I also have a bit of an ambivalent relation to the word "modern" and to the question of the modern person, which can be a way of describing a kind of generational leader/hero or a way of talking about the "man of the crowd." My reaction to the original question is as much "who are these strange people I find myself among?" as it is "who have we become?" or "who best exemplifies our age?"
I agree with Dalal in that a lot of what I hope for from modernity has to do with major improvements in social issues and in constructing a world in which, as much as possible, the obstacles to becoming a fulfilled human being are not economic, religious, racial or gendered. But there is of course a world of difference between the leveling of infrastructure, which has to do with society
, and the operations which Mark describes which, I agree, seem to be operating on the level of the individual
person. A world in which a person can travel freely between countries is not the same as a world in which people are not a citizen of any country. When the dismantling of categories happens on an individual
level the effects are initially liberating, but can also be deeply problematic. Rather than opening the door of a house to allow people free passage in and out, it amounts to leveling the house. In the long run this might produce people with much more enlightened ideas of shelter, but on the other hand, it might not.
Wikipedia pages are a good analogy for Mark's "global person". Though informative, they are relatively shallow and contain a series of pointers to other places which one might
visit if one wanted; the links are somewhat ambivalent, full of possibilities and suggestions, but not really a part of the page itself; in fact the authors of the page might not even have visited them, and they often change. In fact, as Mark hints, what is really distinctive about Wikipedia as opposed to an encyclopedia of the past is the fact that it is, fundamentally, a diffuse collection of hyperlinks.
Compare this to the great thinkers of the past. If one reads Montaigne
for instance, it is difficult to go more than a paragraph without tripping over a quote or a reference, but these aren't hyperlinks; they are treasures which he has brought home from his travels through the kingdom of thought. Ideally, of course, his reader has traveled there also, and so the production of these various postcards conjures up a whole story in the mind, a mood and taste which frames and flavors the argument being given.
In the old world a map was a collection of cities, each one a world unto itself. But now our maps consist almost entirely of roads, which is why I think one of the characteristics of modernity is the flighty or hyperactive person, who flits from place to place and has nowhere to rest.