First Monday

The CyberFrontier and America at the Turn of the 21st Century: Reopening Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier

"It's like the 'Wild West,'" one investment banker remarked offhandedly during an interview for ABC Network News about the Microsoft versus AOL battle over Instant Messaging. He probably didn't realize how right he was.

"Go West, young man!" [ 1] Sage advice for the 19th Century Americans who wished to make their fortunes. The American frontier offered storied riches: gold, furs, new fertile land, as well as excitement, danger and hardship. Perhaps most of all, it promised boundless opportunity. And today, appropriately the new cry should be not, "Go West," but, "Go cyber!"

What are the connections between that frontier experience, the "Information Revolution," our present circumstances, and America's future?


Why the Frontier Is Important: Key Issues and Stakes
Lessons From the Frontier
Concluding Thoughts
An Annex: Turner's Frontier


As we witness the end of the Twentieth Century - often called the "American Century" - what is the American prospect, both at home and abroad? Where are we going as a nation? Are we about to enter an era of unprecedented prosperity? Will the United States continue to be the "sole superpower?" What will national security mean in this new environment? A century ago, America faced many uncertainties both at home and abroad as it prepared to enter a new stage in its national development. Again on the threshold of a new century, as well as the next "Millennium," it is, paradoxically, increasingly difficult either to appreciate the nature of our present circumstances or to characterize with certainty our future possibilities - domestic prosperity and relative peace abroad notwithstanding.

Over the past 25 years, America has cycled between periods of unparalleled self-doubt and national optimism at home. Abroad, we have swung from instances of deadly confrontation with the Soviet Union, our now-departed (and occasionally lamented) former nuclear-armed superpower adversary, to new concerns over American unilateralism and triumphalism from friends and enemies alike. And in less than a decade, we have witnessed fundamental shifts in the supposedly solid and permanent structural features of the Cold War world that have produced a rapid and bewildering series of changes. Even while overall circumstances for much of the globe seem to be improving, initial, optimistic expectations - the heralded triumph of liberal democracy and in some quarters claims about the "end of history" - have given way to mass slaughters in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo [ 2]; an Asian economic implosion; a near-collapse of the successor Russian state; and. increasingly widespread proliferation of extraordinarily dangerous technologies and weapons.

Three clearly interrelated trends stand out as the fundamental sources of these confusing changes. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of its empire has sharply tilted the political landscape towards liberal democracy as the touchstone system around the world. Second, liberalization of national economies and the globalization of economic matters have unleashed a tidal wave of restructuring, both striking at formerly autarchic economies, previously dominant industries and industrial monopolies, and creating an increasingly single worldwide market with its own terms and conditions that disciplines particularistic and mercantilist tendencies. Most importantly, the triumph of freely-operating markets driven by individual choices over top-down, centrally-planned economies has significantly reinforced the power of individual actors. Third, a profusion of new technologies for collecting, processing, transmitting, and displaying information - often collectively called the "Information Revolution" - are altering all the familiar political, economic, socio-cultural, and military dimensions in ways that we do not fully comprehend, and at a rate that people find difficult to accommodate [ 3]. As a result of these complex interactions, and especially the golem-like quality of new digital information and cybertechnologies [ 4], it is often this third trend that many people find most perplexing and disturbing, and certainly the most difficult to truly comprehend.

How do we understand the impacts of these new information technologies and especially their implications for America's place in a transformed global environment? What are "cyberspace" and the Internet, and what do they portend for the American prospect? Are they the underpinnings for a "New Economy" and the source of new-found productivity growth or an over-hyped, ephemeral fad - a real "revolution" or the equivalent of a new "tulip madness?" [ 5] The early results of the "Information Revolution" have not been easy to interpret; they have sparked debate about whether or not productivity has actually improved and whether the valuation of cyber and companies represents a classic "stock bubble" or a solid investment in the future. None of these views on the impact of the technology itself is short of proponents or detractors [6].

