Why the Internet Must Become More Like a City

The Crisis of Democracy in the Age of Cities, Edward Elgar Publishing. Ed. Juval Portugali, Forthcoming

Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper 29

18 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2022 Last revised: 22 Jul 2022

See all articles by Luís M.A. Bettencourt

Luís M.A. Bettencourt

University of Chicago; Santa Fe Institute

Date Written: July 3, 2022


Human societies have recently become much more interconnected through processes of urbanization, globalization and the fast expansion of communication and information technologies. These ongoing transformations are not only expanding but also rearranging the socioeconomic fabric of our societies, emphasizing newer and less local communities and businesses as the main orchestrators of collective action, in detriment of traditional local organizations more dedicated to the public good. Consequently, these new forms of more extensive socioeconomic connectivity are at once liberating and profoundly destabilizing of existing social, economic and political arrangements. This confluence of factors entails a deep crisis of democracy in an age of urbanization and technological progress, an apparent contradiction requiring urgent resolution. Here, I propose that confronting these challenges benefits from understanding transformational processes in cities, where collective action problems are the norm and where politics has been historically reinvented many times. The main point of analogy is functional, as both cities and cyberspace are large, dynamical, and heterogeneous networks expressing strong network effects. Connecting both cities and cyberspace are concepts of multi-level group affiliation, subcultural dynamics and the economics of information, which provide analytical frames of reference for understanding both. This perspective helps explain how cities have had to evolve mechanisms of free entry, social support, conflict resolution, factual communication, resource redistribution and group identity protection that are still largely absent from cyberspace.

Keywords: Complex Networks, Multi-Level Selection, Urban Science, Media Studies, Economics of Information, Institutions, Development, Technology and Society, Evolution

Suggested Citation

Bettencourt, Luís M.A., Why the Internet Must Become More Like a City (July 3, 2022). The Crisis of Democracy in the Age of Cities, Edward Elgar Publishing. Ed. Juval Portugali, Forthcoming, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper 29, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4166118 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4166118

Luís M.A. Bettencourt (Contact Author)

University of Chicago

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Santa Fe Institute

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

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