Sometimes this newsletter touches on wider trends beyond pure tech, when tech has influenced them and will help shape the way they develop. This is one of those times.
For the whole of my life, tighter global integration and increased global trade has been the prevailing trend, and it was hard to see things ever going the other way as the internet made the world ever smaller.
But ever since the Trump and Brexit double whammy in 2016, it’s been clear things could move in the other direction - a more insular, self-reliant approach. Voters recognised that the current global economic system wasn’t working for them at all. And while the answers those people turned to (populists trading on the promise of reviving the so-called ‘good old days’) were deeply flawed, the voters had certainly hit on a truth - that the neoliberal economic system that dominated policy around the world for so long was no longer giving ever increasing wealth and prosperity to the masses.
A common argument against countries becoming less globally connected has often been ‘We’ll need to think and act globally or China will dominate the world economy’. But as China itself retreats somewhat from globalisation, the idea that countries, or regions like the EU, will need to do more of their own manufacturing, especially of strategic components like semiconductors is spreading more widely
Factor in the ‘Cold War II’ (or World War III as I’ve called it here
in the past) already being waged across the internet in hacking attacks and disinformation campaigns—and more openly in trade wars and sanctions—and the argument that globalisation is over becomes even stronger.
And then there’s the pandemic. I don’t entirely agree with everything in the Bloomberg opinion piece I’ve linked to above (the author is the only person I’ve seen raise alarm about the potential for Omicron to be more harmful to children than other Covid variants, for example). But as countries around the world start to increase their Covid restrictions again, and worldwide large-scale vaccination is nowhere near where it should be
, it’s clear these variants will keep on coming and messing up our world, making self-sufficiency more than just a reactionary kickback - it could be an absolute necessity.
And finally we have the potentially very dangerous conflicts bubbling around the world - particularly on the Russia/Ukraine border and between China and Taiwan. In a hypothetical 2022 scenario where both those conflicts kicked off at the same time, ‘is World War III already here?’ might no longer be a niche question.
Just as World War I and II entirely rewrote the geopolitical map, it’s fair to assume that whatever was left of the world after a third global conflict (I’d like to hope it would be more cyberwar than nukes these days) would have to start globalisation again from scratch. Heck, even the countries we know today might be reimagined sooner rather than later. Given how things are going, it’s hard to imagine the UK or USA sticking together
in their current forms for much more than a decade as internal division and polarisation forces them towards splits.
Maybe after all this, we’ll decide that the idea of a ‘nation’ as we know it today is no longer fit for use.
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a piece called ‘I’m a citizen of the internet, where do I get my passport
’? It was about how I felt more connected to a global community of friends and associates than I did to my country. While that sentiment feels a bit old-school now, the survivors of another world war might find that - while they’ll always feel an affinity to those in their immediate vicinity, it’s time to admit how limiting the idea of nationhood can be in the face of global challenges like the climate emergency.
There’s no getting away from how small tech can make the world feel. And that could make the next wave of globalisation very different from the last.