It strikes me that, more and more, our digital lives are mirroring our real lives in ever more peculiar ways. From reflecting our everyday behaviors to forming new ones, the circles between “digital” and “real” are less a thoroughly overlapping Venn diagram and more a shared area. Which I hope for all of you is as fascinating as it is for me.
The nice thing is that it’s allowing more traditional fields of study to be assimilated into and affected by the things that happen online.
For me, one of the most interesting new overlaps is the one between international relations and digital social networks. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years now, and I’ve been searching for a list of the major empires & superpowers through history. I finally found a list, and today whipped up the graphic at the top of the post. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it does serve to illustrate a point: the world tends to have a few major powers, and those powers tend to dominate for a while before they are surpassed by an up-and-coming state with greater resources and greater geographic focus.
Which seems pretty similar to how digital networks tend to come and go.
Which leads me to my conclusion:
Digital social networks are the new nation-states. Yeah, I said it. They share more with real nation-states than is immediately apparent. They have laws: the laws of each social network-state are those imposed by its creators or built by its population from terms and conditions, to user experience, to what things one user can see and that another cannot. Take, for example, the litany of Facebook T&C changes over the years, some of which caused uprisings among its population. Their developers’ decisions govern our experiences both with the site and with the rest of the people within the system. And while Facebook and Myspace and others are not sovereign in the way all true nation states are, it is conceivable that someday, there will be digital nationality to go along with or be codefined by “real” nationality.
There are value exchanges among people and people and between people and companies within this digital nation-state, laws can be broken and there are shared identities among the constituents of the state that can be defined against those of other, competing states. To wit, a significant body of work suggests that there are real differences between Myspace people and Facebook people. That these distinctions tend to fall along lines of economic class is no matter; it nevertheless suggests that despite the rise of Facebook, some people see their identities as being more correctly in line with one digital nation or the other.
So, what then? I suggest 5 key changes:
- That we start thinking of digital social networks as a potential working model for the society of the future.
- That instead of moving from one major network to another, we work to better a chosen digital nation state for the good of all its inhabitants.
- That Facebook and others work to elect a governing party of super-users that can help shape its future.
- That we recognize that each digital nation state should be unique, and that each has a value that may be unrelated to its size; we recognize the validity of the United States and that of the Principality of Liechtenstein.
- That access to these digital states be regarded as a right, rather than a privilege.
I’ll keep pushing this if you will.
WordPress recently launched a new front-end theme called P2, which affords a standard WP setup Tumblr and Twitter-like capabilities, with all the privacy nuances that you would expect: you can specify posts get shown to certain sets of users, show some things to everyone, and allow anyone to participate in conversations asynchronously.
The short-lived but annoying explosion of Spymaster makes this all the more relevant. I’m increasingly feeling like Twitter will be the Friendster of Microblogging: it’s getting huge/slow and it’s not changing in a meaningful way despite many major deficiencies. But then, why would it? Why worry about change when you’ve got to keep the whole site from failing?
I’ve been saying this for a while, but never quite so publicly: the important thing about Twitter is not Twitter itself, but rather the mass adoption of this kind of web behavior. And the spread of features across sites that allow for instantaneous discussion (which is distinct from commenting behavior, at least in my head) seems to herald a pretty significant societal shift that crosses generations and levels of technical sophistication.
Not like that’s news or anything.