the ubernet

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The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.1

In the Pew Internet Research paper, David Hughes, an Internet pioneer, who from 1972 worked in individual to/from digital telecommunications, responded, “All 7-plus billion humans on this planet will sooner or later be ‘connected’ to each other and fixed destinations, via the Uber (not Inter) net. That can lead to the diminished power over people’s lives within nation-states. When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish.”2

From events in the Ukraine over the course of the past month it should be clear to all that we haven’t yet learned to operate in a post bi-polar superpower world. We optimistically thought the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union had given way to the United States being the only power in the world to be reckoned with. But in the 22 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have seen China rise as an economic power and groups like Al Qaeda with no claims to any boundaries or national limits acting independently against anyone they consider their enemies. And instead of using our power to improve the lot of everyone in the world, we seem bogged down in an internal battle over the definition of just who is a patriot, with large numbers of Americans claiming those in government cannot be trusted. We haven’t learned yet how to reach a win-win conclusion with our former enemies, who are also our neighbors, on the planet.

Having spent most of my professional life in the Foreign Service, I know how difficult it is for governments of all sorts to deal with other governments when the borders that define each are unclear. When the former Soviet Union fell apart, the new nations that were formed as successors all remained defined by the borders of the soviets, the “states” of the Soviet Union. The autonomous regions within the former Soviet Union, such as Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and nearly 20 more you have probably never ever heard of, all remained part of Russia. Transnistria, a sliver of land at the eastern edge of, and within the internationally recognized borders of, the country of Moldova, has never accepted that it should be part of Moldova and not Russia. No member of the United Nations recognizes Transnistria as an independent state, more evidence that states have difficulty dealing with movable borders. Yet for 22 years, Transnistria has operated without recognizing the authority of the government in Moldova. The facts on the ground would indicate Transnistria is a separate country. But there is no political will to recognize that because doing so violates the primacy of immutable borders.

Then there are other groups whose populations span more than one country, such as the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. They can’t so easily simply declare themselves independent because they are not all within the boundaries of a single country. It may not seem fair, but the world is easier to keep safe when borders remain the same even though the people in power may change. Our representative system of government ensures that we may change our leaders without the risk of changing our borders. And in spite of the rhetoric in the declaration of independence about it being the duty of a people to throw off oppressive governments, secession from the union was not an acceptable means of dealing with differences of opinion in the 19th century and it is no less acceptable now.

Yet JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, observed in the Pew Internet report, “The problems that humanity now faces are problems that can’t be contained by political borders or economic systems. Traditional structures of government and governance are therefore ill-equipped to create the sensors, the flows, the ability to recognize patterns, the ability to identify root causes, the ability to act on the insights gained, the ability to do any or all of this at speed, while working collaboratively across borders and time zones and sociopolitical systems and cultures. From climate change to disease control, from water conservation to nutrition, from the resolution of immune-system-weakness conditions to solving the growing obesity problem, the answer lies in what the Internet will be in decades to come. By 2025, we will have a good idea of its foundations.”3 

If traditional structures of government are ill-equipped to handle these challenges, just how are we expected to accomplish the work outside of government structures? Are we to expect that kind-hearted people with good intentions are going to be able to address them? My critter brain is going crazy thinking about those prospects.

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