Borderless identities in an urban world

byMark Minkjan

published on 16/10/2015

In Social City’s beta phase, the first dreams and desires sourced from Social Citizens show an incredibly diverse and lively make-up of the virtual population. Quite a few of them prefer a good share of urban nature. Some like a technology-filled home, while others want to stay tech-free. Some are dreaming of an environment in which they can have a better sleep. Others want to daydream, play and party, or simply work and earn money.

But isn’t this what a city is about? A city is made up of endless sets of individual behaviours, routines and ambitions. It is a hodgepodge of identities, while sometimes we mistake a city for having a single identity. Cities, just as countries, are often attributed a clear-cut identity so that they can be perceived and branded easily. This also influences how their citizens are identified, as if their identity is determined by the place they live in. But aren’t people part of a variety of sub-societies – originating from workplaces, neighbourhoods, schools, families, virtual games, Facebook groups and Weibo networks – that all mould a person’s identity?

Paradoxically, cities and countries are increasingly branding their rigid identities to compete in the global arena. They want to attract tourists, high-skilled people and innovative businesses. On the other hand, in a globalised and digitised world people now have access to infinite sub-cultures and global individuals. These fluid and far-reaching networks in turn influence their personality and lifestyle. A person’s identity is a mosaic of traits, behaviours, preferences, histories, cultures, skills and hobbies. With an infinite variety of multidimensional individuals making up a city, or a country, how can we even speak of a local or national identity? And how can we expect citizens to feel strongly connected to the identity of the geographically determined (sometimes within arbitrary or straight-lined borders), place they happen to be in? Isn’t local identity an out-dated construct, an insufficient idea for today’s world?

In the book Here, There, Everywhere, recently published by Droog, political analyst and historian Koert Debeuf exclaims: “I would like to have a passport of a new republic, worldwide, where not the past but the future counts, not where you come from but where you want to go. A republic where everyone is welcome as long as you support the rights of every individual. Where every home of every citizen is an embassy of the republic. With many languages, many cultures, many languages.”

Estonia seems to be moving in that direction. The country is the first in the world to offer e-Residency, a “transnational digital identity available to anyone in the world interested in administering a location-independent business online. e-Residency additionally enables secure and convenient digital services facilitate credibility and trust online. Estonia is proudly pioneering the idea of a country without borders.”

The Estonian e-Residency is clearly geared to attracting e-entrepreneurs from all over the world. To people and businesses that are seeking to establish a new form of community based on shared ambitions and ideas. The company is officially registered in Estonia, but it could operate from anywhere in the world.

What if we translated such a concept to a virtual residency for citizens? Could a shared identity that is freed from borders, rules and regulations, social stratifications and historical ballast create a new kind of virtual, post-national community? The absence of an identity based on location can be a quality. Social City is an exercise in individuality and explores how countless identities can make up a diverse whole.


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What do you think?


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MARK BLAISSE 5/11/2015

Imagine a borderless world, a real global village, a universal passport. The end of enmity, wars, military expenses turned into start up budgets. But then we would live in Paradise. A species without enemies will die from laziness. A society without surviving instincts will become uninteresting. Plus: uniformity is not what I want. Becoming a virtual resident of Amsterdam would make me feel lost. I have my identity linked to the city -amongst others- and I feel an exchange, not a one way influence. I am as good for the city as the city is for me.
I like to take my identity to Moscow or Paris, but I don't have a c;lose relation top those cities. They are acquaintances, not friends. Belonging somewhere is important. What is virtual belonging? This age needs individuality combined with technology. Becoming a living drone is not my ideal solution for the social city.