Population streams: globalization results in liquefaction

Venkatesh Rao (one of my favorite provocative thinkers) noodles around with the idea of "streams" -- demographics of people who follow a particular international course, in long, stable, weird, nearly invisible arcs. Rao calls this "Globalization as liquefaction" and says, "Globalization signifies an incomplete process, not a state. For a long time I was convinced that there was a bit of semantic confusion somewhere. Why is there a becoming without discernible being states before and after? The reason is that the word globalization works like the word liquefaction. Liquids aren’t a transition from one solid state to another. They are a transition from a fundamentally static state to a fundamentally dynamic one. The world is not getting flatter, rounder or spikier. It is liquefying. There you go, Thomas Friedman, that’s my modest little challenge to your metaphor."

For most of the last decade, Israeli soldiers have been making the transition back to civilian life after their compulsory military service by going on a drug-dazed recovery trip to India, where an invisible stream of modern global culture runs from the beaches of Goa to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh in the north. While most of the Israelis eventually return home after a year or so, many have stayed as permanent expat stewards of the stream. The Israeli military stream is changing course these days, and starting to flow through Thailand, where the same pattern of drug-use and conflict with the locals is being repeated.

This pattern of movement among young Israelis is an example of what I’ve started calling a stream. A stream is not a migration pattern, travel in the usual sense, or a consequence of specific kinds of work that require travel (such as seafaring or diplomacy). It is a sort of slow, life-long communal nomadism, enabled by globalization and a sense of shared transnational social identity within a small population.

I’ve been getting increasingly curious about such streams. I have come to believe that though small in terms of absolute numbers (my estimate is between 20-25 million worldwide), the stream citizenry of the world shapes the course of globalization. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to say that streams provide the indirect staffing for the processes of modern technology-driven globalization. They are therefore a distinctly modern phenomenon, not to be confused with earlier mobile populations they may partly resemble.

The Stream Map of the World

(via Futurismic)

(Image: table mtn stream 040608, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wolfgrams's photostream)


  1. Hear! Hear! 

    I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Venkat’s blog some years ago, but Ribbonfarm IS on my must-read list.

  2. Anything that contributes to the erosion of the nation state is a good thing in my book. I wish I could remember the name of the philosopher who said “Nationalism is a disease, and travel is the cure”.

    1. i tried to do a search; apparently it is a (famous) Spanish author, and the exact quote is “Nationalism is a disease that is cured by traveling”.  However, I was unable to find out who this quote is actually attributable to.  D:

  3. How is this more than a bunch of people who have the same idea and some time on their hands?  Like people who traveled to Europe after college, or people who become ski bums for a time.  Lots of big words, but I’m not sure what to make of this.  

    1. Quantified, that is: broken down to a smaller recognizable part, it IS just a bunch of people and a ‘cultural concept’, but as a larger system it is is a liquid. I don’t know how profound this finding is, as I’m not sure what systems AREN’T liquids at a ‘macro’ enough scale, other than dead ones.

      At large enough scales, I’m sure everything becomes ‘gas-like’.

  4. Well, philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has been talking about “liquid modernity” for a while. 

  5. After spending several years in a combat zone, it’s not uncommon among soldiers to desire some stress-free time. Being intoxicated and away from physical danger goes a long way towards avoiding permanent mental damage.

    Too bad smoking marijuana and hash is illegal. It would go a long way towards helping people return to a normal life.

  6. From  Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (1999):
    “As distances vanish and the people can flowfreely from place to place, society will cross a psychological specificheat boundary and enter a new state. No longer a solid or liquid, we have become as a vapor and will expand to fill all available space. And like a gas, we shall not be easily contained.-Sister Miriam Godwinson”

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