It's OK to love the Olympics unironically
Even the most committed internationalist and the most ardent believer in a trans-national future ought to agree that no matter what problems exist within the governing body itself, it's fine to sit back and cheer for your compatriots.
One of the great triumphs of the modern world has been its relative shrinking. A person can now board a plane in the New York City area and arrive in Singapore 18 hours later -- a historic accomplishment, when one pauses to consider that from the same origin, it wasn't even possible to cross the Rocky Mountains in 18 hours of air travel in 1930, or to make it to eastern Ohio in a week of travel in 1830.
■ "Communication" used to mean both the act of sending messages and the means of going somewhere, and either way, faster communication is all around us. It is much, much faster to communicate than in generations past. As long as layovers don't bother you and you're comfortable with a little bit of video lag, more of the world is within easy reach than at any time in history.
■ This speed is both good and bad; it makes spreading a pandemic much more efficient, but it also facilitates easier collaboration among global experts on the development and distribution of things like vaccines.
■ Despite all of this better communication, what we talk about around the world remains fragmented. Even when cultural phenomena sweep the globe, the fragmentation of media consumption is only compounded by differing rules on rights in different countries. People can find hacks like VPNs to escape geographical Netflix restrictions and buy region-free players for their DVDs, but rivalrous approaches to matters like privacy keep us from sharing global experiences in real time.
■ The Olympics are a rare exception. It's possible to exempt oneself from a lot of other cultural phenomena, but even if you're not watching the Olympic Games live on television, you're the odd person out if you're not aware of them happening at all.
■ It's strange that in this time of such intense communication, we still don't really have a global, real-time conversation. A few outlets, like the BBC World Service, CNN, and Bloomberg all get part of the way there -- but not everyone's a news junkie, and even fewer are financial news junkies. People can watch Twitch streams or tune in to YouTube live streams, but those tend to serve niche audiences and not a global mass market.
■ Common experiences build community, and the Olympics are a nice common experience for the world to share. It's satisfying to watch people do things well, and the games are a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of people doing things amazingly well. We may not know what makes a particular world record amazing, but we know it's neat to see one broken.
■ Even the most committed internationalist and the most ardent believer in a trans-national future ought to agree that no matter what problems exist within the governing body itself, it's fine to sit back and cheer for your compatriots. The only thing missing is to figure out how to have more of these global experiences that can bind us together.