Just a few days ago, I was talking with my officemate about micronations and how awesome the concept is (he had never heard of Sealand before). We both liked the idea, but didn’t exactly see how it would be possible. All of the land on Earth is already claimed, leaving no room to create a new nation in, and the Sealand approach, declaring a new nation on an abandoned World War II-era naval platform off the coast of England, isn’t exactly a widely applicable solution. How conveniently timed, then, that Ars Technica should publish an article on seasteading.
The basic seasteading approach is to create more platforms somewhat akin to Sealand, but to do so far out in international waters, where there is no pesky United Kingdom around to claim ownership. The first few seasteading projects will be pretty expensive, and will only be affordable by the rather wealthy. Don’t look to them to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in developing nations anytime soon — although living on one would sort of be like living in a developing nation, thanks to the very limited real estate and the basic nature of the amenities — facts of life likely to scare off all but the wealthy most dedicated to the concept. I feel an amazing draw to living out in the middle of the ocean, though, and if I could make a living on a seasteading platform, I think I’d like to do so for at least a few years. I should point out that my attraction to the concept is based far more from a survivalist/return-to-nature viewpoint than from a libertarian one.
The concept is perfectly doable with today’s level of technology; that’s the really neat thing. All that’s missing is the capital investment. The basic structure of the platforms is very simple: ballast tanks underwater, a narrow concrete pole at surface level to minimize wave contact, and then a spread out platform on top. Multiple platforms can be attached with cables, gangways, flexible pipes, and wires. If the concept really takes off, a bunch of platforms could go in together on an underwater fiber-optic Internet connection to shore, and then share the connection amongst all of the platforms using a local network.
The Ars Technica article pretty thoroughly covers all of the technological and governmental aspects of making seasteading work, but amongst all the talk of libertarianism and being free from governmental intrusion, I think it’s missing something important. The concept of seasteading isn’t attractive just to libertarians. There’s an undeniable novelty to living in the middle of the ocean in a close-knit community that appeals to some fraction of the population. The idea is very survivalist, very individualist, very science fiction. If it can be done cheaply enough, I don’t think there will be any shortage of people clamoring to get into one, especially on a less-than-permanent basis. It’s true, most people have too many connections to family and friends in their communities to move out into the middle of the sea — but who wouldn’t want to go for a month at a time? Talk about the ultimate get away from it all vacation!
And in the long run, seasteading will play an increasingly important role in human society. As construction techniques get better and economies of scale come into play, land on seasteads will be significantly cheaper than in many places on Earth. Eventually, millions of people may be living in seasteads not because they choose to, but because there is no room for them anywhere on land. The oceans take up two-thirds of the planet’s surface; isn’t the spread of permanent human habitation to them inevitable?
Oh, how amazing it’d be to be one of those first lucky few who go by choice.