A few years ago, I was part of a project called Palomar5 in Germany. The pitch was simple, 30 residents from the digital generation living and creating projects together and dreaming of changing the world. I was lucky enough to be chosen for what turned out to be one of the craziest experiences in my life. Not only was I setting off for six weeks of uncertainty in Berlin but we were 14 different nationalities. We were all very different.
Diversity was at the heart of their selection process. The team wanted to see what people from different backgrounds with eccentric skill-sets and areas of expertise could create together. But we all shared what turned out to be a very strong common trait, we were Millennials. We were from from all over the world but we had all grown up with a computer at home. We were not only familiar with and excited by technology but it ran in our blood.
I was "very French" according to some of my roommates. This apparently meant "everything is political and I always wanted to be right." Even if we were all grounded in our cultures, living in an international environment seemed very natural for our group. Many of us were digital nomads. A significant share of the residents were no longer living in their homeland and most of the others knew they'd move soon. In a digital revolution where the world is at your fingers, the desire to explore it is such an organic phenomenon. It transforms us. I left Paris to live in San Francisco a few months after Palomar5. Three years later, I am still "so French" but hope to have soaked up some of the American can-do culture. You are different person when you travel, maybe more open to the unfamiliar. Many of my friends experience the same feeling. Becoming "a citizen of the world" is an expression we love to use and something we aspire to be.
At LeWeb conference in June, I shared my conviction that the Internet had ushered in a new "overview effect" for the digital generation. Originally this term was coined to describe the cognitive experience of some astronauts when in space:
"It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void", shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this "pale blue dot" becomes both obvious and imperative."
The Internet has made it possible to connect with people on the other side of the planet who share the same doubts, emotions and hopes as me. A blog post written by a complete stranger can bring a new perspective to a challenge I face. Living with 28 residents from different countries at Palomar5 was the concrete adventure that seemed coherent with my online life. All of us shared common values, a desire to make an impact, a certain idealism that we will never let anybody define as naive. The Internet brought us closer and made our world smaller.
Being defined by where you were born or live when you surf this planet on a daily basis seems outdated. A human being is not only shaped by our direct social environment anymore. Internet has no boundaries. I love this idea that you are who you meet and your entourage is a reflexion of your soul and beliefs. But in a digital revolution where I can share with so many people from different horizons, my social context is totally redefined. My identity is disrupted as well. It does not mean we no longer have roots, but that we can grow further from them to discover a world we cannot ignore anymore.
I truly believe that empathy is not a new marketing buzzword. The digital revolution encourages us to cultivate this strong value in a world where the boundaries feel ever more artificial. The barriers of the past centuries appear more like illusions. Of course, you could say I cannot empathize with the victims of the typhoons or the understand what many people live in Africa.
The world is not a one big community all holding hands. But through different communities interacting and communicating with each other, I have at least access to a bigger picture. It is still possible and a choice to live in a "filter bubble" as said Eli Pariser. Yes, you do not have to care for others. You cannot save the entire world. Living in a microcosmos is still possible. The internet has no monopoly on this. When I live in San Francisco or Paris, it is easy to see how I could emerge myself in my comfort zone and only interact with people like myself. It is my responsibility to explore offline and online, to follow people I have no clue about on Twitter who live in Brazil or wherever and to meet new people outside my box in my city.
Our generation is convinced that, at our scale, we can all have an impact. Community by community, we will transform reality. The digital generation cares a lot. We know that there are so many flaws we would love to fix. The digital revolution redefines who we are, who we interact with and how we think of ourselves. It is empowering to be a citizen of the world fulfilled by constant new ideas and points of view.
Idealist, but not blind. We know the citizens of the Internet lives in a place where the rules and structures are not set up yet, where a struggle for power is already happening.
Michel Serres, a French philosopher and author, in an interview to 032C magazine, explained:
"Robin Hood has an extraordinary name, because Robin means "he who wears the magistrate's robe," "he who wears the judge's robe" So Robin Hood-in French it's Robin des Bois or Robin of the woods"-means "he who makes law in a place of no law". It's extraordinary. I think that out of this place of no law that is the internet there will soon emerge a new law, completely different from that which organized our old metric space".
Bitcoin is a perfect example of such possibilities and challenges. A virtual currency not delimited or controlled by governments is hard to handle for some and so exciting for others.
Will the Internet be a land of freedom for the citizens of the world or Big Brother's paradise?
"The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow" as said Bill Gates. Powerful institutions will want to keep their influence. The battle for power will be a very delicate time as Bruce Schneier explains:
"Historically, no shift in power has ever been easy. Corporations have turned our personal data into an enormous revenue generator, and they're not going to back down. Neither will governments, who have harnessed that same data for their own purposes. But we have a duty to tackle this problem."
Again, optimism and ideals are not naivety. John F. Kennedy affirmed "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see things as hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. "
A whole new generation of leaders, makers, thinkers in love with the digital shift are determined. Determined to be free citizen of the internet.