“Imagine there are no countries”, sang John Lennon in his 1971 anthem to nihilism, “Imagine.” Crazy, right? Lennon himself acknowledged the utopian nature of a borderless world, writing and singing, “You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.” Forty-eight years later, Lennon’s vision of a world without countries is starting to look a lot less crazy.

Of all the myriad changes ushered in by the digital revolution, the most profound may be the one just starting to reveal itself: the erosion of the nation-state as a force in people’s lives. Can’t happen? Google “Countries that no longer exist.” The list is very, very long: Biafra, South Vietnam, Kingdom of Prussia, Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union …

Nothing is forever. Someday our entire solar system will be swallowed by a black hole and there goes Aunt Helen’s tea cup collection, Dodger Stadium and Earth itself. Still, no France? No England? No United States? As far-fetched as it sounds, countries do come and go. Today, Venezuela is a failed state. Yemen is teetering. Syria is a ruin and Greece is perpetually on the brink. France is being torn apart for the umpteenth time, this time by Yellow Vest protesters, and America hasn’t been this divided since the late 1960s.

Nations fall for many reasons; economic, demographic, political turmoil, military conquest. The Digital Age has introduced an alternative to the nation-state, the borderless world of cyberspace. Right now, our kids or grandkids are likely in the other room playing Fortnite with 99 of their “friends.” What different about this? Those friends are not the kids next door or the kids at school, but cyber-friends scattered across the globe. For the first time in human history our sense of community is not limited by geography.

This is frightening for some, thrilling for others.

The obvious upside is the cultural understanding and comity one-on-one interaction fosters. When we play together, share our music, our interests, our hopes and dreams, we not only learn and grow but acquire an appreciation for not how different we are from each other rather how similar. Travel has been democratized. Even the agoraphobic can interact with the world.

The downside is equally profound, the loss of connection to our physical community, a weakening of the ties that bind us to our country, our state, our city, our neighborhood. Abraham Lincoln famously called these intangibles the “mystic chords of memory,” the shared experiences that link the generations.

Ask your teenager or 20-something how they feel about their country. Or any country. You may be in for a surprise.  The digital revolution is truly revolutionary. Ancient systems are falling around the world as people’s eyes are opened to the unfairness of sexual repression, the freedoms enjoyed by others but denied to them, the disparity in wealth and natural resources. New ideas are seeds planted for a better future. Today, they spread instantly and globally, right into the phones in our hands. The old systems are fighting for relevance. Maybe a losing battle.

The sultan of Brunei — already an anachronism — imposed draconian sharia law penalties after activists inspired by liberties enjoyed in other countries began fighting for their basic human rights. Now, gays, lesbians and adulterers face death by stoning. Thieves face dismemberment and other equally medieval measures that have no place in the 21st century. The world is rallying to the sultan’s oppressed subjects, pressuring him to reverse course. Change is rarely easy but it is inevitable.

Millions of young people are growing up in a world connected in ways unthinkable just a few years ago. What does this portend for California, for America, for the world? While my crystal ball is cloudy on where this will take us, I am certain it’s someplace very different from where we are today.


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