Clint Eastwood, gunfights, vast wilderness, lone rangers, inhospitable landscapes. We all remember the Wild West as presented to us by Hollywood, back when the Western was the most popular genre of film and television. Yet, the Wild West can also help us understand getting to grips with the digital age.
Through TV Westerns, and perhaps a little actual history too, we know that the American frontier was a harsh environment. To survive on the edge of civilisation took tenacity. To forge a trail into uncharted territory literally put life on the line. The people that existed in these environments had hardy qualities. Today the remaining places we refer to as ‘frontiers’ include Alaska, Antarctica, the unexplored ocean depths and even space colonization. Isolated and hardy places where only the strong survive. What draws people to these places? Many journeyed to the American frontier to chase a new life, as the frontier allowed them to reinvent themselves and by risking their lives, seek new opportunities.
If we take what we know about frontiers and apply that to the digital world, we can understand the pitfalls and perils better. We can adapt better, in a way suited to our personality.
Continue below for 6 reasons the digital world is like a frontier.
New frontiers are lawless
It takes a while for the law to catch up with what is new. Online legal issues have been problematic, and law continues to evolve. One of the principle issues is jurisdiction. Within the boundaries of a country, it is clear that a law applies. In the global online world this is much more difficult to determine. We shouldn’t expect the online world to be fair, just or lawful quite yet. We need to encourage our lawmakers to manage the space and look after ourselves in the meantime.
Opportunistic enterprise thrives
Charlatans are prevalent in frontiers due to the opportunities presented, lack of oversight by authorities and the pioneers’ need for creature comforts. Think of the entertainment in the Wild West – the saloons, brothels, gambling halls – services to keep disconnected people happy. As we are facing a disconnection crisis in modern society, is it any wonder that opportunists are lurking online? Early enterprises undertake great risk so they somewhat naturally expect to benefit with a windfall if they succeed.
Self-interest outweighs public interest
Individual self-interest is number one in such a harsh world. The settlement and civilisation which follows the first wave of exploration is what brings the sense of community, morality and societal norms to regulate individual behaviour. Again, until governments and other institutions exist there, the digital world lacks the sophistication to deliver outcomes in the public interest.
Always pushing on further
A true frontier is always expanding. There is much space between American coasts however the early pioneers exploited it. They didn’t stop until they reached that Pacific Coast. True explorers or pioneers push forward for curiosity’s sake and the thrill of the new. There will always be those who are forging well ahead. We need to know what is right for us personally – to push on or be satisfied and comfortable with how far we have come. Be happy to put down some roots and not chase the latest tech upgrade.
Uncomfortable for most people
Most of us would be aghast at how life was lived in the Wild West. Disease, crime, malnutrition, alcoholism, exploitation. All were rife. It was life at the edge of what people find comfortable. This suits those that thrive in it, but for most, we don’t need to live a life on that precipice.
Not for the vulnerable or naive
If you don’t know the rules of the game and how to survive, it is a dangerous place. Whilst the peril today may not be as acute, it is still important to inform yourself of the rules of the game in the digital world. Don’t get yourself into a gunfight you can’t win.
Our history celebrates the resilience and conviction of our explorers and pioneers. Think of the digital world as a frontier to be conquered. Understand what suits your personality.
- You may adopt the mindset of a trailblazing explorer, armed with lots of tenacity and willing to risk it all for the benefits.
- Others will be happy to follow a little behind, still benefiting from the trails blazed ahead but staying a little more safe and comfortable.
But please don’t stay where you are and be left behind.
One final thought:
With so many people present in the internet for significant periods, is the web a ‘place’ and if so, is it the new frontier? What if the American frontier did not stop when it got to the Pacific Ocean? Did places like Silicon Valley in California continue pushing on virtually? The frontier spirit continues. Indeed the digital world may be the final frontier, not outer space as Star Trek told us.