cause for concern. As an explorer yourself, I would imagine that you too are appreciative of diversities in culture, landscape, flora and fauna when you first visit. But do you really think that once you have publicly written up your journals of where you have been, that others will not want to follow you? My worry would be the inevitable post-exploratory consequences. What would that aftermath look like when hordes of other people want to go and experience what you experienced at whatever cost and in a level of luxury that would likely be an affront to the indigenous people who live their lives in traditional ways?

    I don't want to pour water on your fire, but I think initial exploration is the initial stage of diversity deterioration - unless essential measures are taken to protect it by limiting the encroachment of Western ideals, diseases and commercialism - and the tempting but illusory idea that our lifestyle is better than theirs.

    Your mention of "changing destinations" in the name of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, does not fill me with a great deal of optimism for maintaining essential diversity at this point - unless I've missed something?
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      Feb 27 2013: In my view places are always changing. Internal and external influences will always change destinations, the places that we arrive at. I think that in many cases that's unavoidable and even an absence of organised change will result in a change of some kind.

      I totally agree with you that exploration has a dark history. My own take on exploration is that we are all explorers and that humans need to learn to do this more sensitively, with more empathy and care. That said, exploration and travel has great potential to improve things too.

      I'm really interested in your opening comment "I've always thought that diversity in all aspects of life is closely related to health, on every scale - genetically, individually, culturally and globally". I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this.
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        Mar 2 2013: Hi Daniel. I think that exploration can be partly responsible for corrupting the variation needed for the global environment to continue as a self-sustaining entity with robustness rather than frailty.

        It's hypothetical, but it seems to me that variances in cultural evolution play a big part in global well-being. Traditional cultures have evolved in tune with with the natural environments in which they live, and therefore variation at a genetic level would facilitate that basic mechanism of evolution. Evolution at that level follows a trajectory of symbiosis that goes with living by nature's rules.

        Western culture has effectively 'stepped off' that evolutionary trajectory and has created its own trajectory based on technology and globalisation. If variation exists, it would not necessarily be concomitant with how the human brain and human physiology has developed over hundreds of thousands of years. Neither does it bear much relationship to how the natural world is perceived (example: we see it as something to exploit, rather than something that supports - and therefore revered and worshipped).

        I wonder about this clash of cultures. I can't help thinking that the type of exploration that expects the trappings of western cultures wherever they choose to go, is inherently damaging to global health.

        When I visit remote cultures (and I have visited communities in Melanesia), I go as a guest. I eat what they eat, I do what they do, live how they live and even try to think what they think. At no point do I expect to 'change destinations' to suit my own home.

        I like your take on sensitive, empathic exploration, but I'm still not sure how it can improve things.
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          Mar 5 2013: My point about change is that no matter who we are or where we go, our influence will always change a place in some way. It may be a change for better, worse or both, but the change is always inevitable. Your trip may have been sensitive, but you will have still have contributed to some kind of cultural or economic change in that place. So for me, any visitor will change a place...
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    Feb 23 2013: I see no hope unless we learn to travel rather than be tourists. To travel we need to carry nothing but passports and money (and not many can afford that). If one wants to travel to a different culture one should be as unobtrusive as possible (color of skin and hair can't be helped) but with local clothes, local food and local people around. Sounds risky, but no risk no gain.
    We need both local and global and both need to stay by their own rights. Love is global, kissing in public is not. I find it absolutely meaningless demanding English breakfast in Indian restaurant or expecting European toilet in a Bangladeshi town.
    As long as we don't appreciate that differences in lifestyles, cultures and cuisine are the natural order of our world that make it interesting and demand a KFC or McDonald outlet everywhere we go, we will continue to homogenize the world to an utterly uninteresting place and all travels will stop one day.
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      Feb 23 2013: "I see no hope unless we learn to travel rather than be tourists." - I'd go further and say we need to learn to explore!
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        Feb 23 2013: We seldom remember that geography is as much terrain as people, food and culture. Tourists see those, traveler passes through those and explorer experiences those. So yes, I agree, we need to learn to explore.
        I have seen wonderful places turn on their heads to conform to travel industries. Leh, the cold desert of India receives its scant little supply of water from glacier melt. They had this unique tradition of dry toilets and that tradition has been destroyed by water intensive European toilets just to attract tourism. Traditional travel industry will possibly destroy local.
        For one who wants to explore will innovate eco-toilets in Leh that require little water.
  • Feb 22 2013: I'm always interested in this type of debate because the missing voices seem to be those that are living in the poorest parts of the world. I wonder if they would give up the chance of development (as in better education, income, healthcare, human rights) for the chance to keep their local identity. For want of a better phrase, is worrying about the lack of local a '1st world problem?'

    In my own life, I live somewhere completely different from where I grew up. I was born on St David's Day (the Patron Saint of Wales); in a miners hospital, the son of a coal miner, in the Welsh coal mining valleys and lived there only until I was 10. I then moved to the agricultural rolling fields of South West Wales. However, I consider myself 'local' to Wales even though I haven't lived there for 26 years. Local to me is the language, the customs ans the mannerisms of the Welsh.
    In my current West Sussex coastal village, I'm surrounded by global brands and yet there is a thriving local community driven by the South Downs, activities such as running and cycling and around schools.
    I can relate the the film as during my wide travels, I've been able to purchase Coke in a remote Pacific island (where clean water wasn't available) and the top of 4000m mountains. Is this a bad thing? I'm not so sure as advances in technology and the ability to connect and share allow me to do my job, stay connected with family and enjoy leisure time. But then, I don;t have to worry where the food on my plate in coming from.