However, without doubt, the Information Revolution is sparking a global transformation that takes the world beyond the post-industrial structures that evolved contemporaneously with the Cold War. The Internet and the associated information and communications technologies have become a worldwide phenomenon: witness the leading role of Scandinavia in wireless technologies and open source software, the rapid rise of a powerful Indian software industry, as well as the extraordinary rates of cellular telephone penetration in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.

But the most dramatic effects of the Information Revolution and New Economy, especially the emotional impacts, remain concentrated in the United States. The Information Revolution has profoundly galvanized American entrepreneurs, investors, and speculators, and it has rekindled the national spirit of invention, innovation, and enthusiasm. Recognizing this linkage between the popular outlook - and, thus, emotion - on the one hand, and the physical economy, on the other, is critical. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan observed, "as in the past, our advanced economy is primarily driven by how human psychology molds the value system that drives a competitive market economy" [ 7]. These new technologies have captured the imagination of much of the American public in a way that defines this as a new era.

Why have these new technologies produced such a strongly resonant response in the United States, far beyond the merely tangible or material impacts? The answer to this question is important exactly because it may hold the key to deciphering more profound issues about America's future course. The first part of the answer is very simple: it was invented here. The bulk of the key technologies of the Information Age - semiconductors, lasers, the Internet, among others - were conceived, integrated into systems, and initially exploited here. And, therefore, we had a head start in adapting to them.

Beyond the technological quick start, perhaps the most important explanation is that these new information technologies, in giving rise to the explosive growth of the Internet, opening the cyber domain, and fostering a worldwide infosphere, have really created a vast new territory. In doing so, they have reopened "the frontier." And America, more than most nations, understands how to profitably settle and exploit a frontier. Thus, there is a strong cultural component to America's seizing the possibilities offered by the cyberfrontier. Understanding why this frontier analogy has now regained its relevance helps us recognize many of the deep transformational changes that are occurring in this country - and how they are likely to affect our future prospects.

In 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau declared the frontier officially "closed." Three years later, Frederick Jackson Turner, considered by some to be one of the most distinguished American historians of the nineteenth century, read his now seminal paper at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association [ 8]; Turner's The Significance of the American Frontier in American History laid out his then-startling "frontier hypothesis." Having pondered the significance of closing the frontier, he now "saw the frontier as the fundamental source of American development as well as American exceptionalism [ 9]. Turner asserted, "The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development" [10].

In his definition, a frontier had existed continuously for nearly three hundred years, from the time of the earliest colonial settlements on the east coast to the turn of the 20th century. More than a boundary or a physical space, the frontier was an idea, and an ideal, of boundless opportunity and an expression of individual freedom.

"Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them" [ 11].

From a national perspective, however, the American frontier had done more. It provided the United States with a vast storehouse of exploitable natural resources that yielded an unrivaled comparative economic advantage, critical for offsetting the unfavorable balance of trade in industrial and manufactured goods [ 12]. The West, in particular, also became - and remains - a potent symbol of American distinctiveness. Thus, let us ponder whether these new information technologies have reestablished a space - and a vision - of almost limitless opportunity for those who are prepared to exploit it and provided as well a fresh source of comparative advantage in technology. If so, then perhaps this "reopening of the frontier" in the 1990s can help to account not only for the unexpectedly strong (and also still mostly unexplained) performance of the American economy [13]. It rekindled optimism of the American people as well [ 14]. Therefore, what we should be talking about is not cyberspace, but the cyberfrontier - a powerfully resonant metaphor for this new territory.

