Posted by: Nathan | September 23, 2007

No Small World After All

I imagine the whole “small world” phenomenon began with that horrid Disney singing doll exhibit in Florida. I’ve never seen it myself, but the song is annoying. However, I most encounter the phrase in situations where acquaintances meet in unanticipated places. At my place of work, people frequently use the “small world” phrase when they unexpectedly see someone they know; of course, they all live in the Denver area, so I don’t know why they’re that surprised. I know I’ve felt like it’s a small world, especially when I ran into Dan and his family in Colorado years ago when we both happened to be on vacation in the same restaurant on the same night. Weird.

The small world feeling continues to grow with the proliferation of technology. Because we can email, call, and travel the world over in a short period of time (especially compared to a century ago), we feel like this huge ball on which we live isn’t so enormous after all.

But it is.

Maybe I only feel so strongly on this odd topic because I haven’t traveled much, and I’m eager to see how other people live; however, I think mentally downsizing the globe contributes to human arrogance. We feel like we’re bigger than we are. We’ve conquered it; we can do it. It’s not so intimidating.

I am no opponent to technological advances—on the contrary, I think we ought to push ourselves to see what we can invent, produce, and use to make our existence better. This does not imply losing our sense of awe, however. This world is so big, not only geographically but also culturally.

When I moved to Colorado, I had this silly expectation that everything I wanted to see in the West would be within reasonable driving distance. Ha! From Denver to the Grand Canyon: 11.5 hours. To Seattle? 19 hours. San Francisco? 18 hours. The American West is enormous.

That’s just within the US. Think of how far away Europe is from New York. Think of the Sahara, the Amazon, the Steppes in Russia, Australia‘s interior, and all the waves on the Pacific Ocean. The mind cannot take it in! If you still think these places aren’t too impressive, imagine having to traverse them. Heck, I’ll give even give you a vehicle with unlimited gas mileage. How long will it take you?

That’s just the geography; what about cultures? Within our own country, there are myriads of subcultures, accents, interests, and values. If we travel north or south one country, it’s an entirely different place. When I was learning Spanish, I had this wrong-headed notion that anything south of the Rio Grande was pretty much the same: not so at all. Every Spanish-speaking country has its own heritage, characteristics, holidays, interests, wondrous places, religious beliefs, etc. Now mentally move yourself to Asia. Europe. Africa. Every continent is full of nations made up of open land and cities, which are occupied by millions of people, and each individual has their own past, baggage, values, and hopes.

I am awed at the thought of it all. Perhaps that’s why I love to travel and want to do so more: I need to realize my relative insignificance in this vast universe, and I want to see how other people live. After all, every life is valuable in the eyes of the Almighty. We all are made in His Image.

I don’t get angry when people bump into each other and say, “Hey! Small world!”, but you’ll pardon me if I disagree.

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