    Is the advantage of globalisation the ability to start a conversation anywhere in the world around common experiences? When sharing tea in a remote Berber hut in the High Atlas, the benefits of global brands were evident in making life a little easier, but those people were still essentially without any basic level of luxury.
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      Feb 22 2013: That's a very good point about the missing voices often being those from the developing world, but I feel like it's a stretch to view the essence of "local" as including every single possible characteristic of a place. I don't know if anyone would categorize the inability to access clean water, for example, as part of their local culture, but perhaps some of the ways that people react to and accomodate that are part of the local experience, and are something one might want to preserve even if water became more readily available.

      In other words, I don't think development HAS to come at the cost of the local, although depending who's doing the development, it often does.
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        Feb 23 2013: So what does 'local' mean to you? We've had a few different ideas of what local means in this conversation. Here are a couple:

        "Local means to me minimal, ecological, and symbiotic. Local implies to me that we are considerate of our surroundings." Ronald Estrada

        "Local infers an awareness so implicit that a level of comfort is felt by just knowing what is around you." Robert Isbell
  • Feb 22 2013: What 'local' means is a question I often find myself struggling with as a food activist. For all the amazing benefits globalisation brings, it is also tied up with issues of sustainability, exploitation of farmers (both at home and abroad), and above all, oil. I worry that our food system is not 'local' enough: we are reliant on high input imported food kept artificially low in price by cheap oil, exploited labour and stolen soil.

    I can only hope that we are moving towards a future where global free and fair trade is celebrated but supporting local growers and suppliers in creating a sustainable circular economy is standard.

    There is a space for big business in this but they need to think of the long term effects not just short term profits. Token nods to local economies ('local cream' served with air freighted strawberries in January, anyone?) and a half-baked CSR policy won't cut it!
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    Feb 21 2013: Travel is intrinsically about discovering new things, and making new connections. One model that can be of importance to analyse the impact of globalisation on our societies is the small-world network (1) and the small-world experiment (2) that is derived from it.

    Karinthy, a Hungarian author amongst the first to be inspired by this theory, wrote in 1929 that the world was "shrinking", and in "Chain-Links" he bets that "using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a personal acquaintance, he could contact [a] selected individual using nothing except the network of personal acquaintances." (3)

    You've probably recognised the famous idea behind John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, a notion that is central to our contemporary online social networks. But what's really interesting is that although in the 1950s six seemed to be the golden number, recent studies have proclaimed that the real number of degrees is now lower.
    Facebook data team released a paper in November 2011 announcing that the average distance between its then 700M+ members was 4.74 (4). A shrinking world indeed.

    Being (and staying) local has never been as easy and as difficult: information about local customs is aplenty, and we justly marvel at their multitude, but the perspective of preserving those customs from external influences is fading away rather fast.

    Sources:
    1. Small-world network: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small-world_network
    2. Small-world experiment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small-world_experiment
    3. KARINTHY Frigyes, 'Chain-Links', in 'Everythign is Different', 1929: http://djjr-courses.wdfiles.com/local--files/soc180%3Akarinthy-chain-links/Karinthy-Chain-Links_1929.pdf
    4. BARNETT Emma, 'Facebook cuts six degrees of separation to four', in The Telegraph, Nov. 22, 2011: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/8906693/Facebook-cuts-six-degrees-of-separation-to-four.html
  • Mar 13 2013: I personally believe there is a tidal wave of change altering the palimpsest of society. It is rewriting our concepts of what is local, and dramatically transforming our understanding of relationship. It is true that there are fewer eclectic shops, and the ones that remain are in predominantly tourist districts. As a society our values have shifted and there appears to be less and less of an emphasis of connectedness with other people. I believe this has made it that much easier to think inwardly and forget that our financial decisions once used to be about more than the attainment of possession.

    In the past, consumerism was also tied in with an attachment to human beings and the geographical area you called home. Going to the supermarket meant engaging with the shop owners in an authentic manner. One would not simply buy an item, they’d be part of society, they would engage with the person on the other side of the counter. At some point we forgot that these local stores supported our friends and family, and got more concerned with mass consumption of “stuff” and shopped base on price, not community. Today’s Walmart’s are devoid of any authentic relationship, they are merely about the exchange of commerce’s.

    While maintaining local is important I believe a bigger question is a stake, and it pertains to our abilities to create and maintain meaningful relationships. Does having a couple hundred friends on facebook truly enhance our lives, or make us more human? Has twitter really done anything to move us forward as a race? What is our gauge of success? There is a fundamental change in our children, they are not being raised in an environment like you and I. They have not been taught authentic community; it is quickly being eroded from our society. It is this new mindset that will continue the push for ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ stores that will meld a global community that is detached from the human experience.
  • Mar 4 2013: I find it slightly ironic that this topic was created by a group named "Intercontinental" :) I think this is a fascinating topic. I teach IB Geography in Singapore. Part of the IB Geography curriculum is a theme called Global Interactions. This topic feeds directly into that, which is great because it will really challenge the thinking of my learners. These kids, despite their "internationality" (is that a word?) lead quite sheltered lives that are essentially focused on Singapore and their home country.
    For me, it also poses other questions:
    What is "local"? Where is "local"? Who is "local"? What are the things that affect our answers to those questions?
  • Mar 3 2013: Like Star Trek's Prime Directive it could be fatal to a primitive indigenous culture if our advanced world introduced them to Starbucks, McDonalds, K-Mart, much less weapons technology. Even hen we visit a fairly well-touristed country, we can certainly interfere with their natural progression.

