A book goes to great lengths to explain globalisation, but stops short of making a point

By: | Published: November 13, 2016 6:10 AM

In the past, having a globe or an atlas at one’s home would be fairly common. But times have changed. The Internet has eliminated the need for either.

IN THE past, having a globe or an atlas at one’s home would be fairly common. But times have changed. The Internet has eliminated the need for either. All one has to do is log on to Google and search for any map one wishes for. Needless to say, the digital revolution has made cartography much more nuanced. Though political boundaries largely remain the same, the real difference has been in terms of mapping. Satellites and constant monitoring have helped us develop better maps. There is, of course, Google Maps, which we use every day to chart our travelling routes, but there are instances of night light maps as well that have helped us better understand the pace of development and the rich and poor divide growing around urban centres.

Parag Khanna in his book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, makes an attempt to track the global network revolution. A CNN global contributor and senior research fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore, Khanna explains the journey of mapping, using examples from his personal experiences and research documents. He presents the changing world of connectivity amidst waves of globalisation, anti-globalisation and hyper-globalisation. He uses examples from the east and West—developed and developing nations—to explain a new world order emerging out of connectivity.

But in order to follow Khanna through this around-the-world venture, one needs to understand what exactly he means by ‘connectography’. While he talks about the movement of plates and the emergence of one big land mass millions of years down the line, he believes that we need not wait for land masses to be fused in order to experience a connected world. As per him, we are already in that process. Seamless transportation, energy and communication infrastructure among all the world’s people and resources is what he collectively defines as ‘connectography’.

The book is divided into five parts, with the first three defining the destiny of human civilisation in terms of a connected world, where boundaries are dissolving and influencing geopolitics. While the book takes you back and forth in time, linking events like the Thirty Years’ War, emergence of borders and the new supply chain-driven world order, it ultimately comes down to the impact of connectivity, be it on infrastructure or telecommunications. “We are moving into an era where cities will matter more than states and supply chains will be a more important source of power than militaries—whose main purpose will be to protect supply chains rather than borders. Competitive connectivity is the arms race of the 21st century,” Khanna writes.

In the fourth part, the book tries to see the world from the point of view of cities. Khanna explains the emergence of pop-up cities, using examples from Dubai and China’s emerging special economic zones. While the book lays special emphasis on supply chains, it also deals with the question of ownership of these. In the last part, Khanna uses scenarios from the contemporary world to define the tenets of cyber civilisation. He uses examples from the US and China to further his vision of a global citizenship—and a global visa—regime. “Inhabiting nations no longer means belonging to them exclusively… A supply-demand world will feature ever more citizenship arbitrage, with loyalties not so much changing as dividing and multiplying,” Khanna writes.

The book has enough examples and research to keep the reader engaged, but it gets monotonous after a while. Each chapter has a certain topic with its pros and cons, but Khanna stops short of making any conclusive argument. Though he makes some important points regarding state relations and the emergence of a new world order, the vision turns more utopian after a while. It seems like one is attending one of those never-ending seminars, where one tends to miss the important points amidst all the jargon and research presented.

Though Khanna is right in emphasising the increased role of states in building infrastructure to solve the population muzzle, he fails to realise the increasing importance of territorial boundaries in this phase of globalisation. Moreover, the argument tends to be more tilted towards hyper-globalisation. As the book jumps from New York to Hong Kong, connectivity is one thing that finds mention time and again. If you don’t tire of the book, you will certainly tire of the frequent mentions of connectivity.

But Khanna certainly does well in developing some ideas and even making the reader reconsider certain notions about borders. The examples and research are interesting at times, but what could have been explained in 200 pages has been done in double that number. Khanna presents an interesting world view, if only you can get through it in one go.

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