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American Geography: What of It? Part III: Geography in the Digital Age... and Beyond

As explored in previous articles from this series, geography has played a massive part in shaping the United States in the past. As the 20th century will attest, the country's dominance on the global stage was not merely a matter of luck but of advantages more ingrained in its position. With that being said, though, that recent past is still part of the past. In the contemporary world, new developments are unfolding that seem different from anything of the old.

Modern technology seems to have swept away the geographical constraints binding humans to their physical surroundings. Various modes of transportation like cars, trains, and planes have incorporated once-daunting travel into daily schedules. Virtual networks bring people from opposite ends on Earth into the same room. The world, one could say, has shrunk considerably since the days of old.

Subsequently, one can also say geography's influence on humanity has shrunk as well. While for millennia a person's experiences would most likely be rooted in one region from cradle to grave, today the world has been connected to the point where that same person could journey around the planet, whether in a matter of days by physical travel, or whether by a few clicks and queries with the Internet. And individuals have not been the only ones affected. With the existence of instant communication and information, and with faster travel, governments today have few of the restraints that kept ancient states largely in the dark, whether it be about national security or domestic policy or census information.

As much as modern technology has shaped the world, though, it has yet to completely render geography irrelevant. Airplanes may have cut the time of travel across the world from months to hours, but they require landing strips and other infrastructure to enable proper transportation, limiting flight to more developed regions of the world. Similarly, access to the internet requires broadband towers and routers, more infrastructure that can only go as far as humans can carry it. In short, despite the technological augmentation that has shaped this modern world, the humans that create and use them are still the same humans as their historical ancestors. Technology can be of use only as much as to the extent humans can take it, and for that matter humans still face obstacles in the mountains, deserts, and tundras of the world.

Regardless of the extent to which the effects of geography have changed, such a change is nevertheless present, and since it became apparent in the Cold War and post-Cold War world it has seemed to raise qualms about the societies, governments, and futures of states around the world. In America in particular, it has come about in conjunction with the equally momentous end of American expansion.

American expansion? Hadn't that dream of Manifest Destiny ended at the Philippines well over a century ago? Hasn't American not gained a new territory since the Northern Mariana Islands in 1947?

Well, yes. The territorial phase of Manifest Destiny had ended long ago, before the events of World War I forced America onto the world stage for its first time as a unified nation. In that manner, the country had territorially matured.

More subtle elements of American expansion replaced the visible expansion of land, though; the term "Pax Americana" is best fit to describe this phenomenon. Even in a bipolar world with communism as a rivaling ideology and the Soviet Union its host, American cultural and economic influences steadily spread through Europe, and then the developing world; this was the Cold War.

As more and more Americans grow up with no memory of the Cold War, however, the nation has to come to terms with the fact that it has now reached a matured phase in its history. In a monopolar world without the Soviet Union as the common enemy, America has had no reason - or justification - to expand further, culturally or physically. Incursions into the Middle East and the Global War on Terror seemed to progress American concepts of a "New World Order" - until they ceased with the American withdrawl from Afghanistan in 2021.

Thus, after all, the Pax Americana has come to an end. And it is this end, that coincides with the developmet of a truly digital age, that will define the future of America as a nation and as a global hegemon in the world.

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