The Digital Realm: Introduction: An Emerging Technology

The late 20th century, propelled by the technological advancements of the early 20th century, revolutionized the “Real World” forever. The Real World is the offline world as it exists at the present moment, that physical plane of existence where the Reader and Author of this Treatise reside in. Assuming the Reader is not reading these words on a printed copy, one is most likely viewing the entire Treatise on a PC (Personal Computer), tablet, or smartphone. The Reader may even be relying on software to read this Treatise and the three that preceded it on a software application for viewing .PDF files.      

The point that is being made here is that the Reader could not have otherwise found this Treatise without connecting to what is oftentimes referred to in Computer Science literature as “Cyberspace.” This Treatise and the three Treatises that preceded it understood and referred to Cyberspace as the “Digital Realm.”  Both terms denote the same concept, which is to say that there is another world coexisting with the Real World that is accessed by computer networks, servers, and websites.

The Reader will notice that I, as the Author, have specifically chosen to refrain referring to it in the colloquial as the “Internet.” It is because of the fact that the Internet, as the Reader may or may not know, does represent the entirety of the Digital Realm or Cyberspace. What is understood to be the Internet in the 21st century is in final analysis a particular incarnation or version of the Digital Realm called the “World Wide Web (WWW).” For those unfamiliar with Computer Science, the WWW is an information system where anyone can set up websites, servers, networks and computer systems for the purpose of sending and receiving data from anywhere in the world. Service Providers facilitate the movement and exchange of information across international borders back in the Real World, allowing a receiver and sender to relay everything from videos and photographs to research papers and personal messages.  

The philosophical basis for the Digital Realm has been around since the early 20th century, a precedent made possible by the printing press and the national educational system. The ability to transmit information across vast distances was already being advanced by the developments of the radio, television, and mass transportation systems. The introduction of aircraft and automobiles meant mail could be delivered more quickly than was possible with horse-drawn carriages and steam trains in the 19th century. With the Totalities of whole nations becoming increasingly educated throughout the 20th century, the next stage in the development of National Consciousness was making it possible to envisage what would later become the Digital Realm. It is within the Digital Realm that practically anyone can tap into vast repositories of collected knowledge from past centuries, revisiting and reapplying that knowledge for their own purposes. The most notable conceptualization of the Digital Realm was the “Noösphere,” which was first discussed previously in The Third Place (1st Ed.) and will be discussed further in this Treatise.      

Although the philosophical basis behind the Digital Realm originated in the early 20th century, it was not until the late 20th century that the theoretical concepts began to take form. Spurred by early advancements in mechanization and computerization from the 1930s and 1940s, the concept of “Cybernetics” would emerge to lay the technical foundations for the Technology that later gave birth to the Digital Realm from the 1970s onward. Further technological developments around the last quarter of the 20th century would lead to the realization of the WWW. While the rest is recent history, what deserves to be said here is that the WWW is not the only way in which the Digital Realm could be organized. The 20th century has seen efforts to reconceptualize and reinterpret how the Digital Realm would be implemented in the 21st century.  

When the World Wide Web (WWW) was introduced back in the 1990s, some important questions began to emerge that have continued to inform contemporary political, economic, social, financial, cultural and technological discussions about the Digital Realm. While there are many questions raised at the time, the two most relevant questions, which this Treatise was written to address, concerned the longstanding issues of “National Sovereignty” and “Personal Privacy” in the Digital Realm. The WWW was designed from the ground up to disregard most distinctions between the Self, Totality, and State.

For the State, the vast majority of digital infrastructure that allows the WWW to function is situated within America. So much of the information that one could find online was created from an American Jeffersonian or Neoliberal perspective. Other American perspectives, despite being protected under Amendment I of the Constitution, have no chances of becoming as influential as the Neoliberal one. The most obvious problem is that all the political trends exclusive to America will end up replicating themselves elsewhere in other countries. The rest of the world will find itself increasingly unable to be themselves because most information on the WWW has been written from a Jeffersonian perspective. Another notable issue is that, despite computer networks and systems spanning the entire world across different countries, the WWW remains beholden to US Law, specifically Californian State Law. It is difficult, if not outright impossible, for any nation other than America to actually govern the WWW.

Both problems are related to the fact that because it is a product of the 1990s, the WWW ends up becoming a digitalized facsimile of the “Unipolar Moment” from the same decade. The Jeffersonians have no interest in letting the Digital Realm become something other than the WWW as it already exists, in spite of the various pressures from all kinds of peoples and nations to challenge that consensus. Since the Jeffersonians are unwilling to concede to a different incarnation of the Digital Realm, it is not surprising to know that attempts to reconceptualize and redefine the Digital Realm have been attempted since the 1990s.