    Take for instance, Bali. Cribbing from Wikipedia:
    In 1999, about 30,000 hotel rooms were available for tourists.[50] As of 2004, the island achieves over 1,000,000 visitors per year, versus an initial "planned" level of 500,000 visitors, leading to overdevelopment and environmental deterioration: "The result has been polluted and eroded beaches, shortages of water, and a deterioration "of the quality of life of most Balinese".[49][51] Political trouble has also affected the island, as the bombing in 2002 by militant Islamists in the tourist area of Kuta killed 202 people, mostly foreigners. This attack, and another in 2005, severely affected tourism, bringing much economic hardship to the island.
    Writing in 2004, Professor Adrian Vickers expressed that "the challenge of the twenty-first century will be to restore tourism while making Bali livable".[49] Tourism has strongly picked up again, with a 28% increase in the first quarter of 2008 with 446,000 arrivals.[52] By the end of 2008, tourism in Bali had fully recovered, with more than 2 million visitors, but the long term livability of Bali, plagued with overdevelopment and traffic jams, remains an issue.[53]
    ---
    The people of Bali never needed tourism to survive before as few as two decades ago. I tell my friends that one of my favorite personal beliefs about the island is my conviction that if no more tourists came ever again the island would go back to being almost purely artistic and concerned primarily with their practiced religion. But the fact remains that the West has infiltrated & left it's unmistakeable and permanent impression there

    And virtual travel is just ridiculous. Who'd want to miss out on being in Bali?
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    Feb 23 2013: @Daniel : Preservation of customs and conservation of resources, yes. You are an explorer and I hope you will agree that an explorer becomes the part of the place he travels and contributes in it's tradition by adding value instead of subtracting. That is the real reward.
    Huen-Tsang also know as Xuanzang traveled through India and went through no less than two ancient universities at Taxila and Nalanda. It took him 17 years to explore the wonders of India. Technology has vastly changed the travel time but how can one explore instead of imposing his/her ways of life in a 7 day package tour?
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    Feb 22 2013: Had experience of staying at Intercontinental Auckland almost 40 years ago. Still in my memory perhaps because of the 'ambience'. So globalisation as a homogeniser of experience - the difference in local actually being reduced by the way we can now access people, cultural traditions, languages and so many other local characteristics. Hotel = safe base to explore from, a community of people employed to help me adjust to conditions 'on the ground' and engage to whatever degree I might feel comfortable with. Very different from old tradition of local - often difficult, hidden dangers, needing an interpretator. Films and magazines only engage with part of us as they do not communicate the lived experience of temperature variations, hues of local flora and fauna, what it is like to be somewhere very crowded or very isolated. Yes would agree with idea that younger generation no longer experience the 'novelty' of different cultures as somehow global branding reduces the idea that local community actually potentially really different. The anticipatory edge, the 'heightening of awareness' - sorry for simplistic language again - the knowing that so many other people have this global experience somehow takes some of the vibrancy and awe away. As a huge generalisation colours always impact on me - for N.Z. the teal blue and sea green. 'Guerilla geography' = respect for the whole experience of local maybe and no 'cherry picking' the best bits for the tourists.
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      Feb 22 2013: I like what you are saying about "respect fot the whole experience of local" and not cherry picking or as I like to think of it, 'editing' places, but I'm interested in your words about the "idea that younger generation no longer experience the 'novelty' of different cultures"... how so?
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        Feb 24 2013: From my personal experience and very aware have some rather strong opinions and words. My paents could not afford television when I was young. I had the advantage of spending the first eight years of my life in a hugely beautiful, rather intense and dramatic environment i.e. earthquakes, gale force winds, lived by the coast, child of migrants, at multi-cultural primary school in a very unique time and place. On return to UK so very 'grey' in so many ways, no longer able to play out bare-foot, cold, social structure so different, plus parents used television as a 'universal pacifier/child minder'. Still remember not being able to participate in playground games as no tv so didn't know about programs. An avid reader, always curious. good imagination, read National Geographic but already so acquainted with Maori culture. Father continued to travel for work and so experience of other cultures. SO simplistic language for difficult concepts. Understand old expression was 'culture-shock'. TV programmes dilute sensitivity to regional accents eg Aussie program Neighbours watched by a whole generation of university students now that 'lift' at the end of a sentence actually part of a way of speaking here now. Media images every day of extreme human behaviours and complex issues also 'desensitises' possibly. An image on a screen is so not a way of understanding a culture. So very lucky to have diverse cultural experiences at a very young age. Now live in very culturally diverse area and trained as counsellor, need to understand potential impact of local belief systems to improve therapeutic relationships. Programs on tv are 'dramatisations', 'in-extremis', 'theatre', infotainment gives some insight but is a very pale imitation of the real lived experience of the dirt and grime and thrills and resourcefulness and skills needed to truly experience a local environment. Appreciate a bit muddled, can refine further iif required.
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    Feb 22 2013: Great answers so far, and I would like to take this question in two parts.

