Programme two overview: nation states and the web
To start, it's ironic that Internet technology was devised and developed to protect the state, but is now being used to dismantle it. There are countless examples of this, from formal protests organised via Facebook, informal actions collected on Flickr, to international calls for action as a result of Twitter communication. The bottom line is that, although apathy remains high in more formal democratic activities (with the occasional surprise consequence), we are more plugged in and engaged in politics than we have been since Robert Putnam documented the decline in social capital in 1995.
Yet this is a different kind of politic: this is a global movement brought on by the deregulation of information and the technologies used to share it. We can now circumvent national propagandas, find out the stories from the mouths of the people who are experiencing them. Take, for example, the Baghdad Blogger, who gave a phenomenal first-hand account of living in a war zone in 2003; it opened our eyes to the real issues of the men and women on the streets, not just what we heard from the spokespeople, translated into palatable bureau-speak.
Although over the last few weeks we debated the new powers that have emerged that have re-asserted control structures on our access to knowledge, what is key is that it is now out of the hands of the governments, who struggle to grok it and to participate in it in an inclusive, effective and, well, non-cheesy way. Vint Cerf argues that the genie is out of the bottle: because 99% of the content that's on the Web is privately owned, the government can only own the pipeline that transmits it, not what flows.
Of course, there are many high profile, top-down attempts at regulation that government has tried to impose on the 'tubes: the contested three-strikes and you're out law in France that cuts off Web access to users accused of downloading copyrighted content, the rather embarrassing and Puritanical attempts by the UK government to protect us from the 'sick filth' on Wikipedia, the blanket ban of any virtual pornographic content in India, the selective information allowed in and out of China, the recent crackdown of information about the protests in Iran during and after their recent election. But in all of these examples, people have used the tools supplied by the Web to access content, to communicate with the outside world, to stage little and large protests. For our Western liberal democracies, this is what we're all about: what a win.
But let's play Devil's Advocate for a second. One of the fears that surrounds the emergence of a world government and the dissolution of the nation-states is the loss of individual and national autonomy. As we become a more globalised society, augmented by changes in communication technologies in particular, it becomes increasingly difficult to see our unique national differences. The global love-in that we've been projecting into our connected future that is based on virtual communities bound by common interests rather than geography celebrates the commonalities we have with people around the world, yes, but this is arguably a Western, individualist dogma. Is there a danger that this is a form of ideological imperialism being rolled out through a technology that, in large part, has come from a relatively small number of people in one physical space? Perhaps these governments are trying to act in what they feel are the interests of their populations by preserving their cultures from the onslaught of outsiders.
Perhaps cyberwarfare is another, more dramatic response.
This programme will try to deconstruct these issues. Over the next few weeks, we'll be looking at the websites that cut across national boundaries and have implemented their own unregulated communication, economic and governance systems. We'll be exploring whether the Internet needs to be regulated, and, if it does, the systems that need to be put into place to make sure the regulators don't step out of line. We'll traverse the multicultural Web, identifying the role non-Western countries have had in shaping how we communicate and what we consume, and we'll be detailing government's e-vulnerabilities.
These are the issues that will shape of the programme, and we're looking to you to help inform how they should be presented.