On the weekend that the United Kingdom officially exited the European Union, it got me to thinking about how it fits in to other things going on in business, politics, and society.
It strikes me that Brexit and other similar political movements around the world are attempts to un-ring the bell of globalization.
Technology has broken down many of the barriers between the peoples of the world, but it has also exposed new rifts among them.
Businesses increasingly rely on talent and tools built on the innovation and labor of citizens of other countries.
Even local mom-and-pop stores and restaurants are likely leveraging an overseas talent pool, even if they don’t realize it.
If a Silicon Curtain were to descend across the Internet and prevent international traffic, it would have a devastating effect on the economies of individual nations.
The traffic of bits and bytes across borders is largely invisible to the average citizen, so it doesn’t draw nearly the attention of other issues.
Immigration, on the other hand, is much more obvious.
In recent years, I spent a lot of time in London for business. It is impossible to navigate the city without frequent reminders of immigration.
Working class Londoners are quick to point this out, often unsolicited.
The intersection of immigration and technology produces even more profound impacts.
Many of the rides I took in Ubers featured drivers from European nations.
Just about every black cab ride that I took featured local drivers.
And just about every black cab trip generated angry commentary about Uber. It was clearly on their minds.
Many would also point to high-priced real estate as we drove by and lament the fact that it was mostly Russian or Asian money that bought them.
The tension was palpable.
The root of much of the concern about globalization seems to be fear.
It feels a bit like sitting down at a dinner table with a large group of people and being concerned about how little food is on the platter.
The perceived scarcity of resources makes the diner concerned, just as it does workers who see jobs seeming to disappear.
The issue, of course, is far more complex and nuanced.
And many other issues contributed to Brexit beyond immigration, including concerns about government overreach coming from Brussels.
The reality is that globalization isn’t going anywhere. That Silicon Curtain will not be descending across the Internet.
This is a bell that cannot be un-rung, so individuals, businesses, and governments need to find ways to work productively within the system rather than run from it.
Rather than trying to un-ring the bell, we need to re-think how we communicate and educate.
Many of the jobs that have been lost will not be coming back — not because of immigration, but because technology has re-shaped the workforce.
Brexit will change the United Kingdom, though it is unlikely to be the fix that many supporters desire.
Yet movements like it will continue to appeal to those who feel left behind or left out. It’s something we see in our own politics in America.
As the UK marks its exit from the EU, those who embrace globalization bear the burden of sharing the benefits — in words and deeds — with those who reject it.