Internet Democracy

There’s been several “If X were a country” analogies, especially with MySpace as a target.

But then:

If the Internet was a country, it would be many times larger than the country of MySpace The Something Awful Forums

And then:

Nicholas Negroponte, the noted futurist and author of ‘Being Digital’, once observed that if the Internet were a country, it would be the nicest place on earth. Security and Vulnerability

Not to mention:

If the internet were a country, you’d know a relative of almost everybody. Scribd

It’d be interesting to use notions we have about actual countries to follow the analogy further. Some might think that the Internet could have a president but most of us seem to agree that the current structure of the Internet, without a specific “head of state,” works fairly well. We’ve known for a while that ordered anarchy can work:

In his classic study of the Nuer of the Southern Sudan Evans-Pritchard presents them as naked cattle-herders, seasonally nomadic, living in grass huts and supplementing their diet of animal products by horticulture. They form a congeries of tribes, sometimes gathering into loose federations but without central administration, rulers or grading of warriors or elders, and the age-sets into which they are divided have no corporate function. Evans-Pritchard speaks of ‘leopard-skin chiefs’ among them, but makes it clear that this position is backed by no coercive force. They show some specialisation but nothing amounting to a profession and cannot be said in any strict sense to have law, for there is no authority with power to adjudicate or enforce a verdict. In sum, ‘their state might be described as an ordered anarchy’. From Village to Empire

Associating the ‘Net with that anarchic model isn’t new. What seems to me a bit newer is to call that system “democratic” (especially in the context of User Generated Content, and other “Web 2.0” phenomena).

Even newer, to me at least, is the idea that the open and flexible nature of the Internet as it was originally designed might not be part of redesigns of the Internet.

Should we apply a more democratic model for the new Internet? How far should the “country” analogy affect the way we remodel the ‘Net?

The literature on nationalism and communities could help.

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

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