The Borders We Can See—and Those We Can’t

Surveying the Italian border in the Alps. Image: Italian limes

Not long from now, it won’t make sense to think of the border as a line or a wall.

—Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

What constitutes a border today? How are the conventional boundaries of political entities changing before our eyes? Below are a few stories that have caught our eyes in recent months.

Technology and Political Power
We’re beginning to recognize, as Navneet Alang argued last year in the Globe and Mail, that tech companies' power equals, or even exceeds, that of national governments. “A concentration of powerful companies is nothing new. […] But with Big Tech, the scale is far vaster, and the sociological impacts far deeper. So is it time to worry about not just a so-called technostate, but a tech supra-state, where companies supersede the state altogether?”

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, who wrote a perceptive book on changing ideas of citizenship, has made the inverse argument. “Not long from now, it won’t make sense to think of the border as a line, a wall or even any kind of imposing vertical structure,” she writes. “It’s no longer enough to have been born in the right place, at the right time, to the right parents. The trail of [digital] bread crumbs you leave could limit your movements.” Read more from Abrahamian on the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard and its open borders.

Related, in a way: in the 1970s, when the mummy of Ramses II needed conservation in France, Egyptian authorities issued it a passport to ensure unimpeded passage to—and return from—Paris. (This is probably the only time we’ll link to Ripley’s.)

New Climate, New Borders
A few years ago, Folder, a visual-research agency in Milan, began studying the border between Italy and its neighbors. The team noticed that the Alpine watershed, used to define much of that border, was changing due to global warming and shrinking glaciers. That has meant, among other things, renegotiating international agreements.

Several years ago, Folder installed a grid of twenty-five solar-powered sensors to monitor and map these geological and geopolitical developments in real time. The full project, Italian Limes, includes a drawing machine connected to a glacier, exhibitions, a book, and more.

Related, in a way: the nineteenth-century Yolo Buggy, a mobile building that measured county borders.

Visualizing Internal Migrations
Germany’s refugee policies have been at the center of conversations regarding those uprooted from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. The beautiful infographics in this piece from Die Zeit, however, make clear that huge internal migrations also dramatically shape the nation today. “The data tells one of the least documented stories of German post-war history, showing that after reunification, nearly a quarter of the original population of East Germany”—more than 3.6 million people—“moved to the West.”

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