Border Anxiety and the Computer Age

It’s no surprise that border anxiety, a focus on attempts to affirm borders and create “impermeable” borders, has been on the rise since the so-called Computer Age began.

We live in an era in which the fiction of borders, imaginary lines on a map that continually shift while giving the facade of permanence, is being challenged. We live in an era when the interconnectedness of the world and its inhabitants has never been clearer. Today, a drought in central China affects stock prices in London within hours. The decisions of a CFO in New York lead to 500 Australians losing their jobs within a day. The choices of a South African plant manager affect fishermen in Alaska. Students in Maine can video chat with students in Peru at will. A person in Italy can video chat with family in Japan in real time at virtually no cost.

These challenges to the fiction of borders are profoundly disturbing and scary to some (particularly conservative) elements of society. Those who have bought into the fiction of borders. Those who define themselves as “not the Other”. Those who have bought into the fiction that imaginary lines on a map define people. Those who accept, unquestioningly, the fiction that division is more important than unity & connection. Those who are privileged enough to be lucky in where they were born, such that they buy into the fiction that the random chance of where someone happens to be born should define their entire life arc.

It seems to me that the connectivity of the Computer Age, the Digital Age, the Information Age, whatever you wish to call it, has resulted in such (ill conceived and impossible) backlash as Brexit, China’s internet censorship, or Trump’s (increasingly fictitious) border wall. The connectivity, the access to information, the ability to see global unity via a device that fits in a pocket, I think, brings out an anxiety in people who define themselves by division. It shows those very divisions to be permeable, false, and imaginary. What they thought was solid bedrock is increasingly shown to be a veneer, a false front, smoke and mirrors. And when the foundational bedrock of a person’s identity are removed, they tend to react without thought, with violence, and to excess.