The COVID-19 pandemic, which we have already begun to forget, provided a strong impetus for globalization and digitization. It’s as if humanity suddenly realized how easily borders are erased, ways of working change, and digital tools allow us to build social connections with people around the world—not just within our own city or country.
Governments have accepted the inevitability of globalization. The world over, countries are competing to attract talented human capital, who become residents and support the local economy with their taxes. Today, more than 50 countries offer so-called Digital Nomad visas, which give citizens of various countries the right to establish residency and enjoy major civic benefits, including medical treatment, insurance, police protection, etc. This simplified form of relocation is blurring the concept of citizenship and transforming its value.
In parallel, the digital world marches onwards, and the influence of major IT corporations (Facebook, Google, Microsoft) continues to grow. These companies are providing millions of users with very real economic and social services. For example, Facebook, which started out
as a social network for students at Harvard University, is now the transnational company Meta. The monthly users of all of the company’s social networks amounted to 3.74 billion
in December of 2022. Besides social services, Facebook has launched economic ones: money transfers and donations.
The fact that IT corporations are gradually beginning to compete with governments is underscored by the recent scandal surrounding the Libra cryptocurrency, which Facebook was preparing to launch in partnership with Uber, Spotify, and others. Basically, the company was attempting to reshape the traditional payment system using its own cryptocurrency—which spooked the American and European authorities. In the end, not a single regulator gave the go-ahead for the cryptocurrency’s launch, and the project itself was shuttered
after several attempts to repackage it and convince governments of its benefits.
This story illustrates that the capabilities of large IT corporations have not yet caught up with those of governments. Nevertheless, plans to develop digital communities show no signs of slowing down. The development strategies of many large companies for the coming years (and not just IT companies—McDonald's and Nike too are joining the fray too) involve “mastering” the Metaverse.
When experts are asked to explain in simple terms what the Metaverse is, they often say that it is a “layer on top of the internet” or an alternative reality that imitates real life. Metaverse users can do many real-life things there: communicate, work, relax, study, earn money, and spend it. Transferring real life to a digital format is in fact the prime objective of the Metaverse. Already, Metaverse users can enter into social and economic relations with each other, providing and using virtual services, investing, and making money.
In the future, perhaps governments and large corporations will learn to communicate with each other more effectively. And as a result, large companies may create hybrid digital communities whose members will be able to receive real benefits in specific countries. These digital ecosystems could lead to the establishment of something like digital citizenship, which would be accessible to passport-citizens of very different countries.
Realistically, the partnership between governments and IT corporations could play out according to very different scenarios, but both players are clearly moving towards digital citizenships. People will come together to form such communities around various common traits—not just nationality, but, for example, interests and values.
Digital communities are developing in parallel with the ongoing digitization of government services that began decades ago. This digitization had a simple, pragmatic goal—to relieve the workload of government agencies and save the time of people who use their services. Registering a business, voting, or renewing your passport can now be achieved more quickly and transparently—without the corruption and long lines. Denmark
is considered a world leader in digitization of government services, while Estonia is the head of the pack in our region, although Ukraine has also enjoyed many successes.
It is interesting to observe how Ukraine’s Diia
is developing even in war times. Besides standard government services, the app also allows users to donate money for drones, report on enemy troop movements, find a new profession, or get monetary help for rebuilding a home that’s been destroyed. A case in point is the shield on the Motherland monument in Kyiv, which now features a triton
rather than a hammer and sickle. This change was implemented thanks to a vote on Diia: Ukrainians had decided to de-communize Kyiv’s main monument.
The digitization of government will continue. It’s even possible to imagine ChatGPT helping to provide government services. If AI is given enough input, it can help resolve many bureaucratic quandaries: whether or not to close loss-making enterprises, how to bring medical services to rural locations, how to fight crime, and so on.