    How will travel change local in the future? That will depend on how the "local people" choose to interact with it. Some cultures encourage tourism and trade while others do not. The ability and ease of today's travel will allow us, as individuals and families, to interact with communities as we wish. (and as those communities that allow it) Most of us have the ability to experience various cultures within a short distance of our home and we may decide to live in this "local" neighborhood because we like the houses or close proximity of natural food stores. Others may like the fast pace of a city and high-rises.

    Personally, my wife and I enjoy the urban life of Seattle, but live in a neighborhood that is outside the limits. It is very quiet and peaceful, but close enough that we may enter the city to enjoy the hustle and bustle. Just 100 miles east individuals live the farm life. Slow and quiet, but no easy access to the hustle and bustle. And if that is their choice then great.

    Travel today will allow people from around the world to interact with this concept on a grander scale. We may travel to France and see Paris, or choose smaller out of the way towns. As the world wide travel systems expand and money flows to develop them, communities will have the ability to decide how much they would like to interact. Does this village want to have roads built to them? Do they want a train stop? Or, hotels, restaurants, etc.

    2nd part
    How does this change what we explore? Information such as Google maps, public transportation information, along with our ability to email or facebook local people, all help us decide "Do I want to visit this area?" "What is is like?" AND "Will I like the people?"
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      Feb 22 2013: So you think it's the receiving/host communities that have the power, not the visitors?
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        Feb 23 2013: I would see it as more organic in nature. Or perhaps symbiotic would be another term. Many places like Paris, Rome, Seattle (great city). Have a balance with tourism, visitors etc. Some places do not have a balance and when the balance shifts so does the position of power. Vegas comes to mind. That place is very geared towards tourism and the power there in many ways is in the hands of the city. On the other side of the spectrum. Think of a little town that suddenly gets media attention and can be overrun with tourism. If that town is not ready for it, then there will be a lot of problems.

        Hmm. but that makes me wonder what you might have meant by power?

        I see power in the information. Try this as an experiment, if you have not already.

        Find a city you want to visit and the place you would like to stay. Since this thread is in collaboration with Intercontinental then one of their hotels would be ideal. Make it a city you have never visited.

        Then take the address and plug it into Google maps and do a virtual walk of the surrounding area on the street view. This is so great that you can read street signs, business signs, see people eating in cafes. And then ask yourself. Do I want to visit this place? My last visit to Munich came down to renting 1 of 2 flats. I chose the one with the better walk. (Better= better for me and my personal tastes) Nice clean streets, grocery store nearby as well as a beer garden easy walk to the U-Bahn. (oh and that is a neat trick. When we arrived I knew how to get to the flat because I recognized all the streets)

        I believe that ability is power. some places may choose to embrace that technology. Some may not. Intercontinental, I am sure, could somehow create virtual tours in collaboration with Google Maps.

        LOL. I could have made this shorter by asking you, "What do you mean by power?" Please let me know if I misinterpreted.
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      Feb 24 2013: I really like your first take on the matter at hands Leo, and the distinction you make between those who are interested in living "local" and those who prefer the global side of things. As with most of the polarities, the reality is probably in a savant alchemy of both for most of us: although I would almost always prefer a local and proudly independent coffee shop to a chain-led one, there is no denying that the latter option, in an almost ironical way, can help people to experience another culture, and another taste of "local", almost, without necessarily having to travel.
      I distinctly remember going to this American mermaid-led coffee shop when its first branch opened in my hometown of Lyon, France, for it was a way to reconnect with my past experiences of New York. As Daniel hints at in the video presenting this conversation, it might be then than one of the solutions to the on-going tension between global and local could solved by seeing the emergence of more global brands allowing locals to travel through their offering of small pieces of foreign experience.

      At the end of the day though it all comes down to the choice you underline between different lifestyles, and whether one opts for being a local and thus, probably, travelling to explore other ways of being one. One thing I wonder about is if that is something that is influenced by one's education and/or the place we grew up in.
      David Rogers in his comment above for instance hints at its Welsh heritage and how it has influenced the way he lives and defines himself, and I think that's critically important. I grew up in different regions of France, each with its own interpretation of "local", and they contributed to define who I am as a local, and who I am as a traveller in quest of other sorts of local. I presume that almost makes the notion of local merge with that of culture, but then again, isn't it that quite the case already?
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        Feb 24 2013: I like your idea that it merges local with culture. IF we can define a culture of "local" travel, then we might be able to see a segment of the worlds population with similar views as you and I. Imagine millions of people that travel to France or Italy, Or Hawaii that, instead of heading to the tourist areas, immerse themselves with a local flat rental, local shopping at the marts, etc.

        When I mentioned "local" travel I meant travelling abroad but with a "local" mindset. Visiting France but avoiding the mermaid coffee shops. Instead we would travel to Europe and live like a local. I myself prefer this method by renting a flat in a neighborhood I like and then shopping locally at the grocery stores and corner marts. That is why I need a flat so that I may have a kitchen to cook the local cuisine.

