Categorized | Brainstorming

The Effect of Isolationism on the Internet?

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Andrei

The UK Brexit vote, the election of Trump in the US are just two examples which make it clear that more and more people have adopted an isolationist attitude. The same principle is valid elsewhere in the world as well. In Europe, isolationist candidates are at record-breaking popularity levels in a lot of places and again, all of this is taking place in a democratic framework.

At the end of the day, this seems to be the will of the people.

The average US worker loves how “America first” sounds as a strategy. The idea of bringing jobs back home and all that.

The main problem is that the UK worker wants to put the UK first. The French worker will want to put France first, as illustrated by the popularity of Marine LePen. The Italian worker wants the same thing, to put Italy first and considers a referendum such as the one in the UK a good idea.

Everyone wants to put their country first.

People no longer want globalization. Free trade is seen as the enemy and this isn’t a political blog, so I’m not about to start a discussion surrounding these topics. I’m simply pointing out that people from all over the world are embracing isolationism at this point.

Where does this leave the Internet?

You see, a lot of the things we now take for granted might disappear if the perfect storm materializes and the right conditions present themselves. Joe from the UK can talk to Hans from Germany on Facebook whenever he pleases. Scientists from Oxford can exchange information/ideas/findings with their peers from Harvard within seconds. Again, these are all things we take for granted.

Email, Skype, Facebook and so on.

The problem is that they’re privileges, not rights. As such, they may very well end up being taken from us.

Let’s assume the US adopts ultra-isolationist policies, slapping other countries around with tariffs, etc.

Do you think Germany for example will just submissively allow this to happen?

Of course not. Just like the US can impose tariffs on cars imported from Germany, Germany can impose tariffs on goods it imports from the US. It’s not like all of these things are new. This isn’t the first isolationist wave the world has gone through, all of this stuff has happened throughout history and didn’t exactly end pretty.

You slap someone on the wrist, that person slaps you on the wrist.

You then punch him in the nose, he hits you… perhaps below the belt.

The bottom line is that expecting the recipient of isolationist sanctions not to retaliate would be foolish. Now sure, Germany can retaliate by imposing sanctions itself but what if it decides to be creative and withdraw from what is currently known as the Internet? What if Germany decides to create its own Internet and other countries follow suit?

Make no mistake: a fragmentation of the Internet may seem unrealistic but it’s definitely not impossible.

Maybe Germany won’t create its own Internet and instead, the European Union will do this and all EU countries will move from the current Internet to this one. Maybe a bunch of powerful Asian countries will create their version of the Internet and so on.

Does it sound like science fiction?

Yes but something that’s science fiction today can eventually become reality.

I for one am very concerned about this isolationist wave and my #1 medium-term fear about it is that it will lead to a fragmentation of the Internet. I’d rather not discuss my long-term fear but some of you will surely find it obvious, especially those who pay attention to history.

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