Over the years, historians have challenged Turner on several fronts: an implicit determinism; an insensitivity to the costs that settlement imposed in degradation of environment, near-extinctions of species and habitat, and displacement of the indigenous populations; and an almost tautological reliance on "national character" and "American exceptionalism" as explanation. These could frequently devolve into a facile celebration of white male achievements at the expense of everyone else in the population and a convenient amnesia with respect to European antecedents for important cultural institutions: language, law, politics, economic relationships, and family structure. (An overview of Turner's views can be found at the end of this paper [ 15].) Yet the 1893 essay, which was a fresh, unifying, and nationalistic vision of the American past, still speaks to us - modern caveats notwithstanding. As we reconsider Turner's thoughts on the role of the frontier, we can easily see that many of the features and phenomena of our national experience in the "Great West" are being mirrored or recreated on the new cyberfrontier. Indeed, because so many of Turner's descriptive passages are noticeably applicable to our current circumstances, a rereading is almost like stepping through a time warp. I suggest, therefore, that this new cyberfrontier is playing the same role as did "the West" earlier in American history and, moreover, that it will engender many of the same types of impacts on the nation as a whole. Understanding Turner's views can help illuminate these issues.

Why the Frontier Is Important: Key Issues and Stakes

Clearly any conceptual relationship between the American West and the Information Revolution is not based on superficial similarities of time or technology. The historical appreciation of the transcontinental expansion in the nineteenth century is not likely to be a helpful guide with respect to technical details or specific choices among information technologies. Rather, relevance flows from the observation that what happens on frontiers are fundamentally economic and cultural adaptations of society to the twin pressures of environment and technology. On the economic level, both frontiers demanded new models both for allocation of finance capital, including better appreciation of the value of the vast new resource stocks, and for organizational arrangements, having overturned established hierarchies [ 16]. Both frontiers also generated tremendous spurts of emotion, ethos and mythos - they sparked enormous outpourings of excitement and imagination - that amplified and transcended their physical impacts. The roles that the frontier played in American life, which are reflected in many of our cultural icons, had a strongly emotional (indeed, heroic and romantic) theme and content.

In relating the West and the CyberFrontier, these deeper emotional linkages flow from the social, political, and economic manifestations that were generated by the frontier phenomena - and both need to be appreciated for their implications for the nation at the Gestalt level. Turner's frontier thesis was powerfully evocative about the deep interrelationship between physical development on the one hand and spirit, attitude, values, and culture on the other - at both the individual and societal levels [ 17].

"The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people - to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life" [ 18].

The potential impacts of such a fundamentally transforming phenomenon as the CyberFrontier are wide-ranging and clearly raise numerous important questions for our national direction. As did our earlier western frontier, this new territory will attract many contending parties, and they will bring conflicting interests and perspectives on how to define and shape the character of this new cyber territory. Unfortunately, many of the critical decisions, with important but unpredictable consequences, will need to be made before future developments and outcomes can be clearly perceived. Understanding history can make an important contribution, especially in appreciating issues of culture and context, by illuminating the continuing cultural forces at work. Rather than attempting to address all possible implications, this paper focuses on a more limited set of issues that the frontier analogy can offer - a different perspective from one grounded in the modern post-industrial era.

a) How the cyberfrontier will cause fundamental restructuring of economies and societies that exploit it?

b) How should we resolve the conflicting equities and guarantee the maximum opportunity for exploiting this new domain?

c) What should be the appropriate role for government: to direct exploration or provide encouragement for it?

d) Should we define legal structures or let them follow the development of patterns of use and behaviors?

e) How will this new frontier affect our global competitive position - in economics, politics, and military affairs?

f) How do we reassess our national security situation and how do we address our future security challenges?

How we resolve these issues carries real implications, as well as significant opportunity costs. First, these new, and imperfectly understood, information-driven phenomena devour scarce resources - not just money, but time, attention, and critical intellectual resources. These valuable resources could be applied to alternative endeavors during a period in which intense, unceasing domestic and international competition for economic as well as political advantage has become the norm. Choices about where to invest these scarce resources now have significant consequences not just for individuals but for nations as well. Second, and perhaps more importantly, models, metaphors, analogies, and paradigms are important not only as ex post explanations of what has occurred but also as reference frames through which our current perspectives are altered and our future decisions and actions shaped. These mental frameworks are absolutely critical in how we construct our roadmaps for proceeding through unfamiliar times and territory. Moreover, in addition to arguments about domestic impacts, there are basic questions about the character of the future global strategic environment in the wake of the Cold War. Will the "American Century" extend into the next millennium? Or will it become "someone else's century?"

