- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

A theory I encounter is that technology will cause the nation-state to be ignored to death. The idea seems to me a bit overdrawn, and it may yet prove simply wrong.

The idea is this: The phenomenal growth in speed and volume of communications is not so much destroying the nation-state as making it irrelevant.

For example, corporations are separating themselves from the countries of their origin. Multinationals have been around for a long time, but they become less “national” as communications make it easier to operate around the world.

If a computer company has its headquarters in Boston, seven factories of which five are abroad, its parts all manufactured in China and its design work done in India and France, is it an American company?

In such circumstances, the theory goes, these companies lose all sense of loyalty to their country of origin. After all, the plants and employees are mostly elsewhere and of other nationalities. This explains why in America today they have no qualms about outsourcing jobs and technology.

The transnationals are independent entities with their own agendas, not part of any particular country. To them, national governments are merely administrative nuisances to be circumvented as is convenient.

Or consider Islam. Fifty years ago, Muslims had a sense of kinship with one another, as did Christians. However, there was no way for people in, say, Saudi Arabia to communicate en masse with those in Egypt. Newspapers were national and usually controlled by national governments. The same was true of television. No transnational consciousness could readily develop.

Today, satellite television makes it possible for Al Jazeera to serve as an Arab station, not the local voice of a particular government. The literate can read the Arabic newspapers of many countries on the Internet. E-mail and Internet mailing lists allow discussion, proselytizing, and organization in a way previously unavailable. All of this simply bypasses the nation-state.

How much influence this has had can be argued. No way exists to assign numbers. Yet it probably is not trivial.

Although some countries have talked much of freedom of the press, it has seldom existed. Control has run from absolute to fairly soft, as when the media of a country refuse to report stories they find embarrassing to the country.

It is hardly news that today on the Net people can read the papers of almost any nation. What is interesting is that doing so constitutes an evasion of governmental influence over a country’s population.

This, according to the theory, gradually erodes the sense of loyalty to one’s country of origin. I’d guess that this happens less in the United States, which tends to be isolated from other parts of the world, but plausibly happens in Europe. As people come more in contact with each other, the sense of national identity becomes less important.

A Spaniard in Madrid works by Internet for a French company, and reads or watches television that increasingly covers all of Europe. He is still Spanish, likes Spain, is not a self-conscious “citizen of the world.” Yet nationality becomes for him a sort of ethnicity instead of the focus of an intense loyalty.

And FedEx and UPS become a transnational mail service, VoIP telephony erodes national telephone monopolies, satellite television bypasses control by national governments, on and on. As this continues, governments will quietly be ignored or bypassed, with who knows what consequences. Such, anyway, is the theory.

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