Updated November 25, 2020

Nationalism in the Post-Digital Era

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Nationalism in the Post-Digital Era essay
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While the Catholic Church was convinced that the Gutenberg press was a tool of power to enhance its authority, that specific tool was the cause of religious and political revolutions that fundamentally reshaped the sociopolitical face of Europe and probably the whole world in the next few centuries. Print media caused a paradigm shift as they introduced a new mode of communication: produced by a few, for the many to consume instead of the one to one prevalent communicative mode at the time. The result was a collapse of old systems of authority and the rise of new foundations of political identity. Print media helped give rise to nation-states as the predominant form of political communities starting in the 17th century.

Today, one might consider the potential for another paradigm shift related to nationalism in the Post digital age introducing a different concept of media consumption, where we move from mass media into individually tailored media. In the shade of such shift and with respect to the high volatility and dynamicity of socio-politics, I am trying to shed the light on what might happen to nationalism and national identities in the post-digital era? (Gellner, 1983; McLuhan, 2011; Misa, 2011; Mann, 2012; Ali, 2017)

Re-empowering the Powerful

According to Ernest Gellner (1983), nationalism revolves around satisfying the national principles relying on the specific ideology of having identical state and national boarder. Gellners’ philosophy is attached to a narrow set of ideological ideas, as he defines nationalism as “a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent” (1983, p. 1), an ideology that focuses on elites political project, a definition similar to Kosterman & Feshbach (1989, p. 271): “a perception of national superiority and an orientation toward national dominance”.

In the following two decades, academic scholars adapted more practice-related definitions of nationalism, where “nationalism” refers to a domain of meaningful social practices that focus on lived culture, ideas, and sentiments of non-elite. As it was defined by Brubaker (1996, p. 10): “a heterogeneous set of ‘nation’-oriented idioms, practices, and possibilities that are continuously available or ‘endemic’ in modern cultural and political life” and then again after eight years, he introduced another definition more consistent with that of Benedict Anderson : “a claim on people’s loyalty, on their attention, on their solidarity […] used […] to change the way people see themselves, to mobilize loyalties, kindle energies, and articulate demands” (Brubaker, 2004, p. 116)

To “provide a more satisfactory interpretation of nationalism anomalies”, Benedict Anderson (1991, p. 6) argues to re-formulate a more adaptive definition for nationalism in the age of new media, he introduced his concept of imagined communities . Anderson emphasized certain aspects that make people imagine themselves as one community. Language, norms and values were the major factors that play that role, factors that represent the discourse of digital media which do not only reshape the global culture but also the construction of individual identity glocally . (Anderson, 1991; Horálek, 2016)

At the age of digital media, the cyberspace became the space where national territories are lost and were the inter-national encounters take place (Horálek, 2016, p. 147). As the digital media power becomes more immersive and ubiquitous, the nationalism is not only still holding against the convergence of the world, but getting powerful in an unorthodox framework that is contradictive to Gellners’ theory. Nations protect their borders to successfully manage their territory, economy, values and symbols but from the other way around, they dwell in an international environment through the internet joining their local and diasporic citizens on day to day connections regardless to boarders and territories, making the national more international, understandable yet locally different. (Anderson, 1991; Eriksen, 2007; Ershov, 2015)

Nations in the Spaceless Infosphere

During the past decade, digital media proliferation established for a paradigm shift from where printed media allowed for the spread of ideas from the few to the many, Internet media connects at once the many to the many eventually changing the mode of media consumption itself, where users deal with the massive volume of information and individuals’ can interact directly with one another with remarkable speed that lead us to broader connections. The use of digital media became a lifestyle were our presence on digital media is our presence in the society not only individually but collectively. Eventually internet is enhancing the sense of social cohesion and cultural integration for native and diasporic communities in a clear contradiction to McLuhan’s (1968) famous cliché “the global village”, who among other scholars, predicted the downfall of nationalism in the digital era as a result of new media dominance where information flow freely above domestic boundaries. (Eriksen, 2007; Kane, 2014; Ershov, 2015; Horálek, 2016; Gündüz, 2017)

