UPDATE: Check out the beginning of a Distributed Democracy reference model on wikispaces Let’s see what we can build.
In several of Neal Stephensen’s books, he talks about a “Distributed Republic”, which according to Wikipedia is the concept of:
… a fluid republic consisting of land and citizens scattered across the globe, changing far more frequently than conventional nation-states.
In French President Sarkozy’s speech to the eG8 last year, he spoke about the need for governments to intervene in the Internet and the heart of his argument rested on the premise that:
Nobody could nor should forget that these governments are the only legitimate representatives of the will of the people in our democracies.
But this premise is debatable. The Internet gives us the capability to have our own voice, to be our own legitimate representative in a global dialogue.
This is not to say there is not a part for geographically defined governments to play. Personally I believe governments play an important role in creating a baseline equality and opportunity for people in the community.
Of course, I am coming from an Australian and democratic perspective, where free health care, education and cheap public transport (just to name a few) are all broadly accepted components of what keeps our local community relatively egalitarian, and I believe we will ever need to manage physical resources to create the best possible life for people.
But our online lives, an enormous component for many of the 2 billion people on the Internet, does not have any legitimate representation at this point in time. There are certainly voices, advocacy groups, lobbyists on all sides trying to frame and direct the agenda. But frankly, we have the technology to engage directly as a community. Hence the idea of establishing a virtual “government’, a distributed democracy for our online lives.
Would such an entity be useful? What could it do? Perhaps it could engage in international trade agreements or treaties on behalf of the Internet society. Perhaps it could define some essential technical and social characteristics of the Internet and then be the representative international watchdog for our community. How would it operate and be funded? Is it possible to build a functional, sustainable, effective and ultimately completely open model of government to represent and serve the citizens of the Internet?
Perhaps the treaty of Antarctica could provide an interesting premise. After all, there had been much debate and landgrabbing happening until the point where it was decided that Antarctica in it’s pristine state was ‘in the best public interest”, and as such a treaty was eventually negotiated to largely protect Antarctica as an international resource.
The Internet is certainly an international resource in the best public interest, so defining and protecting it’s essential characteristics seems to be a logical step if we are to learn from the Antarctica example.
Check out the “What makes the Internet – technical characteristics” blog post and contribute your thoughts on that topics there.
There are many questions and the discussions we’ve had with people to date demonstrate strongly that there is a need for some debate and dialogue around the future of the Internet, and the needs of it’s citizens.
We will launch a wiki next week to kick off the collaborative community development of this model, and we’ll thrown in a few ideas and some structure to get it started. It may be that this is simply unnecessary or too far fetched, but it will certainly be an interesting thought experiment nonetheless, so we encourage you to get involved.
There will be individual pages on the wiki for the following topics. Please add any further topics to the comments which you think should be part of the wiki structure.
- Founding principles – the vision, essential technical characteristics of the Internet, definition of reasonable online rights/expectations.
- Roles and responsibilities – what could such an entity do in practice? How could it usefully represent the online community in international fora?
- Structure and voting – how could such an entity be the perfect model for open government, and representative of the diversity of its globally distributed citizenship?
- Citizenship – what would being a citizen mean? What rights and responsibilities would it entail?
- Economics – how could it be funded to get things done?
- References – existing projects, documentation and efforts in this space.
Below are some existing projects that also reflect parts of this idea. It’d be great if you could add your thoughts in the comments below and add any links to other communities, projects or documents that might be useful for the thought experiment.
Commentary on universal digital rights and representation
- Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (1996) [John Perry Barlow]
- Universal Declaration of Digital Human Rights (2009) [MNEMOSINE]
- Declaration of Digital Rights (2011) [Pirate Party]
- Manifesto of the First Transnational Republic (2011) [Transnational Republic]
- War on the Internet (2011) [Bernard Keane]
- President Sarkozy’s speech at the eG8, May 2011 (2011)
- Consent of the Networked (2012) [Rebecca MacKinnon]