Whither the nation state?

Evgeny Morozov has gained some publicity lately through his publication of a book entitled the net delusion which takes a cautious view of the transformational possibilities of the web.  He was born in Belarus towards the end of the cold war, but spends most of his time in America, and, consistent with his views, has a distinctly unflashy website with links to his prolific writing output.

Put simply, his central argument is that the Internet can be used by authoritatiran regimes to bolster their authority, as well as by individuals to resist authority, and that its existence isn’t going to diminish the importance of individual countries.  In fact there are echoes of the observation that the very earliest American data networks, that subsequently morphed into the Internet, were both tools of the government, and useful tools for rebels, a paradox that can still be observed on the net.

Perhaps it was pure serendipity, but after reading some of Morozov’s work, and while searching for interesting quotes to prompt discussion, I came across one of the supporting pages for the BBC’s virtual revolution series. broadcast last year.  Aleks Krotoski, who presented the series, is careful to attribute the idea of the demise of the nation state to Bill Thompson.  But she raises the intriguing idea of ebay as the equivalent of a nation state.

In fact I don’t see this as being inconsistent with the survival of the nation state.  You can be a citizen both of the UK and of eBay.  If you’re an active eBayer you might well operate internationally, and you might cross borders as effortlessly as any frequent flyer.  But you’ll still want to know whether you are buying from a seller in Putney, South West London, or Putney, Vermont, not least because nation states have a tendency to impose taxes and there can be particular VAT issues if you are buying online from abroad.  So eBay may create a cadre of global citizens but that’s not equivalent to the disappearance of the nation state.

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