Can A Digital Nation Be Created?
Digital cities are becoming a planned thing, with an actual passport.
If I said these words to you — digital country — what would immediately come to mind?
Do you picture a nation built in the clouds, lofty, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of mundane earthly living? Or do you imagine all of us as digital avatars, going to work and visiting loved ones within the metaverse?
It turns out this isn’t the case, not really.
But hold up—why would anyone attempt to build a digital nation, and how can this be achieved?
Let’s dive in.
What Is A Digital Nation?
Also known as a network state:
“The Network State is a digital nation launched first as an online community before materialising physically on land after reaching critical mass.”
In essence, this means it’s a form of diaspora, but in reverse, the latter shall become the former.
Instead of with physical territory, a digital nation starts, well, digitally. It begins with a group of highly aligned folks online with similar shared values and a vision who come together to build.
Eventually, this can translate to land acquisition (where possible and/or necessary).
Is this possible?
Going by first principle thinking, the answer is yes.
See, at its most basic, a nation is built on a set of agreed-upon core values and overarching culture, an ideology. At least, that’s the idea. But it’s never been easier to find and aggregate like minds more than in this digital age.
“In the most basic sense, building a new country is a process of scaling a social network around a shared mission and principles.”
A valid question to ask at this point is, how isn’t this different from a regular social club, perhaps even an elitist one?
The goal is to obtain diplomatic recognition from pre-existing nations—starting with smaller countries—making it a mutually beneficial partnership. The idea is that this feeds into a cycle where a digital country gets more acceptance and other nations, thus, become less sceptical and more welcoming.
And so, a new mini-nation is born.
So why would anyone want this?
According to Balaji Srinivasan, author of The Network State: How To Start a New Country, the reason is plain and simple: to build something new without historical constraint.
Take Plumia, for example, who are currently working on building an internet country for a unique community: (already) digital nomads.
For Afropolitan—the first digital nation being built by Africans for Africans—providing an opportunity for living an abundant life is their aim. Knowing how Africans suffer a scarcity of options, especially on a global scale, can the narrative be rewritten?
Because why should how far a man can go in life be determined by an attribute he had no control over: where he was born?
What if he could start all over, digitally, this time?
Theoretically, maybe this isn’t impossible.
How A Digital Country Is Born
This concept will require a visionary and ambitious set of founders and participants. So perhaps, that’s the first step: finding a group of people audacious enough to attempt this futuristic project.
But to accomplish this, several other steps need to happen.
“We build the embryonic state as an open source project, we organise our internal economy around remote work, we cultivate in-person levels of civility, we simulate architecture in VR, and we create art and literature that reflects our values.” — Balaji Srinivasan
According to their manifesto, Afropolitan, for example, has four (4) phases: Network, Tool, Minimum Viable State and then, Foundation.
You can read a more extended version of their plan here.
But here’s a quick lowdown: It starts with Phase 1, where the intent is to clarify the vision alongside providing access to future events and a digital passport via NFT.
A super app will be launched in Phase 2, which will unify all utilities in one place: currency, DAO, goods and services etc. In Phase 3, the goal is to build legitimacy through state capacity.
Phase 4 is the final iteration, where all the previous work can culminate into physical land spaces in negotiation with partner governments.
Clearly, this isn’t a short-term venture; it’ll take months and years to actualise. There are much more details to also note — take a look here if you’d like to get a bit deeper into the weeds.
But here’s the least we know for sure: it’s indeed a tall order.
And so, we’re back to the question: can a digital nation be created?
What are your thoughts?