The Eighth Continent – History Repeating

Five hundred years ago explorers set out to find a faster route to India and the Far East. They did not find what they searched for; instead they found a whole new continent, the Americas. At first it seemed that the resources and possibilities were endless. Envoys from European kings went to the new continent and brought back gold, gems and new types of raw materials. The new world had a less defined hierarchy and legal framework and soon individuals to whom the old structures did not suit moved to the new lands; entrepreneurs, religious dissenters and many more saw the possibilities and moved.

But the new continent brought more than joy. Some humans had actually immigrated some thousand years earlier and built societies with different governing structures that came in conflict with the new settlers. The shortage of labour gave rise to a worldwide human trafficking called slavery. Unknown virus wiped out entire settlements and pirates ruled the seas. But the difficulties were subordinate to the huge economic potential and all dream projected upon this new continent.

Centuries later, in the post war era, explorers of technological potential begun to experiment with faster and easier way to transfer information between different locations. They were looking for a more efficient way to connect for example Europe with the Far East. As they set out on this excursion they found something, but not what they where looking for, they found a whole new continent, “the Internets”; the eighth continent, a digital continent. History repeats itself, but this time is the new continent acts like a layer on the already existing map and a layer that does not recognize the boarders of the nations states.

Settlers, pirates, evangelists, outcasts, entrepreneurs, traders and many more have seen the possibilities on this new unregulated continent and the immigration goes fast. At first many thought the new continent was only about information thus regulated by the freedom of speech, but as we explore new parts of the lands we know that it hides much more, social relations, economic transactions, taxation and labour. Actually everything is more or less the same, different business models benefit prosper in differently in environments whether they are called open, subscription models or new. There is (only ;)) one small difference on the Internets, the gods live among us here. The creator gods are alive (not all anymore) Postel, Stallman, Torvalds and Negroponte to name a few, “the modern deities”.

When the Internets turns 500 we will know what the new “post colonialism” is, long after the creator gods are dead. Until then we can only guess what this will be, but there are some things we can call by their real names already. Crowd sourcing have made amazing things possible such as Wikipedia, but all parts of crowd sourcing is not cool people who in there spare time contribute to the global knowledge of e.g. frogs. Parts are individuals working under slave like contracts generating logos or do some click works to what ever firm without security. Crowd funding has contributed greatly to democratization of the cultural space, but it is at the same time a great way to launder money. The social networks have regenerated lost relationships and made new connections possible but the social network companies are something else. Many of them try to act like infrastructures, as part of public space, the roads of the new continent but structurally they organize like authoritarian dictatorships without any democratic practice. The Prism scandal indicates to us what this could mean in the long run if we do not have a democratic practice on the 8th continent .

History is repeating it self, like it has done so many times before. The huge economical scope and the potential of control make us not consider the consequences of our actions. Let us learn from the structural level of the workings of the human mind, this is not a technological issue but a subject for dialogue between the liberal arts and science. The issues are urgent and touch on topics such as justice, international tax law, freedom of expression and labour rights, basically politics. These politic does not affect only on the new digital continent, but also the old.

Future will tell if we manage to find the tools to practice democracy also on the digital continent or if it will become a corporatocracy.

Max Valentin
Max is not a vampire who has lived for 500 year and seen history repeat itself. However one of his worst nightmares is to be a vampire who needs to live through the cyclic history. To see the suffering that the power game, disguised in new language creates over and over again.