Walden3.0, or “why can’t we be citizens of the internet?”

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2010

Yeah, I know the versioning-suffix gag went stale in 2008, but I think it fits here. Two posts where people think aloud about post-geographical communities; the first is from Ian “Cat” Vincent, who wants to be considered a citizen of the internet (emphases mine):

I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?

[…]

My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea.

[…]

Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

I am completely with Vincent on pretty much everything in that post… which will come as no surprise to regular readers, I suppose. But I’m sure we’re not alone, even if the urge to join a community where one feels one truly belongs may express itself a little differently. Jeremiah Tolbert:

I never seem to have much trou­ble find­ing com­mu­nity online.  This year, my com­mu­nity online seems to be cen­tered around Twitter.  I have some qualms about hav­ing my major sense of belong­ing tied to some­thing that is lim­ited to 130 char­ac­ters at a time, but it does work.  And when you work from home alone day in, day out, hav­ing some way of feel­ing like you’re not alone is help­ful.   Twitter fills that role for me now.  In the long run, I would like a “real world” com­mu­nity to belong to—something Rockwellian, only full of artists and cre­atives maybe. John Joseph Adams and I have talked sev­eral times about his notion of Geektopia—a com­mu­nity pop­u­lated entirely by geeks who relo­cate to cre­ate a com­mu­nity of their own.   If such a place existed—I would seri­ously con­sider mov­ing there.  We’ve been eye­balling the parts of the coun­try where you can get free land.   Problem is, build­ing an entire town from scratch costs mil­lions.  So until we get some mil­lion­aire back­ing the idea, it will remain a pipe dream.  But it’s one that I would love to see become a real­ity.  Some day.

Until then, the inter­net is my com­mu­nity, for bet­ter and worse.

I suspect Jeremy’s not alone in feeling that way… and think about it: if an increasing number of people dissatisfied with the meatspace communities available to them all flock to the internet – which is, as if we needed reminding, a non-dimensional space largely defined by its proliferation of tools for community-building and its corrosive effect on geography – they’re in the best possible position to start building and planning a world that runs on their own terms.

And I suspect that’s exactly why the deep implications of the Wikiwars are so terrifying to authoritarians and nation-states; it’s the same reason the beech tree fears the ivy.

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7 Responses to “Walden3.0, or “why can’t we be citizens of the internet?””

  1. Robert Koslover says:

    I think people could, and quite possibly should, become citizens of the internet once they are able to live on file servers (or even peer-to-peer networks). Unfortunately, so long as we have these inconvenient physical bodies, which require some non-zero amount of real-estate (even if only a little bit) this may not be practical. But fear not, for once you able to dispose of your carbon-based form and and successfully “upload” yourself to the network, you will no doubt have many other exciting options as well. 🙂

  2. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    “Geektopia” doesn’t require a millionaire to get started. What it needs is a group of like-minded people willing to put in their time and money to build an intentional community. It’s just another kind of co-op.

    I’ve been thinking of this myself, though my idea is more a community of writers. I’d love to have neighbors who would understand when I was glued to my work but who would also be around to listen to me rant or to give me a quick crit. Like Clarion with less pressure and more than a dorm room to live in.

    A network of geektopias and writers’ communities and artist communities and so forth would be a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t be satisfied with just the online equivalent. Even in this blog comment I can barely get started on all my ideas on this subject. To brainstorm about forming a real community takes a lot more than this. There are times where there is no substitute for real life interaction.

  3. SpeakerToManagers says:

    I think there’s a misunderstanding here. The internet isn’t a single polity where we can all be citizens; it’s more like a continent, or even an entire planet where there are already many nations, and more forming all the time. See xkcd’s map of the internet.

  4. Wintermute says:

    Sure, the internet is a great place to form communities and empathy circles of fictive kin, especially for those who find themselves more misanthropic in the context of their geo-lives.

