Photo: Dean Bruce Stronach posing at his office.

Globalization and the Individual

May 17, 2016

This spring, TUJ hit a real milestone by enrolling 1,000 undergraduate students, and this does not appear to be a one-off spike in enrollments. Every semester since the fall 2014 semester has been a historic high for undergraduate numbers, and the growth has been especially high in new students and direct admit full-time students. This means that the level of enrollments we see now should stay relatively stable for at least the mid-term future. What are the environmental factors driving this growth?

There are a number of factors, but I do believe one of the most important is that people everywhere are beginning to understand the need for globalized education. Globalization has many facets—such as institutional, economic, social and political—but like all phenomena, it has no real meaning until experienced directly by human beings. The impact of information technology on globalization is highly personal. Not long ago I Skyped my daughter in New York from 33,000 feet on a flight from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. Having a wireless device in my hand that enabled me to talk to someone at that distance during a flight and for no cost felt no more miraculous to me than making a phone call. Neither does talking to my phone while in my car to get driving directions. These things are not mindboggling; but the fact that they are not is in and of itself mindboggling. When I first moved to Japan 40 years ago, my communications with friends and family were pretty much limited to a flimsy blue aerogramme once a week. Information was confined to select depositories. Phones were confined to verbal communication, and watches just told time. Now I have instantaneous communication all over the globe, at very low cost, and can access an almost infinite amount of information from any of seven different devices that I own including my phone, my watch, my music player and, soon, my glasses. If this is true for me, it may be even more so for TUJ students who are (obviously) younger and (probably) more IT and social media savvy than I am.

My generation went through a stunning rate of innovation and technological change in the 1980s and 1990s, but undergraduate students today were born after the initial alteration of global society; they know that almost all of what is happening in the world today is fundamentally affected by globalization manifested as information and communication technological development. They were born in, and have come of age in, a globalized world. But that does not mean they do not have a lot to learn.

The internet is the most obvious manifestation of globalization, but the internet connects us in a very constrained and individual way. We as individuals sit in our coffee shops and offices and bedrooms with our ears to the small end of an infinite listening tube. That is globalized individuality. The human mind cannot cope with an infinite amount of information so we rely on internal and external mediators and filters: our religion, our desires, our prejudices, our knowledge, our state. The mediators have an impact on two basic human social desires, the urge to standardize—the comfort of the similarity and homogeneousness—and the desire to be seen as an individual—to differentiate ourselves from others. New information technologies can create the same type of anomie that Durkhiem describes in the late 19th century as the result of leaving comfortable and known structures and being overwhelmed with the new. For those who experience this change as anomie, globalization allows us to bring the egalitarianism of standardization to a whole new level. One can use the internet to discover the warmth of the same, Christians, Moslems and Jews like cute kitten videos. It allows us to experience direct communication with others worlds away—geographically, culturally, religiously, and politically.

But one of the most fundamental aspects of increased communication between humans, especially cross-cultural and cross-national communication, is that we also discover things we don’t like about others or reconfirm preconceived prejudices we hold against them. In this case ubiquitous means of communication for all people in the world can empower individual or group reactions against what is perceived as the all-powerful “other,” whatever guise that may take. So while globalized communication through the internet may bring the hope or fear of uniformity and homogenization, it also gives a voice to any individual or group who can put up a website. The internet is uniformity shattered into a million shards.

I would like to circle back to the first paragraph of this update; what are the environmental factors driving TUJ’s undergraduate growth? I think it is because a growing number of students and their parents realize a TUJ education will be the best possible mediator of globalization. A TUJ education helps students navigate the negatives and positives of increased globalization and helps them find their place in the world as good global citizens. This occurs because a TUJ education imparts more than just knowledge. TUJ makes students adopt a sense of responsibility in an environment where they work and play, face to face and in real time, with other students from a variety of different countries and cultures with a variety of religions and political beliefs. It is this human interaction, more than the knowledge they learn, that allows them to create their own roadmap to navigate globalization.

With best regards,

Bruce Stronach