The Internet is a community but can it be a nation state? It's a question I've been wondering this year over and over again, which has led to the rise of digital nomads and the deeply libertarian ethos to parts of the blockchain community. There's obviously a lot of other people in mind as well: When we interviewed Matt Howard of Norwest on Equity a few weeks ago, he found that Uber was one of the few companies that could achieve the status of a "nation state" IPOs.
The Internet is obviously the home of many different communities of like-minded people, but how do these communities transform from different gangs to a nation-state?
This question led me to Imagined Communities a book from 1
Political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson asks himself a simple question: where does nationalism come from? How can we bond with others under symbols such as a flag, even though we have never met all of our comrades and will almost never meet? Why does each country consider itself "special", but in all its purposes and purposes they all look identical (heads of state, colors and flags, etc.). Why is the nation state invented so late? Anderson's answer is His title: People come to form nations when they can visualize their community and their values and people, and thus determine the boundaries (physical and cognitive) of who is a member of this hypothetical club and who is not.
However, to imagine a community, there must be media that actually connect this community. The printing press is the necessary invention, but Anderson is following the rise of the nation-states to the development of the domestic media – the French language as opposed to the Latin of the Catholic Church. Lexicographers researched and published dictionaries and thesauri, and the presses, under the pressure of capitalism, created a rich bookshelf full of stories and myths of peoples that "existed" not a few decades ago in the mind's eye. 19659002] The nation state itself was first developed in South America during the decline and subsequent years of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anderson argues for a sociological perspective where these states come from. The intense circulation among the local elites – the bureaucrats, lawyers and professionals of those states – and their lack of mobility into the capitals of their empires created a community of people who realized they had more in common with each other than the people on the other side of the Atlantic ,
As other communities around the world begin to understand their unique place in the world, they import these early models of nation-states through the rich print culture of books and newspapers. We do not look at convergent evolution, but at clones of a nation organization model implemented around the world.
This is actually the centerpiece of the thesis of this little book that contains just over 200 pages that are occasionally readable by Turgid. There are dozens of other epiphanies and thoughts moving on these pages. Therefore, the best way to get the full flavor is to make a used copy and dive.
For my purposes, however, I was curious how good it is. Anderson's thesis could be transferred to the nation-state of the Internet. Certainly, the concept that the Internet is its own sovereign entity has been almost there since its invention (just look at John Perry Barlow's original manifesto on cyberspace independence, if you did not).
Is not that Internet nothing more than a series of imaginary communities? Are not subreddits literally the seeds of nation states? Every time Anderson mentioned the printing press or "pressure capitalism", I could not help but replace the word "press" with WordPress and the pressure capitalism with advertising or surveillance capitalism. Are not we going through a kind of media revolution that spurred on the first nation-states a few centuries ago?
Perhaps, but it is an extremely simplistic comparison that lacks some of the most important authors of these nation states.
One of the biggest challenges is that nation-states were not temporal failures, but based on existing power structures. Anderson is absolutely absolute on this point. In South America, the nation-states were carried out of the colonial administrations, and the elites, worried about the loss of their power, used the burgeoning form of the nation-state to protect their interests (Anderson calls this "official nationalism"). Anderson sees this pattern pretty much everywhere, and if not by colonial governments, then by the feudal arrangements of the late Middle Ages.
When you look at the Internet, who are the elites? Perhaps Google or Facebook (or Uber), companies with the status of "nation-state", which are essentially an empire in their own right. The analogy, however, feels stretched.
However, there is an even bigger problem. In Anderson's world, language is the crucial vehicle through which the nation-state brings its citizens together in an imaginary community. It is hard to imagine France without French or England without English. The symbols by which we visualize our community are symbols of this community, and it is this self-referencing that creates a critical feedback loop to the community and amplifies its differentiation.
That seems to be The lower subreddit as a possible nation state off, but it raises the question of a group: coders.
For example, when I write in Python, I associate myself with a group of people who share that language and communicate that language (which you do not pay much attention to) and share values determined by choosing that language. In fact, software developers can make their language choices so strong that it is quite possible that "Python Developers" or "Go Programmers" will say more about them than "American" or "Chinese."
Where this is interesting when you connect it carefully to Blockchain, which I call a technology that can autonomously distribute "wealth". Suddenly, you have a community of software engineers who can speak in their own "language" and create a bureaucracy that serves their interests and with media that connects them all together (via the Internet). The ingredients – at least as Anderson's recipe would have them – are all there.
I'm not going too much in that direction, but one surprise I had with Anderson is how little he talked about the physical agglomeration of humans. The idea of (physical) borders is crucial to a community, and therefore the development of maps for each country is a common pattern in their historical developments. But the map is basically a symbol, a reminder that "this place is our place" and not much else.
In fact, the nation states are bleeding across physical boundaries all the time. Americans are used to the concept of worldwide taxation. France uses representatives of its overseas departments in the National Assembly, which allow French citizens throughout the former empire to vote and to elect representatives of national legislation. Anyone who has watched the arrest of Huawei CFO in Canada this week should know that "jurisdiction" today has few physical boundaries.
The barrier to the Internet or its people becoming nation-states is not physical but cognitive. You do not just have to imagine a community, but imagine it as the first community. We will see an Internet nation-state as people prefer the fidelity and patriotism of one of these digital communities over a battlefield. These communities already have early acolytes that act the same way. The question is whether the rest of the followers will unite and create their own (cyber) space.