Turner argued that the availability of the western frontier had affected both developments at home and America's attitudes towards the world at large: "The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land" [ 19]. The existence of the frontier significantly lessened pressures for either intensive development at home or for overseas colonial expansion and other foreign adventures. It may only be a coincidence, but it is interesting to note that, with the exception of the railroads and the associated iron and steel industries, not until after the closing of the American western frontier in 1890 did the U.S. turn to capital-intensive industrial development at home or engage in overseas expansion. As Turner highlighted, unlike in Europe or Asia, our frontier line was largely in sparsely populated and thinly developed regions, not on the guarded border between nations already contending over power, resources, or prestige [ 20]. The American frontier was then seen as new "open space" to be settled, to be exploited, or in which to be far from government's presence in everyday life. To many Americans of the time, it was not about carving territory from within existing national boundaries; it was about opportunity, not contention among Great Powers as with colonial adventures in Africa and Asia. Americans, in short, have historically understood that life is not a zero sum game and that opportunities can expand.

In this sense too, our present situation on the cyberfrontier resembles that western frontier experience: it is less about reallocating existing customers and sharing existing markets than about creating entirely new products, services, and industries - and opportunities as well [ 21]. The "West" was a place to get away from failure and from too much control, by social conventions or by government, and it is crucial to recognize the sense of freedom that the frontier represented, not only to Americans but to those drawn from afar to settle the America frontier. Great struggles would be fought over governments' ability to extend control, in fact as opposed to in law, and these arguments also mirror many present-day issues of contention over legal regimes and regulation of this new space [22].

Finally, perhaps the most important implication of the frontier analogy is to reorient our thinking away from the "newness" of specific information technologies or the particularism of a sweeping "Third Wave Revolution," [ 23] and to refocus our attention on the continuing crucial social and political themes that are intimately tied to our historical development. This recognition of the deeper historical roots will have important consequences for the choices we make about American society. The frontier metaphor provides a powerful framework to relate the developing features of an information-dominated society to the historical antecedents; our frontier forefathers had also " ... dreamed dreams and beheld visions" [24].

Lessons From the Frontier

Unleashing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

It is not coincidental that the tremendous impacts from a newly opening economic frontier began at the same time as the Soviet Union collapsed and the bipolar post-World War II structure began to disintegrate. For most of the 20th century, the United States had come to rely increasingly on large institutions and federal authority. The convergence of scale and centralization stemmed from four distinct factors - two domestic and two international. First, the process of industrialization at home tended to favor large-scale enterprises for their economies of scale; and these powerful private actors, in turn, provoked the rise of offsetting governmental power [ 25]. As local government institutions were found to be either too inefficient or too corrupt to control powerful private entities such as monopolies and trusts, people first looked to the states and finally to the national government for protection [ 26]. Second, critical domestic needs - clearly recognized during the Great Depression of the 1930s as national rather than private responsibilities - called forth government intervention that increasingly shifted authority from local and state levels and concentrated those government powers in federal hands. Together with a growing distaste for racial segregation that had given "states' rights" a bad name by the 1950s and 60s, the desire to meet our pressing domestic national needs had amplified the federal role to a very broad interpretation of federal responsibilities.

Third, foreign developments also contributed to the growth and concentration of federal powers. The escalating demands of national defense in the face of the successive challenges of fascism and communism continued trends begun in World War I, giving government extraordinary powers and reinforcing the federal government's increasingly dominant role as it provided for the common defense [ 27]. Moreover, at the international level, collective institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were seen as necessary to deter future international aggression. Finally, dollar crises in the 1960s, energy shocks in the 1970s, massive trade deficits in the 1980s, amplified by a concern about the "hollowing out of American industry," all increased American anxieties about our international economic competitiveness. These concerns - coupled with a belief that the pinnacle of industrial development demanded bigness, collective enterprise, and government intervention for successful commercial competition - increased interest in the dirigiste model provided by Japan and others. The result was an emphasis on the combination of bigness and government power that was inimical both to the outlook of the Framers in 1787 and to the individualistic values that had supported our Western expansion.