        An interesting idea occurred to me yesterday. I am a businessman and while I do like to shy away from large corporations when I travel this idea occurred. IF travel moves to a local mindset, a large corporation could build or purchase small rental units. Rather than 10 floors of rooms in a downtown hub, it could be 4 apartments in a nice neighborhood. Automate the check in and give travelers the safety of an expected room and checkin process with a local neighborhood feel.

        At the moment this is being done on a small scale with individuals that rent out spare houses or flats. It is fine, but can be a laborious process and uncertain process. OR, a local community that wishes to promote visitors could do it on their own by providing incentives to build such apartments.
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    Feb 22 2013: Local infers an awareness so implicit that a level of comfort is felt by just knowing what is around you. Local and home are somewhat synonymous. The feeling one has when returning to the "neighborhood" after being gone for a while also defines local. Very few people stray far from where they grow up due to the comfort and security in knowing the community (local). With these points to ponder of local, I would say the impact of travel and the globalization of goods will expand what we know as "local" based on what we see as familiar and comforting in the surroundings. Mom and Pop shops have fallen to the chains and boutiques. Being able to experience or see a McDonalds or Starbucks abroad will give comfort to someone who is far from home by just seeing a familiar sight, smell or taste. The local limits will surely swell and expand as more people realize there is familiarity on the road.
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    Feb 21 2013: Local means to me minimal, ecological, and symbiotic. Local implies to me that we are considerate of our surroundings. Surroundings can and should include culture and environment. These two words are loaded but I think respecting the humanity, animals, plants, geography, and air constitute what they mean for me. Local does not mean trendy. Local is not marketable. Local is not a label but a condition.

    I think travel embodies the antagonist or is the paradox to local, the verb that might embody foreigner. It embodies the fleeing or restless spirit that is mostly driven by survival, but, in humanity, travel can be driven by desire. I think travel is necessary for growth, adaptation, and evolution. I think travel has become trendy, marketable, and creates the need for labels.

    I think the two go together like night and day. I think the balance is in the social consequences. When there is exploitation or ambition travel might lead to vogue, in turn we see local become, not so local. When there is progress and collaboration both reveal their creative and innovative spirit, but still attracts non local, becoming once again not so local. I think local is changing travel by finding ways to hide itself from travelers for the sake of the everlasting romance between village and metropolis.
  • Mar 13 2013: I asked my 2 classes of 14yo geographers...define local, define global. Then what is the future?
    The hardest part was by far the definition of LOCAL, as the concept of proximity didn't seem to work! The feeling was that global products and services will grow, but fragment for regions.

    Groups discussed whether LEDCs are deeply LOCAL but aspire to GLOBAL, while wealthier allows the choice to be either, and pay for the extra costs of more bespoke LOCAL.

    Consensus was that LOCAL is the personal interactions that occur, and that even skype does not currently break this. Although students growing up in a connected world of gaming etc, they still understood that a discussion with an expert human is a thing to value.

    Balance was that little depressed that global so strong, but a mature discussion! :-)
  • Mar 13 2013: I find that the world is entering a new dark age. Historically speaking, we are between the points where the beauty of knowledge and arts (as left from the classical roman and greek periods) are at their greatest, but greatly threatened by a powerful beast. Back then, it was religion. Now it is branding and advertising.

    Much of my personality is derived from the sheer amount of times I have altered the location and cultural surroundings of my "home". I lived in Portugal, in what felt like a small, close community, with somewhat hard to approach peoples. Then to Brazil, where consumerism was cherished – but people were extremely approachable and friendly. Now, I live in London, where some would say is one of the "centers" of the world for culture and trade. I find London to be a perfect example of the world as we see it; on my first few explorations, I hit the main routes, undergone by tourists, and saw nothing of interest. There were shops, cell-phones and busy people who would not stop to look you in the eye if you said hello to them as they passed by. It seemed depressing and overrun by capitalism. I felt that this was what travel was degrading towards.

    But then I took to less known routes, and found another beast entirely! Gypsy markets, where people of all cultures shared their cultures and hand-crafted goods; musicians playing on street corners, connecting with crowds...

    What I derived from these experiences is: the world is getting smaller, but it isn't interconnected yet. There is a dominant power, be it the western apple stores and McDonalds, or the fast-food chinese restaurants. Airlines make it easy to travel to other areas, but the experiences are still factory-line tourist attractions. In a truly interconnected world, the airlines take you there, but you would not go to see the Eiffel Tower; you would go to the exotic streets, where you could embrace local customs and local culture. Being able to connect to locals is what traveling should be about.
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      Mar 13 2013: In my opinion it is the other way around. Everything and everyone is interconnected, but the world is not getting smaller. Geographers, place makers and architects often use the idea of a 'sense of place' to describe how people think and feel about places. Some people have a 'sense' of the world shrinking, but in reality this is just technology speeding up how quickly some people can travel and communicate.

