Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Citizenship in an increasingly global context 2: membership, citizenship, loyalty and belonging

Posted in business and convergent technologies, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 20, 2013

This is my second posting in a series that unlike most of what I write here, can perhaps best be considered a shared and open-ended rumination. I began writing about the changing, broadening nature of citizenship, and of belonging and membership in Part 1: shareholder value, stakeholder value, and openly-sourced social value, with a discussion of how our increasing interconnectedness through direct and immediate point to point communications bring us together. And I wrote of how this is even serving to standardize and homogenize our understandings of belonging and of citizenship and on a more open and even global scale.

I turn here to consider sources of push-back to that and of boundary and distinction preservation, in the face of the challenge to come together that our increasingly ubiquitous interconnectedness is creating. And the primary forces that would bring us together are met by and will continue to be met by powerful forces and voices of difference and individuality too. I would at least tentatively divide those forces into two distinct, if interrelated spheres:

1. Political will and the drive to maintain local and geographically defined control and identity, and
2. Cultural identity and the will to maintain historically and experientially grounded identity.

And I begin with the first of those and with the personally, individually anecdotal example of my own experience with this blog. When I go to my blog admin dashboard I can see where my site visitors come from at least to the level of what country their IP addresses are associated with. And looking back over the past months and over the past year to where visitors come from by country, I see a very telling pattern emerge that I suspect will not prove all that surprising and certainly for its gaps.

I get at least occasional visitors from some 130 countries and consistent visitors and readers from a swath of them that are globally distributed. That is to be expected for any blog or web site that shows openly online and that conveys a significant volume of content of a type that would address general interests. So when I look at the map of the world on my visitors location listings, I see a significant range of coverage, color and shade coded as to how many have visited from which individually identified geographic areas. But I also see some very predictable gaps. I get a significant number of blog visitors from South Korea for example but to the best of my knowledge I have never had one from North Korea. I get visitors from virtually all of the countries of the Middle East and from the Islamic world in general – but never from Iran. There are a number of tiny population island nations that I at most rarely get visitors from, but I refer here to larger population countries and to countries where there is at least some online access – and for all of its poverty and backwardness that does include North Korea.

The leadership of countries such as Iran and North Korea see the potential for breaking down barriers in open online communications and information sharing, but they see this as dire threat. It is not just my blog that they block – a government such as the Kim dynasty regime of North Korea, or the orthodox religious leadership of Iran with its Ayatollahs in control seeks to block all unfiltered access to the outside world, and I add all unfiltered conversation within their borders too.

China provides an interesting if somewhat complex case in point that in many ways proves any points that I would make here, by the way its at least a partial exceptions to the principles I discuss. My blog is specifically blocked by the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Great Firewall, or their Golden Shield Project as it is officially called, and it has been since I first started writing about China and its information control practices and policies. But I still get some blog visitors who specifically show as coming from mainland China and the PRC – and who can officially bypass their firewall. I get a lot more from Hong Kong and on a quite regular basis. They are formally a part of the PRC now, but Hong Kong is specifically excluded from the coverage area of the Golden Shield Project and from that level and form of centrally controlled and mandated censorship. I also get a lot of visitors from Taiwan – the Republic of China. And when my blog was first blocked in Mainland China itself, I suddenly started getting large numbers of visitors from places like Christmas Island. I feel free to cite that detail now as the anonymizer servers there, used to help people bypass censorship systems are long known of by the people who run the Golden Shield Project and blocked by it.

• Open governments that feel confidence in their holding truth and value and that hold to principles that can withstand scrutiny and comparison do not do this.
• Fragile governments that fear alternative views and the power of communication and knowledge do.

But my first numbered point at the top of this blog does not only refer to the extremes of repressive, frightened governments.

• One of the principle functions of any government is the protection and continuation of its own separate identity and existence, as the overall voice of authority over its territories and its citizens.

This holds for open and democratic governments that respect and support human rights and freedom of speech as much as any others. Open and democratic governments are simply more willing to embrace the challenge of open and free communications, connectivity and information and knowledge sharing. But even they tend to set limits, and that is where classified information and its position in national security enter this narrative. And considering the United States as a source of working examples for that, this is where:

Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,
• And more recently and as a different sort of challenge, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks enter this.

My intent here is not to argue the case either way as to the merits of secrecy or confidentiality of information in general or of information that could be seen as holding national security value – or even to particularly discuss it. I simply note its existence here and the fact that governments and governmental leaders and voices of authority seek to defend their rights to hold information internal to their governments and to their countries. All of these examples I have noted in this posting from the most repressive to the most open hold one crucial point in common. They all represent centralized and governmental pushback against completely open homogenization and the breaking down of borders and boundaries.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will focus on that second numbered point at the top of this posting, and cultural identity-based pushback. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and also at my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory page.

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