With the Soviet Union's implosion, these pressures finally eased. The focus of attention shifted away from international relations, and the more historically typical American concentration on domestic concerns reasserted itself. Witness the domestic focus of the 1992 presidential election campaign and the Clinton slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." A long string of failed - and extraordinarily expensive - government efforts in both domestic and defense realms had raised serious issues about the competency of government and its ability to deliver on its promises. At the same time, the conservative movement's desires to reduce the size and role of government, which had begun to bear fruit with the Reagan Administration's cuts to domestic programs, received new life as claims for government primacy could no longer be protected by the aura of national security.

Moreover, the dismal performance of many large corporations, with collapsing businesses and massive layoffs in the 1980s and early 1990s, called into question whether large commercial bureaucracies were any better [ 28]. The rapid growth of evangelical and fundamentalist sects shows that organized religion faces the same problems of lack of faith in large institutions and established authority. Finally, whatever had been our grudging, but perceptually necessary, reliance on these large organizations, there was buried deep in our collective psyche a strong suspicion not only of the competency, but also the good intentions of large bureaucratic institutions. The Progressives' distrust of private bigness and their war against the "trusts" reflected deeply held American suspicions of all concentrated power - and these feelings still exist. This is a sentiment, on the whole, that was not and still is not shared by European or Asian governments (nor our neighbors to the North), or their major economic institutions [29].

The tension extended into the popular culture with the competing images of Charlie Chaplin's film "Modern Times" and Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Both looked at the individual, increasingly flattened into anonymity by organizational "bigness." By contrast, the mythology of the frontier was the home not only of the cowboy, but of the "outlaw" as well - a character type that appears in literature from throughout the world and across historical periods. The outlaw must rely on himself for protection rather than the rule of law since he exists outside of the legal framework. The medieval European knight errant, the Japanese ronin, and our own western figures, as diverse as Billy the Kid and Shane, share deep thematic roots. In nearly all of these cases, right, truth, and justice arise from an intrinsic, internal set of values held by an individual rather than from sovereign authority, collective institutions, or procedural safeguards. The recurrence of this conceit suggests a deep-seated lack of trust in institutions and rulers and a faith in value of individual ingenuity and enterprise.

Thus, it should not be surprising that with the passing of the Cold War and its tidy, almost Manichean division of the world, and creation of a continuing threat, traditional American perspectives on government's proper limited role have re-emerged with new strength. Traits, such as initiative and innovation, previously focused by demands of our superpower competition with the Soviets, once again turned to pursue private gain rather than national survival - exactly as the immense technical base developed for national defense became "excessed" and available for commercial exploitation.

The Explosion of a "Net Culture"

Today, the successive waves of new information technology generations mirror the episodic stages of our earlier westward expansion; the "high-tech start-ups" that populate each of them represent our new frontier settlements. "," or any Web address, is the modern equivalent of the miner's claim or the homesteader's land patent - a mere $70 to stake out a two-year claim to a name on which fortune can be founded. After all, how different is the $5 million in first-round venture capital financing for a cyber start-up from the silver prospector's grubstake? One perceptive governor recently commented, "Our goal is to create new pioneers. The pioneers of the last century followed the railroads. The new ones follow the Internet" [ 30].

Our current conflicted feelings about "hackers and crackers" are probably not much different from those felt by westerners about gunslingers and quick-draw artists; each became iconic figures for their time. If we close our eyes and imagine, it is not hard to see and hear in today's e-commerce battles images and echoes of miners against claim jumpers, cattlemen versus rustlers, and farmers versus "free range" ranchers - it's only that intellectual property has replaced cattle and silver as the currency of the frontier [ 31]. Microsoft fighting America Online over "buddy lists" and instant messaging surely resembles earlier battles over barbed wired closing free range.