      Like many other comments here, your story shows again how important it is to consider the nature of the connection. Just being in a place is not enough, we need to think about what kind of relationship we want to have with it. Am I close to what you are getting at?
  • Mar 12 2013: Climates, physical geography, cultures, and as a result, people, cuisines, society... I feel that thanks to travel and technology, yes, my world has gotten that tiny smidge smaller.
    I remember as a teenager how excited everyone got when my hometown of Carlisle opened its first branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was the new hangout and the only alternative to McDonald’s (which is, like so primary school). So we all flocked to KFC and swapped our McNuggets for Hot Wings. To my teenage self, KFC represented the big city, America and bright lights and big brands – right there, all on my doorstep on a Saturday afternoon.
    My point? Well really it’s a point my brother made first when he was the tender age of nine and I was 12 – “Don’t you think the McDonald’s here in Hong Kong tastes better than the McDonalds back home Cindy?” The things that matter, the details, the flavours which make up our universe, they’re all still unique.
    To my brother, a Big Mac in Hong Kong was a rare treat, something he could have every day (and he did) for two weeks every year and a half we visited our family. The Big Macs from the McDonald’s Drive Thru back in Carlisle? They didn’t cut the mustard (I couldn’t resist). More to the point, Denny’s Hong Kong Big Mac was a symbol of the exotic, of our childhood, of summers running through our grandma’s village. It was part of the bigger picture, it wasn’t the only picture.
    The inherent fear is that the Coca Cola’s of this world can take over local culture now that our world has become so much smaller – but how could this ever affect something so intangible? To do so we’d have to carefully define what is and isn’t an affectation of culture – and who are we to say what a culture is and isn’t?
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      Mar 13 2013: So, are you thinking that we need to be better at seeing the diversity within what at first appears to be similar?
      • Mar 13 2013: In a nutshell, yes. But there are so many other human factors which make the blurring of the lines between what people perceive as 'culture' and 'globalisation' easy. The fact that no two people can walk the exact same path even if they were to travel to the same destinations and taste the same foods should be evidence enough of the subtleties in diversity.
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    Mar 11 2013: In 2003 two friends and myself wished to make a political statement and create a forum for discussion about a global subject. We took the subject of the War on Terror and subverted the traditional family board game. We thought it would be a good way to get people talking around a table about an issue that at the time many considered, or where being told by a global media, was too taboo to discuss. We were repeatedly being told we should live in fear and follow the party line. We couldn't afford to make the board game locally in the UK and decided it was worth our while to get the game made in China. If we didn't use the global market then it would have only been an idea. Some criticised us for not making a home grown product. Some criticised us for making it at all. Some people even made death threats, such was the sensitivity of the subject. But we took a gamble and thought the cultural value would be worth it. Since making the game we have been shunned by many 'reputable' business's for tackling this subject in this form, often calling us sick, one quote that still bemuses me made by the Essen toy fair organiser was that it was 'beyond satire'. On the other hand we've received messages and actions of support which have been extremely moving, serving US and UK troops questioning why they are involved in the war, educational establishments putting the game on their syllabuses, art galleries exhibiting the game and families being able discuss the subject of terrorism comfortably in their own home have thanked us. One survivor of a terror attack said "You have turned terrorism into a theme that can be toyed with. And for the first time since my evacuation from the tube 7th July 2005, I have been able to do just that, without having it crawl under my skin. You have no idea how grateful I am." So we used the global market to tackle a global issue. The upshot is, when previously I was sceptical, now I strongly believe both local and global markets have their place.
  • Mar 11 2013: All businesses thrive through local relationships. Regardless of how global the brand, it is the individual who serves the public on a daily basis that builds loyalty. In order to succeed, a company must put best practices in place to create consistency of experience and communicate service standards. Once this is achieved, it is TRUST that drives the experience of connection on the ground. Connecting with fellow employees and the individual across the counter is what creates loyalty.
  • Mar 8 2013: National media and dialogue but smaller towns with more vibrant community culture and activities. I live near LA there is little to no sense of community present. I would like to point out Sweden as a very positive model for this ideal. Vibrant town hall meetings, community discussions, 1 year military service after high school with some grad education in the mix.
  • Mar 8 2013: if keeping individual cultures in local communities is your aim.. it might be a thought to start endorsing local community research projects.. Often small towns have their own little events, walks through a forest of lights in the night or local festivals for the musicians of local towns. But what if you where to research into the clubs of an area, discover any demographics of people with particular interests. Such as large numbers of musically orientated people in nearby towns, or extreme sports fans, for example you could gather ideas from these communities in what they need to fulfill their desires. i.e a town has a community of skate boarders or free runners; you could hold regular events or training to provide more opportunities, and try something unique and experimental, like integrating architecture that is Parkour friendly in any new developments. Ambitious perhaps but this could potentially support growth of communities within local areas, and also create a lot of diversity between individual areas... All of which will be more accessible when progression in transportation occurs meaning that people could travel around their own countries to experience a diversity in communities, that support all types of people, their hobbies and interests.
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      Mar 10 2013: These are really interesting ideas. Do you have any specific examples that you can share with us? Any case studies?
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        Mar 10 2013: Can offer you a 'case vignette' rather than a case study but might be of interest. Very lucky to live in Royal Borough of Greenwich, London, U.K. Local tourist and arts infrastructure extremely well developed but reported locally in minimal way in local press 'Greenwich Time' which is distributed free to local population because Greenwich Time is focused on local political and social issues and is effectively viewed as 'propaganda' for the local authority now. The local newspapers South London Mercury and South London Press very compromised as need to sell their titles in order to generate operating revenue. Newish publication now available in several local stores as well as local hotels and tourist attractions called Greenwich Visitor. Not everyone wants to be seen accessing an electronic device such as an i-pad and so a newspaper is hugely effective, pictures and words plus a certain anonymity in that it is not overtly a publication to sell a specific organisation but a certain ?lifestyle of things that might attract a certain way of being and behavimg.
  • Mar 6 2013: Susanna, as a UK resident you are likely more aware of Transition Town and its principles than many of the rest of us. Don't you think that a lot of the key points of T-Town style infrastructure do just that? I mean, beyond the obvious, like local currency and food production, isn't the concept of an engaged citizenry enough to not just develop, but preserve local flavor? Couple it with an enlarged sense of housepride as it were, and shouldn't that be enough?

