The Union’s celebration of diversity hides our true divides

Technology is widening social gaps, writes Alexander Curtis

Photo: Jay Cross/Flickr

Trinity term cards are typically difficult to put together at the Oxford Union. The Easter vac doesn’t provide much time to recruit big name speakers, and the summer months are often amongst the busiest for speakers. This Trinity attention has focused on the record percentage of ‘International’ speakers.

However, when we look through the content of Union press releases and begin to think about the merits of a particularly ‘International’ offering, it is clear that criticism should be given. Last week, Union President, Gui Cavalcanti told Cherwell that since the founding of the society in 1823 our world has become, “substantially more interconnected, closing the gaps between us at an unprecedented rate”. The number of connections has undoubtedly increased, yes, but for whom? Aviation, television, and social media have all been utilised less by the world’s poor.

Aside from accessibility, we should consider the impacts of technology too. Are we all now closer together than ever before due to technological development? I am unconvinced. The world is more divided now than it has been at any time since the end of the Cold War. Rifts between countries are significant, yes, but divisions within countries is probably even more so – one only has to look at the UK or US to see this.

Obsession over the material has probably never been higher at a global level. New technology has made people closer to others to a far lesser extent than it has made people closer to objects.

Representations of other cultures and peoples within media are often significantly distorted in order to provoke particular emotional responses, often for commercial ends. New technology has allowed for a worryingly rapid dissemination of such representations, giving many a false sense of understanding of the world around them. The gaps between us are clearly not being closed. Despite the fact that, thanks to the capitalism of the last century, our world is now wealthier and more productive than at any point before in its history, inequalities of both income and wealth have perhaps never been greater. What many have termed the increased inter-connectedness of the modern world in many ways represents increased division within it.

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This is in spite of the ability of multi-national corporations and new technology to seemingly homogenise our world. Cultural diversity is celebrated by the inventors of social media, even though their technology is in many ways destroying it.

However, levels of division (and feelings that promote it) are greater than they have been for a long time, and if recent years provide anything of a precedent, are only set to increase further.

In summary, the Union’s celebration of the number of non-UK speakers this term is somewhat misguided. Increased inter-connectedness amongst the world’s privileged classes must not be interpreted as increased inter-connectedness amongst us all.