    But I strongly agree with SpeakerToManagers here; the internet itself is not a nation, it’s a series of tubes. No. Well, no and yes. “The internet” is a massively complex interconnected network, however it itself rests on the backs of these even more massively complex interconnected networks loosely called civilization as a whole, and can be divided up roughly into a soup of nation-states / corporations. Without these meatspace-based systems, the very highest tier of which include things like the power grid, wireless communications systems, and the like, the internet does not exist. As much as we might like to pretend to ourselves that we’re living in a cyberpunk post-national world, we do not yet have digital Marxist Permanent Autonomous Zones or corporation-states free of nations. To declare oneself a citizen of “The Internet” at this point is like the rebellious 15 year old pirating some Social Distortion tracks, buying some shredded jeans and “Independent” t-shirts with his parents money, then declaring himself independent from his parents. The parents then shake their heads and let him run on a loose leash and get all his pent up hormonal naivete out for a while, but if he ever does something exceptionally stupid like total the Hyundai, then they cut off his COD Black Ops subscription, his concert money, and maybe, yes, his internet. They let him throw infantile tantrums till he eventually comes back to suck on mommy’s teat again. (But still calling himself independent!) A sovereign nation, despite all the post-colonial 60’s free love rhetoric of “self-determination”, is not achieved through simple self-declaration and sticking on a new label, getting a new wardrobe and changing your “status” on Facebook to “citizen of internet”. No, sovereignty is hard won through the long and often difficult process of growing up, getting a job, moving out of your parents basement, maintaining your general welfare, providing for the common defence, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and securing the blessings of liberty to yourselves and your posterity.

    I don’t doubt that we might one day arrive at a point where internet-based or internet/reality “mixed reality” entities become their own political entities or possibly nations, (in fact I’ve been working on some sci fi involving those ideas). “Online communities” are wonderful, and I do know the joys of connecting with like minds and soul-mates in the new world of cyberspace that might never have happened in reality (especially with nerdy types that don’t get out so much like me). However, it’s naive to think that any internet nation will look anything like your arduino-hacking Twitter feed or underwater basketweaving forum. The tight-knittedness, ease and lightness of these communities is directly dependent on their size, non-commitance, and the fact that they are non-commercial. They’re social meetings someone’s living room, or the park, or someone’s basement. Once you bring the real world into the internet, meaning largely money, you inevitably wind up with human nature trending towards what we’ve seen over the past decade with Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, company sites, all the commercial sites, and most recently the “open web” and net neutrality threatened by the megacompanies wanting to tear it up into proprietary mega malls, and charging high rent. Any internet nation, if one does show up, is going to be under the corporation-network-conglomerate flag of one of these merged giants, not your cybercommune manifesto or your DnD groups ‘internet citizen’ arm patch.

    *note: Now I’m not saying that an organization like Wikileaks is the teenager, they have quite a specific agenda, however “hacker kids” who read Neuromancer one too many times and think they’re going to form their own cybercommune while messing with “the system” and wind up with their ass in jail might definitely come down under the “wrecked Hyundai” category.

  5. Wintermute says:

    Also, Geektopia exists. It’s called San Francisco. 🙂 (Or insert the coastal city of your choice)

  6. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    San Francisco is a wonderful city, but Geektopia? Please! The cost of living there alone disqualifies it: The only geeks who can afford to live there are the ones who made out big during the dotcom boom.

    Besides, between the Big One and climate change, SF may not be with us all that much longer.

    But I do like your discussion of Internet Nation. Lots to think about there.

  7. Michael Roberts says:

    I nominate Richmond, Indiana as “Maker City”, one component of Geektopia. Lots of cheap brick mansions (my link here is my house blog; my 14-room mansion plus carriage house set me back all of $8000 a year ago) and a history of invention, including the Wright Brothers (Orville graduated from my daughter’s high school), the man who put ball bearings into roller skate wheels, and many more. In the 19th century, the county had more patents per capita than any other in the United States and I think, with the right mix of people, we could do it all again. And if you like fine old houses that need loving care but can withstand another decade or two while you get around to it, then this is your place.

    On a larger level, the geographical gathering of like-minded folks into physical communities is something that (1) sounds pretty damned good, (2) could easily be facilitated by the Internet, and (3) would be the way to start having some real influence. Pick a nice small town, organize an online community, everybody buy houses at the same time to avoid market influence, and then start electing each other to the city council.

    This gives you de facto control of a town without having to build it yourself, and most small towns in the heartland would greet you with flowers and bake you a cake – anything to jumpstart the local economy.

    For those of you in coastal cities, or really any larger market, you’d be bowled over by the low real estate prices. The only caveat: you have to bring or build your own employment. I can do that, which is why I bought a house here (well, my parents being here doesn’t hurt; the kids need grandparent time).

    But it is eminently doable.

    This could apply to any geek community, really. I think of Richmond as Maker City because of its history, but any small group of dedicated people would make a hueueueuge difference in our historic district. And this goes for any other small town. Ten or twenty people would change the face of this town or any town of its size.

    Feel free to contact me for real estate scouting!