    I agree that global needs to be, and should remain part of the mix, but if we all start to "think globally; act locally", sooner or later the latter begins to become the important part of the mix on a personal level. We need to quit selling our culture as a pinnacle of success (if it is so great, why do we travel at all?) as it crushes local culture underfoot. Look at nearly any pictures of Africa nowadays, you are are less likely to see native garb than you are to see the discarded t-shirts from last years SuperBowl loser... exporting our disfunctions worldwide has had ugly effect no matter where you look; the leading cause of death in Africa? Heart disease. Affluenza has hit the Dark Continent, and it could be the burgers, right?

    Starbucks in Paris is a symptom, but the disease is far worse than that... I agree that government COULD be helpful in maintaining culture, but it almost invariably leads to government "creating" and then exporting it, and those are both bad things (governments are not good at either, I think). A hotel chain can try to espouse local, but the best any international corporation can manage is chains of locally themed hotels, which isn't very cost effective as each hotel (to remain true to cause) must inevitably be different. Just swapping "skins" over the same set of bones will eventually come across as disingenuous, because it is... you will know local when you see it, and you will know fake local when you see it, I guarantee...
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      Mar 8 2013: Hi Scott. I have really enjoyed reading your comment. You have said a lot about what does not work, but I would I'm keen to hear some of your thoughts on what you think does work.
  • rach k

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    Mar 6 2013: 'Local' for a place or culture would mean its specific characteristics and identity same as a human sense of identity. Taking the analogy further, though brought up in a small distant town in India, I have travelled and lived around the world for more than a decade now. Has the introduction to other cultures changed me? (or any of the many expats we meet?) Do people start living on McDs when they migrate to the states? Probably not. On the contraty, a comparision and conscious rumination of identity actually reinforces some of the rooted belief while giving the strength to give-up superficial customs.
    That too would be the future of Local - in the heat of global competition, sushis and risottos, espaniol and tamil, pandas and elephants of the world might seem vulnerable, but in time will surely, consciously and confidently reinvent themselves to re-establish the local.
    Even Starbucks is endeavouring to reflect local architecture and customs in its interiors. A recent McDs announced near a piligrim site in India will be all veg. Creatives all across the globe are taking inspiration from local ways for innovative solutions.
    There are many challenges in the face of it. But the Potential of Local is that it can define Global and not vice versa.
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    Mar 3 2013: The future of local is a fusion of what's global and has always been local. In today's interconnected world it's impossible to ignore the big multinational brands who can be found almost anywhere and just like with everything, there are pros & cons to that.

    What matters most to me is being able to keep what's local alive and carefully allowing the global things to be involved in the "local mix". Big brands taking over little villages by bringing in massive superstores and putting small, family-owned, decades old shops out of business is a crime. A solution needs to be created for this but I'm not sure what it is. It would be a shame for us to travel the world and everywhere we land life is the same. But then again I don't think that extreme will never realise though somehow a balance needs to be created. When I visit Paris I cringe when I see Starbucks or McDonalds because what I love about Paris are the boutique cafes and local cuisine. But then again the French locals might like the takeaway culture that's Starbucks brought (which I love back home in London) and the occasional quick burger (Let's face it, burgers are amazing though I opt for home-made burgers!).

    The different cultures that exist around the world are unique, strong and often celebrated. And it's these celebrations that we need to keep alive as it's the different uniquenesses around the world that drive innovation, creativity and makes life interesting. I think these are also the things which drive progress and innovation in the world.

    Carlos Santana once said - “One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart.”

    I love this quote on a philosophical sense - that in the end we are all human, we are all one and we are all striving for progress together. I also think the heart has the power to bring us together through elements of passion, compassion and empathy. In some ways, in some places, we are already there.
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      Mar 5 2013: Hi Susanna. I'm really interested your point about "What matters most to me is being able to keep what's local alive". Do you have any ideas on the best way to achieve this?
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        Mar 6 2013: It's a tough one!
        One way is definitely celebrating what is local by showing that the culture/country/people identify themselves with it and it's a part of who they are. Local traditions, holidays and celebrations should incorporate these things into their activities so the people locally (as well as tourists visiting) remember to appreciate the local treasures.

        Another way could be to use what's local as selling points in tourism as this way it continues appreciated as well. But there's a fine line here because we don't want excess tourism to destroy the local treasures and end up commercialising them fully. Maybe the solution here could be to celebrate what's local through exclusive tourism arrangements i.e. not mainstream but more premium?

