9.3 Ecosphere

The focus of this book has been on the technosphere, with some break glances at the sociosphere. The ecosphere has been totally ignored. My neglect of the ecosphere is not because it is unimportant. Indeed, it could be argued that it is the most important sphere. That's why it is always at the top in the Triad Model. Nature (ecosphere) was here before us and will be here long after the boys (sociosphere) and their toys (technosphere) will be gone. Nature bats last.

The Global Village which is emerging is seen by many as largely a Global Market-place. This is not the Global Village McLuhan had in mind. Multinational corporations who cater to this market-place have no allegiance to any place on our globe. Thus Swiss Air, which is ostensibly based in Switzerland, has its plane maintenance done in Eastern Europe and its accounting done in India. This is simply good business practice. Eastern European engineers work for less than Swiss engineers and Indian accountants work for much less than Swiss accountants. This simply conforms to the logic of business - do whatever is necessary to generate a profit for the shareholders. This logic extends beyond tax havens and employment havens to pollution havens and raw material havens. That is, they locate where they reduce the expense of raw materials as well as taxes and where they reduce the cost of labor and of cleaning up the environment contaminated by their industrial process. The people who run those organizations are not necessarily malicious. They are simply following a logic within their context which is illogical in a larger context. Kimon Valaskakis, the founder of GAMMA and later the Canadian ambassador to OECD in Paris, argues that the global reach of multinationals should be accompanied by global controls. Globalization excludes most people on our planet. They must be included or they will simply smash things.

The smashing has started, as he predicted. Growing resentment about globalization has manifested itself by the protests in Montreal, Seattle, and Washington. This series is to be continued. It will no doubt spread beyond the physical confrontation to a cyber confrontation on the Internet. Here the protesters have an advantage they lack in the streets. Being younger on average, they are much more at home in cyberspace. When a teen-aged boy with little computer skill can bring down the major commercial sites on the Internet, it is clear that the forces of globalization are vulnerable. Two recent books have served as rallying-calls to the anti-globalization forces [KLEIN, LASN].

Canada has a unique role in this emerging global society. The fact that the two major media theorists on our globe - Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan - are Canadian is not a matter of mere chance. The Toronto School of media studies is a response to the basic Canadian challenge. It was well expressed by our first Prime Minister, John Alexander Macdonald, who said, in one of his sober moments, Canada has too much geography and too little history.

At first glance, too much geography could be seen as an opportunity. Geography, after all, is land (which can be sold as real estate) loaded with precious metals, forests (which can be sold as wood) populated by animals with warm furs to survive in a cold climate, and lakes (which can be sold as water) teeming with fish. The threat within this opportunity, however, is that it may tempt us to sit back on our assets. Many have argued that we should be a rentier nation living off our abundant natural resources. However, we can live thus only so long. If we mine rather than farm those non-renewable resources, we will run out of them.

When I mentioned Macdonald's quote to one of my Japanese students, she said: Ah, in Japan, just the opposite, too little geography and too much history. In the Japanese situation, your best strategy is to buy the natural resources you need as raw materials, and manufacture products. You then sell the products back to the countries, like Canada, from whom you have bought the raw materials. This provides employment to Japanese workers and profit - the difference between the value of the finished product and the costs of raw materials and labor - to Japanese companies. In this way, Japan is emulating another small, crowded island, England. In its heyday, England simply took the raw materials from their various colonies around the globe. In our neo-colonial times, Japan pays for them but the strategy is essentially the same. A return to a pre-industrial strategy of depending on natural resources would make Canada a Third World country. We would be employed largely as drawers of water and hewers of wood.

Too much geography could be considered also as a threat. It is difficult to compete when one has such a small population spread so sparsely through such a huge country. Delivering your product adds costs which make it difficult to compete in the market against countries, like the United States, for instance, which has a much larger population more densely packed. However, the opportunity within this threat is that you are challenged to provide good transportation and tele-communications systems to hold this widespread country together. Macdonald responded to the challenge he had expressed so elegantly by building a railway across the country, aided by the merchants in Montreal who needed the railway to deliver their goods to their customers in the Canadian West. Subsequently, they had to build tele-communications to keep in touch with their representatives and customers. This country is strung together with railway lines and telephone wires. Those infrastructures have served to hold it together politically as well as economically, in what my colleague, Maurice Charland, calls technological nationalism [CHARLAND].

