The Netstate Project

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I wrote the Netstate essay in 1997 and never published it. Although I was a keen observer of the rise of the blogs and had ample opportunity to set up my own soapbox, I shrank from publishing a profoundly radical view of technology-mediated political evolution. In part, I was put off by the ferocity of blogosphere debate. I viewed with repugnance the personality-based blogging that dragged down every attempt to create fruitful discourse into a demolition derby of colliding egos and business interests. In short, I was afraid. The circumstances of the world are very different today. The optimistic enthusiasms of the Internet bubble have given way to a paralyzing dread of economic and ecological calamities, and reason itself is under steady assault, as coherent thought is displaced by a babble of fragmentary perspectives and sophistries. I now fear that if no radical and coherent vision of a better way forward is made available, confusion and cynicism will prevail.

It is a strange irony of Internet communication that that successive new modes of human interaction appear to be regressing in their ability to handle complexity. The typical early Web era essay had 10x more content than the typical blog article, and the typical blog article has 10x more content than the typical reader response post, and the typical blog post has 10x more content than the typical cellphone text message or twitter tweet. Perhaps the next big thing after twitter will be tweaks: witty exchanges of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). My response to this entropic spiral of increasingly trivial and incoherent communication will be to expand the Netstate essay into a book which I will write and edit here, on Docudharma, as a series of blog essays. I can think of no better way to conform to Docudharma’s motto of “Blogging the Future.”  

I call myself ANKOSS because I believe in A New Kind Of Social Science. This acronym is derived from the name of Stephen Wolfram’s ambitious book “A New Kind of Science.” Just as Wolfram asserts that elemental laws of mathematics underlie the evolution of all living systems, I believe that the fundamental characteristics of global digital communications will govern the evolution of future political systems. A crucial tenet of this belief is that the inescapable rigor of reliable Internet communication will drive the emergence of political institutions that conserve trust. At a time when our society is experiencing a systemic collapse of trust, this should be a welcome prospect.

I’m still afraid of the consequences of unleashing the Netstate memes, but the time has come for these ideas to be shared. So hey, ho, let’s go.

Netstate: The Rise of Internet-Based Government

Section 1.1 – A Digital Spectre

A digital spectre is haunting the nation states of the world. It is the future transformation of the Internet from a technological curiosity and practical convenience into a political phenomenon of epochal significance. This book presents the case for extrapolating from the technical and social characteristics of today’s Internet to the emergence of a network-based sovereign political state, which I call the Netstate. I expect this state to coexist, somewhat uncomfortably, with conventional nations (geostates) for many years, but ultimately to supplant them in a future network-mediated world society. Although the path toward the advent of the Netstate is not smooth and predictable, I will argue that its emergence is an inevitable consequence of the interaction of political, social, and economic dynamics unleashed by the phenomenon of the Internet.

Perhaps never in the history of technology has there been so unfavorable a ratio of commentary to insight as in the case of the Internet. The public is saturated with Internet “news” that is largely devoid of interpretive value. Browser wars! Chat Rooms! Free long-distance calls! Virtual sex! Yet thoughtful observers sense that something of profound consequence is happening. In 1996, I attended Harvard University’s landmark “Conference on the Internet and Society.” I was surprised to see how little forward-looking thought was evident in discussions of  the future political evolution of the Internet. Little has changed in the ensuing years.

It is still not widely understood that the Internet is creating a socio-political shockwave that will perturb and massively transform all institutions based on geography and information scarcity. Future historians will marvel at the inbred technological fixation of today’s Internet community. I would compare current Internet social commentary to discussions in Gutenberg’s day of using modified wine presses to print wine labels.  The impact of instantaneous, ubiquitous, virtually cost-free interactive digital communications on world society will be greater than that of any innovation since the origin of writing. In the 21st century, the Internet will be remembered as the catalyst for profound transformation of social and political life, and not as a computer network that enabled electronic catalog merchandise shopping.

Instead of considering revolutionary and transcendent Internet-mediated societal change, such as the eclipse of geographic institutions; the transformation and enrichment of fundamental patterns of acquaintance, friendship, and marriage; and the ability of the young to participate more fully in society, today’s Internet “commentary” is largely characterized by superficial discussions of  the networking equivalent of consumer appliances.  The journalists of the technology trade publications offer a torrent of informational scraps, but create no coherent social or political perspectives. A handful of more ambitious commentators aim for more substantive analysis, but so far the public discussion of Internet-driven political and social transformation is grievously underdeveloped.

Why this inability to engage the profound social and political issues raised by the Internet?   I believe that there are three reasons: 1) a widespread bias toward interpreting technology as consumable goods and services, promoted by the powerful complex of  technology vendors, trade journalists, and investors; 2) the alienation or “de-coupling” of  intellectual elites from the turbulent and elusive character of contemporary technological advance; and 3) a generational failure to prepare future “founders,” leaders capable of the fundamental rationalization and alignment of  social and political structures with new technological possibilities.

Although some will consider the idea of a virtual sovereign state without a territorial base to be incredible, I will endeavor to show that this development is not only plausible, but that it will provide many practical benefits and advantages to the world economy in general and the Internet community in particular.  The noted integrated circuit pioneer Carver Mead said,  “Listen to the technology and try to understand what it is telling you.” Unfortunately, most listeners to Internet technology have heard only a raucous “try me, buy me!” and not more serious themes, such as  “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Let us listen again and try to discern some crucially important messages that suggest impending political change. To that end, I will offer four arguments for the emergence of a sovereign virtual state from the Internet.

To be continued …


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    • Edger on April 16, 2009 at 15:37

    …four arguments for the emergence of a sovereign virtual state from the Internet.

    ANKOSS, does your “idea of a virtual sovereign state” extend the power and authority over individuals now exercised by states over people within their physical boundaries to power and authority over individuals to be exercised by sovereign virtual states over people who ‘connect’ to their ‘servers’?

    I may be jumping the gun here but I’m looking for how you define ‘virtual sovereign state’.

  1. second question what happens to a computer when you bury it under 200 feet of salt water………

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