        Then there's always government subsidies for local businesses/activities to help keep some things, that are no longer self-sustaining but still an important part of the culture, alive.
  • Feb 28 2013: The homogenisation of global cultures: a 2 edged sword? On the one hand overt commercialisation of brand identity permanently alters the face of 'local identity' on the other it reminds us that everyone who walks this earth shares one human community: that of 'mankind'...I am a world citizen. 'Local' on the other hand is what gives a sense of belonging; local knowledge gives us a sense of ontological security. Local knowledge is of itself a valuable & useful commodity. Paradoxically cultural difference is what unites us. To learn about another human being from the point of view of their cultural difference is what makes human communication unique.
    I am 'white-British' born and bread but have spent over 23 years travelling between the UK and China....my friends in China are as real and cherished as my friends in the UK. If 'home is where the heart is' and 'home' is bounded by a sense of 'local' then specific towns and villages in both China and the UK are 'local' to me. I train 'buddies'/ personal assistants for independent business and tourist travellers to China because I want everyone to share this sense 'local', of security and belonging, gained through having a 'buddy', a 'cultural translator' translator with local knowledge. Recognising a global brand in a remote destination affects a certain juxtaposition: of comfortable recognition tinged with lamentation; but recognising a 'friend' through understanding cultural difference (particularly when there is linguistic difference too) evokes no such inner conflict. 'Local' may 'look' different in different cultures and geographic settings but it is evoked through local knowledge, through recognition, through a sense of ontological security, through a sense of belonging.
  • Feb 27 2013: good topic Mr. Daniel,
    when i read this, i've got an idea. Every places has many of differences, such as different people, cultures, languages, styles,and environments. With those differences makes wonderful things, new experiences. The balance from those differences maybe when we can enjoy it, and feel the happiness like a home.
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    Feb 24 2013: Everywhere is local to someone, somewhere. Typical 'Local' places are ones that develop over time and result in their own characteristics, customs, expectations and perceptions .

    I believe that although some places currently remain reasonably uninfluenced they will eventually evolve to some degree from the external world. But its a question how this happens, a local community/area should 'play to its strengths' and core values, no person nor place can have everything. By letting diversity grow and global forces supporting them in the correct way is essential.

    'Local' in a sense could therefore be a closed system with the end-user in mind, the indigenous people. Exploration and travel therefore needs become something of a respected experience. Major cities/towns on the most part could be anywhere and provide a reasonably 'tame' experience or taster, typically a 'tourist' view. A 'balance' can be achieved when businesses and governments know when not to make 'local' areas too vulnerable to external influences and to listen to the people, are they prepared to accept visitors and share their 'local' life.
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      Feb 27 2013: Thanks for your comment Robbie. So do you have any ideas for strategies for approaches that different interest groups can use to broker such a balance?
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        Mar 3 2013: To begin with, it would have to be accepted that people living in different sized settlements have expectations on the way life there; probably why they wanted to live there in the first place.

        Trying to tackle the most major issue of large scale tourism encroaching on local, untouched areas is tricky. The exploitation comes from businesses with an interest in exploiting a profit making opportunity which governments are unlikely to turn down in the current economical environment.

        Lets take a hotel chain as an example. A reasonably untouched area is found and the company wish to build a hotel, visitors expect the area to adapt to them i.e. ATM's, Wireless e.t.c. This is where the balancing trick comes in, a hotel needs to change its identity to becoming a Cultural Gateway; offering modern services but local knowledge.
        Money spent around the local area acts as investment to local businesses and people for their own organic growth and improvement rather than allowing larger companies and chains to invest directly, otherwise profits are sent off to headquarters in a large city and probably sent off-shore. This strategy would restrict exploitation as long as governments are prepared for an exclusive local tax system. I've always believed in the phrase 'think local, act global'. Perhaps an approach of registration? If you can't prove you live within the area then a certain extra percentage is can be charged on a product/service.

        I'd love to articulate my ideas better, but its difficult over an open internet discussion. Please ask anymore specific questions you like
  • Feb 23 2013: Culture is dynamic; but in the times when the means of tranport are not as fast as they are now, the dynamism takes a longer time.
    I think that what is called global is the culture promoted by the big media organisations. It is good to look at the bigger picture; but the more we look at the bigger picture, the more we realise that he interaction of cultures is not creating a homogenous global identity.

    The good thing is: we are more open-minded than before; we are more willing to learn about other places and hence more willing to travel to new places. These are good times for the tourism and hospitality business (and the best is yet to come).

    Local areas may transform and become cosmopolitan in their outlook; but the interaction of the so-called global and the local, will birth a new thing that is neither of the two.

    Different and beautiful.
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      Feb 23 2013: I think the word 'global' is used in problematic ways too. It suggests that something is everywhere and covering our whole planet. In the UK the mobile communications company Everything Everywhere has a name that reads like a definition for 'global', but they are not everything everywhere. I struggle to think of anything human that is truly global, but the word does give us an idea of scale, influence and/or intent. That said, 'global' brands, systems and organisations are changing places and many are becoming more similar.

      "the interaction of the so-called global and the local, will birth a new thing that is neither of the two"

      What do you think this will look like?