Necessity mothered invention and this invention could in turn mother a powerful post-industrial vision of Canada. That is, instead of moving back into a pre-industrial society, depending on our natural resources, we could move forward boldly into a post-industrial society because we are blessed with the best tele-communications system in the world. This, as argued, above is the infrastructure of the emerging information society. We also have a tremendous pool of tele-communications experts to build and maintain this infrastructure.

Another GAMMA case may help illuminate the challenge. As before, it begins with someone who has a problem. The National Capital Commission (NCC) had almost planned its obsolescence. It is responsible for the National Capital Region around Ottawa and Hull which is the center of Canada and for the Confederation Boulevard, which is, in turn, the center of the National Capital Region. This Boulevard wound its way past the Houses of Parliament, the National Arts Center across the bridge to Hull through Hull back across another bridge in front of the National Archives, the Mint, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice and back to the Houses of Parliament. Only two buildings remained to be built to complete the Circle - the National Art Center of Canada in Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull. Once they were in place - as indeed they now are, thanks to Moishe Safdie, Douglas Cardinal and their colleagues - what should this group do? Highly-skilled and highly-paid people could not be employed clearing snow off canals and planting tulips. Could they therefore shift gears from a physical to a psychological level? What is the psychological function of a capital?

Working closely with members of the National Capital Commission, GAMMA recommended that the Capital be a powerful central node in the emerging informatics infrastructure. Ottawa was not central to the transportation system, the infrastructure of the industrial society. Perched off the beaten track, it was difficult to reach by road, rail or air.92 A survey of the web sites of various Canadian Federal agencies suggest that they are more welcoming than the corresponding web sites in the United States. There is a definite sense of trying to make Canadian citizens feel at home in their capital. Whether or not our advice had any impact, the National Capital Region has attracted a flourishing high-tech industry to Silicon Valley North, attracted to Ottawa by the prospect of government contracts but deflected a little bit out of Ottawa by the high cost of real estate and municipal taxes.

Another far-seeing Macdonald (no relation) - George F. MacDonald - is the visionary behind the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Rather than having Indian artifacts in glass cases with captions, as in the traditional museum, he had Indian villages through which the visitors could walk and see the artifacts in context.93 In order to simulate the forests and the mountains behind the Indian village, he used three-dimensional media. When my colleagues, Hal Thwaites, Christine Davet and I, were organizing a conference on Three-dimensional Media Technology (3DMT) in 1989, we invited him to give the keynote address. He invited us in return to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization as it was being built. During the tour, he showed us in the basement the biggest fiber-optic patch in the world and told us that he could wire the Confederation Boulevard through tunnels built between the buildings for security reasons. Thus, a performance on the stage of the National Arts Center could be broadcast using High-Definition Television (HDTV) across the country from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. People in those peripheral places feel understandably neglected since such facilities are available only in the National Capital Region. Instantaneous broadcasts from those central places could contribute to pulling the country together.

There is a strong, coherent vision being presented from Quebec with no corresponding vision from Ottawa. The two major warring forces on our planet are tribalism and globalism [BARBER]. The Quebec vision is based on tribalism. As we know, from our evolutionary psychology perspective, this is very powerful. An equally strong and coherent vision from Ottawa, based on a positive vision of globalism, would help create a dramatic, energizing tension in Canada. We have the means and the opportunity to do it. Do we have the motivation?

92   This is why it is often called Queen Victoria's mistake. She designated it as capital on the advice of those trying to placate rival interests in Upper and Lower Canada. Straddling Quebec (Upper Canada) and Ontario (Lower Canada), it was a compromise between the more central capitals - Quebec City and Kingston - championed by those two factions.

93   His critics, viewing this as a move from a museum to a theme park, would mutter Levi-Strauss meets Mickey Mouse.