Sunday, November 30, 2008
Wirtland: A New (?) Experimental (??) Cyber (???) Nation (????) (Wirtland.com via The Virtual Worlds Roadmap)
Wirtland is, apparently, a real attempt to establish a new country. In the founders' own words, Wirtland "is an experiment into legitimacy and self-sustainability of a sovereign country without its own soil."
It is certainly not the only self-proclaimed (or micro-) nation, nor is it the first virtual one (Lizbekistan and the Kingdom of Lovely might spring to mind...) but it seems to be the first semi-serious attempt to establish such an entity. The creators of the country have put an awful lot of time into making things like flags (see picture above), Permanent Residency Forms and Applications for Citizenship. It even claims that it meets most of the qualifications under the Montevideo Convention and has applied for top level domain status with the IANA. This is an awful lot of work for just a joke.
Wirtland's current population seems to be about 31, mostly Europeans but, in all, from a surprisingly large number of countries and regions of the world. The pictures suggest a fairly young, tech savvy bunch (about what you would expect).
Personally, I hope that it is not only a joke (I recognize that part of doing something like this has to be for the fun of it...). As the last several months have painfully reminded us, our economy is mostly an elaborate social construct, virtual in almost every meaningful sense of the word. The speed and capacity of modern telecommunications networks did not cause but certainly enabled bankers and brokers to create markets in the virtual objects that are at the center of this latest crisis.
The recent instability in this ethereal economy, then, should call into question other notions of permanency. What does it mean when real things exist in an increasingly symbiotic relationship with electronic equivalents? What does it mean to "own" something in such an environment? What does it mean to be a "citizen", to have a "right to privacy", to have an "identity" at all? What are the long-term consequences of the increasing inseparability of virtual and real? Considering such things before there is another crisis seems prudent and if a thought experiment like Wirtland can help, I wish it luck.
(Note: I did not set out this morning to find out if someone had set up a new, virtual country. Instead, it was one of those serendipitous Internet things that started with the Federation of American Scientists new wiki on virtual worlds (Thanks, Kevin!), passed through the Virtual Worlds Road Map site (and associated LinkedIn group) and wound up in Wirtland.)
Posted by Kristan J. Wheaton at 9:04 AM