Internet Denizenry

I’m rounding out a stint of travel to Serbia, Germany, the UK and am now back in the states. It has been a wonderful experience, even if I am ready for a bit of quiet at home for a while.

One thing that strikes me as I travel to these foreign destinations and meet new people and experience new things: work stays the same.

This is the effect of spending a large percentage of time in front of a screen. No matter what the surrounding environment, with a wifi connection, a laptop and possibly a VPN, I can access the exact same setup as anywhere else. No surprise to most people, why should work ever change for an internet worker?

It’s actually the effect of having that consistency of experience that intrigues me. Very few other professions (that aren’t primarily screen based) would have the same effect. A doctor in a different country would need to learn the local trends and traditions. A construction worker would need to figure out how the building codes are different. An accountant would need to learn the local tax rules. With the internet, it really starts to normalize.

This combines with the cultural homogenization I observed. I’m not saying that all of the places I visited are converging towards the suburban Ohio experience that I’m accustomed to (thank goodness). But there is a sneaking suspicion that advertisers are following me from country to country as they attempt to penetrate new markets. Life is not a series of advertisements (I hope) but the availability of comforts and fashion across the globe has me questioning daily experience in another country.

On a broader level, this starts to make me question the idea of location and citizenship at all. Hopefully I don’t sound ungrateful for the comforts a US passport and background affords me. But now that I start to experience similar daily experience in and out of work and an overall convergent culture and I start to wonder what differentiates one country over another. On the surface it seems like:

  • Currency
  • Power standards (plugs, voltages)
  • Language (though I benefit from the world moving towards an English standard)
  • Tax structures, bureaucratic struggles and the services the pay for, such as healthcare.

Yes, this is a drastic oversimplification. But calling out these things as some of the large differentiating points, I really wonder what a “internet” passport and citizenship would look like, some kind of new world order simplified across all the willing participants of the web. Not just a tax haven and a lack of regulation (looking at you SeaLand), but an actual society of people that are living and working online. A government run by hackers and makers, optimized for low overhead and allowing maximum flexibility between the various geographies of the world. It would probably be a mess, but allows for an interesting thought experiment. Where would move people choose to live in the real world? How would that further impact culture? What defines citizenship in the first place?

Ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to work from a variety of locations and bring my work with me. I continue to be an American and likely would choose that again if given the opportunity. Perhaps I’ll start working from more varied locations though.


By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

2 replies on “Internet Denizenry”

Work can be carried out in the virtual world, but we actually live in the physical world. What would it mean to have the populations of one (or many) virtual countries spread throughout the physical nations of the world? Physical location provides people with a sense of what laws and customs are in effect; mixing of citizens each governed by the laws of their particular country but residing in the same physical space would be “complicated”. You would have to know the particular laws governing each person you interacted with. In effect, every personal interaction now becomes an interaction between nations which has to be settled in accordance with treaties between those nations.

In actuality, no country is going to put up with that crap: when you’re inside their borders, you’re bound by their laws. The US would not want virtual Saudis following Sharia law living amongst their population, nor vice-versa. (The only way that happens now is by having one population self-segregate and keeping their actions out of sight of the host country.)

So virtual citizens would have to follow two sets of laws: the laws of their virtual countries and the laws of their host nation. I don’t see the advantage of wearing an extra set of handcuffs unless my virtual country can project enough power against other nations to protect me.

Have you heard of e-Estonia? Wikipedia describes it as “a movement by the government of Estonia to facilitate citizen interactions with the state through the use of electronic solutions.” They open their citizenship to most who fill out an online application. I think it’s a similar idea to what you’re thinking of.

Comments are closed.