I was watching an interview with Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales on BBC where he spoke about the growth in the diversity of voices now online. He said that the old paradigm where we, in the developed Western world, create the technology and provide access to people, in the lesser developed world is changing because 'the other', the people of the developing world have their own voices and their own stories to tell. They are using technology to tell their own stories.
This, and a conversation with a friend on Facebook got me thinking about what this sort of change could mean for our future. There is the very common view that the state, the corporate world, and the media are all in some kind of unholy alliance to deceive and control. Now, perhaps elements of them are. But, even if they are, is it really sustainable?
We are entering a period where the message we hear is becoming ever diversified. A lot of people say that they miss the old days where the news was the news. It wasn't politicized, it wasn't corporatised, and you could trust it. They say that these days, you just don't know what to believe. I think this is a good thing. We find it hard now, because it is new. But, it is the way things are going and will continue to go. It wasn't so much that the media used to be more accurate, but that the media was more centralized and more subject to control by a single group of voices and a single narrative.
The message itself is becoming broader, more interactive and diversified. McLuhan was right. The medium and the message have become ever more interconnected. The medium and the message have also become much more participatory and cognizant of alterity. It's not so much that the media has become more corporate, but that we now know that there are other viewpoints and other voices. As Lyotard wrote, the meta-narratives are breaking down. We don't all believe in a single version of our own history to the extent that we once did. But, I'd say that he and McLuhan were really just witnessing the effect of hearing other voices for the first time. The other voices are becoming closer to our own narrative and are broadening and deepening our perspectives.
So, in a context where the medium is the message and the message is diversified, the message and the medium are increasingly difficult to manufacture or manipulate. The person listening to the media is no longer confined to simply being a passive audience, but the listener is also now a speaker; an active participant in the structure itself.
I contend that we are heading toward a new galactic polity, a return to the pre-Westphalian order. The modern nation state is becoming less relevant to our lives. I'm not saying that it is not relevant now, or that it will cease to exist entirely, but other settings are becoming more important. This is a long process. And, this process is being driven by international organizations, technology, social organizations and international kinship. By the last, I mean the idea that new, international cultures are developing. Segments of populations in one city, let's say Bangkok have more in common with segments of populations in New York than they do with people in the North-East of Thailand.
The life-style of a migrant worker in Shan state in Burma is more similar to the condition of a migrant worker in China than to the lifestyle of a business person in his own country. This has always been the case, but with increasing access to tranportation and communication this is increasing. The old national loyalties are not going to be as important as they once were. The ability of any nation-state to control the message is not as strong as it once was. The linkage between members of a single nation are important, but other cultural linkages are also important.
Chinese diaspora in Singapore have strong cultural and familial kinship with the Chinese in China, in Malaysia and in the U.S. Twitter users in Canada have an audience with people in Iran, and vice-versa. Members of Rotary international have a kinship with their members from around the world. These structures are but a few examples.
What is clear is that this is not decreasing, rather it is increasing. Every year, more and more people now have access to the internet. In India alone, only 17% of the population have access to the internet. World wide internet usage increased from hundreds of millions in 1998 to 2.5 billion in 2010. Means of transportation have also become cheaper and more available to people. This will not decrease. The cultural shift that follows this could easily become the most significant change to have ever occurred in human history.
The narrative is shifting, broadening and increasingly happening outside of national contexts. Supranational loyalties are becoming as important as subnational affiliation. This is "the global village".
I contend that this will result in a new paradigm where the state will, eventually give way to something new. Our public life is happening in new places. Some of it occurs in a corporate environment, some of it occurs in international organizations, some of it occurs online. This is chaotic in the same way that nature is chaotic. As nature is stable because of its diversity, a new political structure will also be stable because of its diversity.
For more reading on what the original galactic polity meant, or the mandala model of governance, visit here. The part about a strong leader attracting new tributaries is particularly relevant.