One argument is that the Digital Realm has always been something akin to an untamed frontier that should always be up grounds. The Digital Realm is an ungovernable, lawless and foreboding place where all questions of National Sovereignty or digital governance are not to be entertained. Another argument from the 1990s was the idea that the Digital Realm cannot be defined by the WWW forever. At some point, the WWW will eventually fragment into different sections as nations finally master the Digital Realm in the 21st century. China and Russia, the other two major contributors to the Digital Realm, have been especially vocal in their advocacies of reshaping the WWW in order to challenge Jeffersonian world hegemony. But Beijing and Moscow are not the only ones that have found issues with the WWW; the member-states of the EU/NATO have also found immense difficulties applying their own laws to the WWW.

As for the issue of Personal Privacy, the WWW has raised ethical, legal, political and economic questions on whether personal information should be collected and sold off to the highest bidder. There are plenty of websites on the WWW that exist to collect personal information for the purpose of providing it to advertisers, data analytics, and software developers. The number of firms interested in personal information is vast, but all share the same belief that personal information can become a Commodity to such an extent that it is far more profitable to extract Kapital from WWW users instead of generating new Kapital as was the case in at least the past two centuries.

The fact that there are plenty of firms interested in collecting personal information online has led to other firms providing services which enable WWW users to protect their privacy online. The issue there is that it is only a stopgap measure insofar as the services themselves do not address the heart of the issue. What has happened instead is the proliferation of firms whose existences could not have otherwise been justified without other firms collecting personal information. A VPN service will not protect somebody’s privacy online if there are pre-installed backdoors into the software.

It is precisely because of the concern over access to personal information that the idea of the “Dark Web” continues to persist as another viable alternative. The argument for the Dark Web is to preserve the old untamed frontier experience of the WWW from the 1990s and to protect personal privacy. The issue there is that it is not the safest option nor is someone’s personal information guaranteed to be safe. Apart from the fact that the Dark Web is hotbed for cybercrime, all kinds of malware can be acquired there compared to the rest of the WWW. Worse, there are always new techniques being implemented to bypass encryption measures in order to obtain personal information anyway.

What has been said about Personal Privacy can also be said about National Sovereignty in the Digital Realm. States, Totalities, and Selves may rely on the Digital Realm, but they all expect to be able to govern themselves in the Digital Realm. There is no justifiable reason why they should not govern themselves in the Digital Realm, let alone the Real World. Self-government in the Digital Realm is absent on the WWW and it is something that needs to be realized during the 21st century. Thus, at the heart of The Digital Realm (1st Ed.) lies a number of important questions whose answers have yet to be found in the 21st century:

  • If the WWW can be replaced, what shall take its place under the Work-Standard and how will the Work-Standard itself operate in the Digital Realm?
  • Can Digital Realm become a newfound source of wealth without endangering both National Sovereignty and Personal Privacy through the egregious commoditization of sensitive information?
  • Under the Social Ranking System, will everyone’s actions in the Digital Realm carry over to the Real World or vice versa for those who made names for themselves in the Digital Realm?
  • Should all aspects of everyday life occur on the Digital Realm or is the Digital Realm supposed to be the extension of what happens in the Real World?
  • Can the Digital Realm become an extension of the National Consciousness, which in itself is bound to a shared sense of National Identity and National Essence by a National Culture?
  • How should the Digital Realm be organized under Council Democracy, a conception of democratic governance completely different from and at odds with Parliamentary Democracy?

The topics covered in The Digital Realm (1st Ed.) are based on earlier concepts and ideas discussed elsewhere across three preceding Treatises: The Work-Standard (2nd Ed.), The Third Place (1st Ed.), and Work-Standard Accounting Practices (1st Ed.). Since the concept of the Digital Realm refers to an area where all manner of information intersects, the Reader is assumed to have already read the three Treatises that came before it. While those Treatises contain Entries discussing the Digital Realm, this Treatise in particular is an elaboration of concepts and ideas that could not have been explored within their Entries.

 Unlike the last three Treatises, the Entries of The Digital Realm (1st Ed.) follow a distinct formatting. Rather than a long, continuous discussion through a recurring topic, the Entries here were written as two interconnected themes. The first set of Entries, Section One, are technical discussions about the WWW as it has existed since the 1990s. Certain misconceptions are exposed, while prevailing perspectives about the WWW are scrutinized by the Work-Standard to promote its own conception of the Digital Realm. The rest of the Treatise was designed for the purpose of facilitating a thought experiment to provide the canvas for conceptualizing that alternate incarnation of the Digital Realm. For the sake of convenience, these Entries have been given the designation “Scenario 1999” in reference to the name given to that thought experiment.

Categories: Digital Realm

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