When I was in second grade, I was in a play. I don’t remember what it was called, but I do remember singing, ad nauseum, “It’s A Small World After All” for months before this play. As a result, it has been a soundtrack in my mind for the past forty years. I will never forget it. It’s like having musical tinnitus.
At that time, I had no idea what having a “small” world meant. I thought it had something to do with being short.
Obviously, I was wrong, but I take comfort in the fact that none of those other second graders would have known why it was a small world either. If I ever met one of them today, I would declare, “Oh, my goodness, it’s a small world!” which would immediately send us both into therapy.
Now with a few more years on me, I know that the easier it is to communicate and do business with people who are on other parts of the planet, the smaller the world seems to be.
When I was in second grade, we were connected to the rest of the world by television and longdistance telephone. But even if I could have afforded to pay the charges for a long-distance call, I would not have been able to speak to anyone unless I knew their language. The world wasn’t as small as we thought it was.
The internet and other technology have made the world a much smaller place.
Now, though kids have barely conquered the English language, they are expected to learn foreign languages in high school and college. This is supposed to help one compete globally. Every time I hear “compete globally,” I think of sumo wrestlers. Not sure why. Probably another throwback to second grade.
For those of us who never took a second language in school, we have computerized translators. We can type an e-mail in English and have the computer translate it before you send it to your overseas business contact.
Using the same translators, your business contact can then say “no” in five hundred different languages, because obviously you did not get it the first time.
These translators are not flawless, however. You have to allow a little leeway for misinterpretations.
For example, if someone in Germany e- mailed “ How are you?” and you wrote back “I am fine” the computer program would have translated that as “I am thin.” The recipient might be puzzled and wonder whether this was a new development. He would then assure you that he “liked you even when you were fat.” This would cause you to wonder whether you were dealing with a German lunatic.
My mother is fluent in German. To test out the hand-held translator my husband installed on his phone, he asked my Mom to say something German-ish into his phone.
Always interested in new technology, she spoke to his phone, “Du bist ein guter mann,” over the noise in the room.
His phone has always been a little ornery and I think it was trying to drive a wedge between my mother and my husband. My husband looked at the phone. It interpreted, “You are a horny man.”
She swore she didn’t say that, but he had no proof.
With these malevolent devices flooding the market, I think we can conclude that our small world may well be growing into an enormous world quite soon.