Charles Darwin Doesn't Want You to #UNPLUG from the Internet

If you’re like most Americans, you probably spent most of the long Fourth of July weekend hanging out at a family BBQ, watching baseball, enjoying the fireworks and… obsessively checking your digital devices for the latest news from your friends, followers and assorted other virtual acquaintances. If you stayed at a hotel or resort, you probably received a Wi-Fi password upon check-in –- and then heard the young kids in the elevator talking about their latest Snapchats, and everyone else ooh-ing and aah-ing over the latest red-and-white-and-blue Instagram holiday pics.

So is there any possible way that this 24/7 digital addiction might actually be good for us?

If you buy into the conventional wisdom, then we all need a digital detox every now and then: We should all #UNPLUG from the Internet for extended periods of time. In the current cover story for Fast Company magazine, Baratunde Thurston describes how he took the equivalent of a digital detox for 25 days, even going so far as to hire a "Chief of Staff" to deal with his Internet presence in his absence. The problem, as Thurston sees it, is that all the daily emails, pings, alerts, updates and notifications from your digital devices will eventually completely burn you out, leaving you unable to function as a normal adult. This is an easy argument to make, because let’s face it, it’s obviously exhausting to keep up with the tsunami of digital 1's and 0's these days -- even if you're not an Internet celebrity like Baratunde Thurston.

However, let’s take a Darwinian view of what all this 24/7 connectivity is doing to us. If you buy into a “survival of the fittest” view of life, then #UNPLUG may be one of the most dangerous ideas you’ve heard this year. Removing yourself from the continuous streams of information and data flowing past you for long stretches of time means that you (and your offspring) will eventually lose the evolutionary race to competitors better able to deal with the daily digital flow. The people best able to compete will develop the digital era equivalent of opposable thumbs -- they will figure all this out. They will not only eat stress for breakfast, they will consume an extra-large bowl of tweets and Facebook updates as well.

That's the point, in part, that digital thinker Mitch Joel makes in a recent piece for The Huffington Post - he argues that it's not the Internet that's to blame for making us stressed out, it's our poor habits and behaviors. Don't turn off technology, turn off your bad habits. Learn how to make the digital tsunami work for you, not against you.

As Hybrid Reality co-authors Parag and Ayesha Khanna point out, we are experiencing a co-evolution of humans and technology, and that's what's making things seem so hard. This speeding up of the evolutionary process places an ever-greater premium on our ability to find new ways to handle the constant flow of data and information in our lives. Just think of all the computing firepower you now have in the palm of your hand and all of the rapid technological advances that have already been made possible by our unwillingness to #UNPLUG – it’s given us Big Data, the cloud, and a diverse range of ever more-powerful digital devices capable of processing information on the fly. You can now surreptitiously check your email while barbecuing at the grill, or send a tweet while toweling off at the pool. Your evolutionary ancestors, if they had a chance to meet you, would think you were a super-human.

And it's not just Charles Darwin -- Adam Smith wouldn't want you to #UNPLUG either.

As Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote in The Washington Post, “Americans flunk vacations.” However, maybe, that’s a test that we don’t want to pass. Compared to the rest of the hyper-industrialized world, Americans simply don’t know how to take vacations. While the rest of the world mandates a minimum of 20 paid days of vacation, Americans are alone in failing to provide a single guarantee of paid vacation time. But all this relentless foregoing of life's simple pleasures makes us stronger -- it means that (compared to our friends across the Pond) unemployment rates are lower, that wages are not stagnating, and that our economy is more robust. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive at times, but the ruthless American approach to vacations has helped us win the “survival of the fittest” in the global economy. Adam Smith would want to shake your Invisible Hand.

So, the next time that you’re on vacation, remember to check your Facebook account, your Twitter feed, and your Instagram account. Update your status as often as possible and don't #UNPLUG. You’re not only doing yourself a favor, you’re doing the human race a favor as well.

image: Monkey looking at another monkey on a computer / Shutterstock

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The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

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Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

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