The votes, 100 million of them, are all in. The most wondrous human constructions in the history of the world have been determined by an elaborate and multilingual online voting system. The results for these new Seven Wonders of the World, splashed across newspaper headlines worldwide, reveal a great deal about the values and ideas of globalization. There are many things to wonder about these wonders.

Set up as the pet project of Swiss-Canadian adventurer Bernard Weber, the New7Wonders project rode on waves of publicity. A star-studded ceremony was held July 7 in a Portuguese soccer stadium. Monuments that have stood for hundreds and thousands of years, the Great Wall of China, Rome’s Colosseum, India’s Taj Mahal, Jordan’s Petra, Peru’s Machu Picchu, Brazil’s Statue of Christ the Redeemer, and Mexico’s Chichen Itza Pyramid, received finalist awards from stars, singers and celebrities whose current fame will be far more fleeting.

The voting was perhaps the biggest online poll ever taken. The system of international promotion and vote tabulations in 12 different languages is a wonder in and of itself, one more proof of the Internet’s dominion. However, the results reflect less a genuine expression of informed opinion than the personal reactions of only those people worldwide who can access the Net. By the end of the voting, a rough guide to the world’s architectural treasures emerged, though not an entirely convincing one.

Japan had one candidate among the final 21, Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, and another among the final 77 nominees, the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. That’s not bad considering Japan tended to build its wonders in highly flammable wood. Cultures that worked with lasting materials like stone were inevitably given precedence. Cultures like those in ancient Africa, however, were almost entirely ignored. Still, with the relatively high rate of Japanese Internet access, more votes could have been sent in. Most other nations’ prime ministers, perhaps less distracted by scandals, made open public appeals for their citizens to vote.

Voters were given voting certificates, but the possibility of people voting more than once make the results suspect. And how could 100 million people agree on comparable standards? The word “wonder” has as many meanings as people wondering. And what of nonarchitectural human creations? No mention was made of wonders like electricity, film photography, airplanes, or old standbys like the printing press and democracy? They simply do not fit into the media hype and national pride of this kind of list.

While the e-mailed choices might satisfy engineers and stone-carvers, it is harder to see past the bricks. All of these many kinds of wonders were created by complex cultural practices, social systems and creative desires, not all of them good ones. If this project improves understanding of different values at different times in different places, it would be a wonder as important as any mausoleum, defensive wall or gladiatorial arena. The old Euro-centric list of ancient wonders stretched no farther than eastern Iraq and southern Egypt. The new list’s final 21 candidates come from every continent and every cultural group. That feels like progress, though slow.

UNESCO has long made steadier progress. This United Nations organization, with no link to the New7Wonders project, notes that not only are serious criteria needed to make evaluations on World Heritage Sites, but also commitments to protect them. Their list includes 851 properties worldwide, 660 of them cultural, all of them decided on by experts. Japan has a respectable 14 sites on this larger list, which coalesces into a more complex and nuanced picture of the world’s heritage than the New7Wonders suggests.

Although you cannot see it in the shiny Web site photos, most of these seven sit amid poverty, war and severe social problems. Mahatma Gandhi, in a bit of irony just before his assassination, made a provocative alternative list — the “Seven Blunders of Mankind.” His list of World Blunders from a half-century ago is just as historically important and globally minded as the contemporary swirl of interactive maps, international media, and new age hype, but much more abstract. His list: 1. Wealth without work; 2. Pleasure without conscience; 3. Knowledge without character; 4. Commerce without morality; 5. Science without humanity; 6. Worship without sacrifice; 7. Politics without principle. How many wonders were built on these blunders?

The New7Wonders project is a well-intentioned project, if a bit superficial. Considering the impact of these historical achievements expands our worldview and reminds us that we have not really ever seen it all. Let’s hope that the next millennium’s wonders reflect ethical as well as architectural achievements and turn our wonder into action.

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