We live in a transitional age. Perhaps for the first time in human history, communities are now defined as much by interests as they are by geography.
Of course, interest groups existed before digital media. Scientists, clergy, physicians, industrialists, government leaders and other elites formed interest groups that transcended local communities. But for the average person, communities were defined by geography, or at least had roots in geography. Cultures, customs, dress, sports, taxes, voting, language, transportation, markets and more all depended on “where.”
We identified ourselves by city, state and (more recently) country. Survival and civilization depended on binding ourselves together with those physically close to us. Usually, the first questions asked after meeting someone were:
- Where are you from?
- Where do you live?
- Where do you work?
But the advent of the Internet began to change that. Now the first question asked is likely to be: What are you interested in?
The rapid rise of electronic forums, special interest groups, chat-rooms, social networks, dating sites, and more enabled people to reach out to others around the world who shared unique interests – regardless of geography.
Shared interests form a more powerful bond than mere proximity.
I have a reclusive neighbor that I’ve seen twice in twenty years. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I would recognize him if I met him on the street. However, I correspond daily with people all over the world who share my interests. I have more fun with them than most of my neighbors. I have deeper discussions. I feel for them. I share their pain in the same way that members of a church support each other in times of need.
Rather rapidly, humans are beginning to re-align themselves. Interests can now easily transcend geographic boundaries. We can easily reach out to like minded people on almost any topic, regardless of where they live in the world. The implications for government are profound.
- Individuals who share narrow or unique interests can quickly find each other, form groups and gain recognition. This could have a splintering effect on political systems.
- Those dissatisfied with unjust regimes can coordinate large protests and even bring down governments, as we have recently seen in Africa and the Middle East.
- More people are becoming world citizens with global awareness. Nation states could be replaced by something larger, just as city states were replaced hundreds of years ago by nation states.
- An electoral process based on geographic representation could become obsolete.
Should we apportion congressional seats on a non-geographic basis to ensure representation for gays, pacifists, and a woman’s right to choose?
This idea seems far-fetched, but 50 years ago, so did the idea of gerrymandering congressional and city council districts to ensure representation for Blacks and Latinos. Thanks to the awareness brought about by mass media, we’re already apportioning representatives according to interests, not just geography, on a limited basis. How much further will this trend go with digital media?