The discourse of digital media over the internet can be noticed on three distinct levels: Organization of the internet, Localization of the content, User preferences , where the impact of national identity is so powerful that it can reshape the internet itself (Soffer, 2013). An outcome that is noticeable in the domain names of countries where they became as the national flag on national websites and content even if the used language is English. Despite the fact that English is still on top of other languages in written content on the web by 52% the ICANN is allowing now the registration of domains in local languages other than English. Turning the web environment where the domain names act as a symbolic flag of national identity into a major contributor to the dominance of “us” and “them” principle especially in the Post-Digital era and the Web3 technologies environment. (Eriksen, 2007; Dwivedi, 2011; Ershov, 2015; Horálek, 2016; W3Techs, 2020)

Post-Digital, Is It Over

The Web3 technologies are promising of another paradigm shift in the global culture generally and communicative mode specifically, implying on us to understand and test the communicative principles of digital media that are changing from human to human interaction into human to computer one with huge focus on individuality. (Ershov, 2015, p. 207) The characteristics of Post-digital age revolve around the artificial intelligence, affective computing , quantum computing, deep learning, social algorithm capitalism, cybernetics and complexity theory . A set of factors that will exert profound changes on human and humanism in the future not excluding politics and culture, but how? (Peters, 2019)

The Post digital concept is not related to certain event or condition rather it is a critique of the digital world examining its structure, theories and consequences, in other simple words is a new critique of the digital reason (Gunkel, 2017; Jandrić, 2019) which has two major elements; the mathmatico-technical control system and the political economy of that system and how these elements have shifted semiotics to an indexical level where definitions of digital become obsolete (Cramer, 2015) as Nicholas Negroponte predicted two decades ago;” like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence”. (Negroponte, 1998, p. 288)

The promising potentials of quantum computing will serve the evolution of computational power of classical computers and will set the stage for a totally different approach of computing architecture where technologies like Hadoop may disappear and new laws of physics and new chemical formulas may appear. The deep learning and algorithm capital are other aspects that will influence economy and the full automation (Morris, 2017) where the machine learning AI will re-design the labour market creating new jobs but disestablishing many others thus introducing the gig economy in a more profound way, affecting the general population welfare and the world’s economy as a whole and also provide instant multilingual communication for the web content. (Peters, 2019).

From Ideology to Algorithm

The post-digital technologies will be introducing a variety of platforms that will affect the global public sphere where the internet will hold the possibilities of enhancing nationalism or transforming it to a totally different concept. From one hand, the internet as a public sphere will be a stage of differences. These differences are presented on micro and macro levels regarding the individual, which will affect the user’s subjectivity leading to undermining ideology for the favour of algorithm. Algorithms will shape the controlled social space becoming the new tool of oppression and replacing the old tool of ideological framing, mass media. (Breen, 2011; Snake-Beings, 2013)

The public sphere concept presented by Jürgen Habermas’s theory of Communicative Action (Habermas, 1991) can be applied in this case, as common consensus forms the basis for a space of participation and it is the tool of validity in that participation, the internet as a politicised territory forms the concept of the public sphere as a place where individuals can group and form a larger collective force with disregard to ideology. On the other hand, the public sphere of the internet is only visible to those who have access. This process is controlled by international tech giants whom are called according to Jaron Lanier (2010) “The Lords of the Cloud ” where they play God of information by controlling the data traffic nodes in the back end of the web through algorithms that serve the interests of those giants. It is not the “ideological” content which is important within the process, but the positioning of agents within its flow, where “agents” are neither humans nor technological elements; it is the algorithm itself which occupies the fundamental position as an affecter of knowledge and economy (Habermas, 1991; Peters M. A., 2012; Snake-Beings, 2013)

New Concept of Nationalism

As economy and rhetoric discourse are the major driving power of nationalism and state hegemony (Ali, 2017), the new paradigm of the post-digital era technologies will reflect a different type of spaceless nations where the free flowing of information is colored by nationalistic rhetoric discourse that is obvious in forms of national sports, national industries and brands and national media content. As these forms are considered national by the residents of the infosphere, the upper hand will be for the international corporations and firms controlling the data flow to achieve more revenue and power. (Snake-Beings, 2013; Horálek, 2016)

As a result, the very meaning of national content might be redefined to become more internationally accepted, comparable and understandable which will lead to a new variable versions of nationalism where nations become marketable, transferable and boarder free. Traits that may so soon, turn nationalism from an ideology or even practice, into a promotable trademark of economic roots under the rule of AI, Big Data, and algorithms hegemony of Tech Giants of the post-digital era.


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