Archive for August, 2008

Everything Global?

Everything seems to be going “global”.  Some examples will show this:

Wars are looking more and more like global police actions, rather than international conflicts.

The financial systems allows money to flow globally, very much like in the heyday of the Gold Standard.  Even the Fed admits that it is constrained by global considerations.

Telecommunications and the Internet seem to know no borders, and speak their own language of transnationality.

News are hardly local anymore.  The canned products of CNN, BBC, WSJ and NYT, among others, assume a global audience and a global distribution.

Supply chains transcend the limits of the logistically possible.  The whole world seems like the proverbial “last mile” of old. 

Corporations operate unapologetically in a world not restricted to their regional offices, personnel and legal systems.  They become ever more like globally linked organizations, supra-national in nature.  Patents and copyrights are enforced globally.

Even terror seems to be global in reach and ideological claim.  Religions speak of hundreds of millions of followers.

But, in the face of all this, why do we still have to put up with nation-states?  And with the corollary: a very old idea of citizenship tied to the existence of the very same nation-state.  Does this markedly un-global idea of citizenship diminish the possibilities of individuals, both in the online world (economic and political rights) and the physical world (migration, exclusion)? 

I must say it does.  To investigate I will post here further.  I don’t think we will see the demise of the nation-state soon, but we will see a change in the character of citizenship.

Space, Change and Citizenship

We exist in a constant balance of freedom and constrain.  This is so in the physical space, in our spiritual and moral spheres, in our relationship with the economy, politics and the law, and it is the reality of our body in relationship with its surroundings.  The outcomes of evolution and ecology are an expression of balances and trade-offs.  Justice itself is a result of intentions and accidents.

All of these ecologies are subject to rules.  Some are just natural and maybe inmutable rules.  Most are man-made rules.  Rules that we have conceived and tweaked during centuries of social, technological and political life.

If we follow the achitectural analogy of the Internet (W.Mitchell), we can surely say that in the last 20 years we have significantly changed the space in which a large portion of humantiy dwells.  It is as if all of a sudden a new landscape with new and far away horizons had emerged.  A lanscape that is at once strange and alluring, because it promises to realize some of the cherished dreams of old: incorporality, persistence, freedom, liberty.   A new “cyberspace” beyond government control, as Barlow envisioned.  The architectural analogy is very useful, because it also allows to account for the effect of exclusion that this new “city” brings.  A great many people are not allowed to have a live behind its walls.

The new “space” has very interesting features.  It seems to transcend nations and governments, it is enclosed by technological and not physical barriers.  It allows for many forms of economic, social and political activity.  It has become an extension of our physical dimension and personality.  It has many of the characteristic features of architectural spaces: containers, roads, networks.  Public and private spaces.  It can allow for total control if mismanaged.

The most striking difference with the spaces we inhabit is that “cyberspace” claims to be free of control and regulation.  To follow J. Zittrain in his (mostly technological) argument for generativity, the Internet has been created with only two rules to follow: procastrination and reciprocity.  It is indeed the most basic ethical entente.  But as a political system it is going to fail as the reality grows complex with every day.  The barbarians are going to storm the city.

Among the many claims and justifications of the nature of cyberspace, the one that is most salient is the issue of freedom.  This has interesting implications.  Foremost the dissolution of the idea of citizenship.  Once we move into cyberspace we cease to have a citizenship status.  But this is only an illusion.  We are digital citizens.

But what is a digital citizen, what rights and duties do I have as such?  Up to whom is to define this?  Should we have a Digital Constitution?  Who has the authority to proclaim it?  The Internet is a Commons, a New Commons.  When we look at it this way we can start to think about the kind of regulation we would like to have, and by whom it is to be actuated.  The authority should rest in the New Commons itself.

It is very important that we move forward to establish the groundwork for a digital citizenship and the corresponding authority.  Otherwise we will face a “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario.  A moment when a shared space is ransacked and driven to failure by the attacks and abuse from freebooters and reckless national governments.  The idea of a Commons is to preserve the utility of the commonly held goods, while effectively defecting abuse and enclosure.  The role of a strong digital citizenship will be pivotal in this endeavor.

Moving to Boston

In the last weeks I have been moving from Mexico to Boston.  For the next couple of years I will be attending classes at MIT and working from my Boston office.  I will resume posting in a few days.



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