This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
When I was growing up the world seemed small to me.
Biking distance was often the main factor in determining who my friends were. The closer they were to my house, the better friends we were.
Every so often, I would meet someone at school that lived far away. Back in those days “far away” meant anything that was beyond a 10-minute drive. Living in Nashville, I hardly knew anyone who lived in places like Brentwood, Franklin, or Hendersonville.
The idea of becoming close friends with someone outside of my Middle Tennessee bubble never crossed my mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to expand my horizons beyond my neighborhood. It was simply that meeting people in other cities, other states, or even other countries was hard to do.
When the internet came along followed by cell phones and cheaper airplane tickets, my world began to expand. With the advent of email, the web, free long-distance calls, text messaging, and Southwest Airlines, interacting with people in other cities and even other countries suddenly became much easier.
Fast forward to today— not only is it easy to connect with others beyond bike riding distance, but it’s easy to connect with anyone no matter where they are located.
In a virtual world of instant communication, physical proximity is no longer the determining factor of who we are friends with, where we shop, or who we work for. Unlike the real world, the online world has no physical borders making it simpler for people and businesses to make global connections.
But as hard as it is to fathom, we are just at the beginning of this emerging trend.
This movement toward a more remotely connected world is starting to move beyond business and personal relationships. We are starting to see the next phase of connectivity: virtual countries.
It may sound farfetched, but we are already seeing early adopters of this concept.
Estonia, one of Europe’s smaller countries, was the first to introduce an “e-Residency” program that allows people from anywhere in the world to apply for digital citizenship. Started in 2014, the e-Residency program has allowed citizens from any country to establish an “e-Citizenship” giving them access to Estonia’s business-friendly banks and legal infrastructures. Entrepreneurs who are looking for access to the EU have already opened over 17,000 companies in Estonia’s virtual residency program.
Other groups have taken it a step further.
In 2014, the “digital country” of Asgardia was formed. Completely virtual and not recognized by any other countries (yet), Asgardia describes itself as “…the First Space Nation, a unique international community of forward-looking people, a digital state with its own transparent economy focused on scientific progress on Earth and in space.”
This may sound like science fiction, but with its own Constitution, digital currency, and government, Asgardia has grown to over 200,000 people from locations all over the world. These likeminded “citizens” of a country that exists only virtually are pioneers and challenge the model that a country is defined by the land it inhabits and controls.
And then there’s “the metaverse.”
The metaverse, though not well defined, promises a digital community that uses virtual reality headsets to allow users to do everything from visiting a virtual museum to attending a virtual college, all from the comfort of their homes. With Facebook recently embracing the metaverse as its future, this notion of a virtual world that further connects us beyond the bounds of physical location will only continue to grow.
Although I haven’t used my bicycle to visit friends in years, I still value the ability to drop in on friends or discuss a business idea with a colleague over a cup of coffee down the street. But it might be fun to visit Asgardia for a get-away, just for a glimpse of one kind of future. Wonder if they’ll stamp my passport?
JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company. Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.