What is striking is how comments made about the earlier American frontier and those who settled it ring true about the new cyberfrontier. These similarities may illuminate the reappearance of "cowboy" values and fondness for Remington sculptures among the cyber-entrepreneur set. In reviewing Po Bronson's most recent book about "the curious culture of Silicon Valley," one commentator recently said, " ... the author delivers a revealing profile of Valley culture, with its emphasis on time, luck, and work and its conviction that nearly everyone can be just as successful as the most recent Wired cover boy" [ 32]. In discussing the Valley's venture capitalists, another writer said, "It doesn't matter how many times you strike out, so long as you hit some out of the park... They want people who have revolutionary visions, who truly believe they can transform entire industries overnight... Others might view such people as demented or delusional or megalomaniacal. Venture capitalists see them as attractive investment opportunities" [33].

We ought not be surprised that this new frontier, like the west, is again giving rise to a new "net culture" - that is, a distinctive set of behaviors: from dress, to language, to attitudes, to patterns of action, to political perspectives, and especially to values. As Turner noted, "The 'West,' as a self-conscious section [i.e., region], began to evolve" and it produced a culture based on frontier necessities and experience. Denver during the silver mining boom was not the genteel Boston of the 1880s; indeed, Denver of that period probably had much more in common spiritually with San Jose of today. And these behaviors and the attraction of the new culture are likely to be as important as any products produced in this new territory; especially important will be the values it fosters. The new cyber- or net-culture, often exhibited in archetypal fashion in Silicon Valley, strongly suggests a reversion to our earlier frontier experience, rather than continuing a pattern of evolution from the frontier through industrial to an ever more sophisticated (and protected) post-industrial world.

Understanding Government's Role

Part of the American genius has been the ability to adapt or co-evolve its governmental and socioeconomic forms to changing circumstances, not necessarily to carry over and enforce legacy laws or regulations that no longer fit the new circumstances. We can see this tension clearly in conflicting views among economists over the continuing relevance and meaning of "antitrust and monopoly" in the New Economy. Another part has been to accept the interplay between and the cyclically changing leadership of public and private interests. Settlement in the frontier areas - whether Ohio, South Dakota, or Oklahoma - followed broad patterns that rewarded individual effort and enshrined decision-making at the local level. Homesteads could be had for hard work. Voting for adult white males was tied to residency not to birth or to ownership of property; and taxes, school districting, and road maintenance were all tied to the smallest geopolitical unit, the township.

The frontier experience shaped a view of government's role that was more focused on facilitation than on enforcement; and it should not be surprising if the frontier values, emphasizing individualism and self-determination, lean in that direction. Of particular importance, therefore, may be the lessons that can be drawn from our frontier experience concerning the process of developing an appropriate government role and codifying a suitable legal regime.

While "hardy pioneers" may have populated the frontier, government's contribution to creating the necessary infrastructure had been crucial. Government financed exploration of the new territories; it paid for mapping of the lands and navigable waters; it negotiated treaties with both other colonial powers and Indian nations; it provided military protection; it made grants of land to railroads and settlers alike, and it established and enforced a legal regime. But these were enablers for private initiative and enterprise to undertake settlement, not the cause itself of settlement. Cyberspace similarly rests on an enormous and complex infrastructure put in place by a combination of government and private actions - from new information technologies that provide the physical underpinnings to policy, legal, tax, intellectual, and regulatory frameworks that enable contesting claimants to adjudicate conflicting equities. And in both cases, government contributed substantially to making settlement of the frontier possible and to encouraging Americans to venture forth.

But these important government activities should not overwhelm the appreciation of the large role played by individuals and private enterprise on the American frontier, in contrast to many other colonial ventures elsewhere. Settling the American frontier was a matter of private choice, as were decisions about moving on. Americans were far freer to choose whether to venture forth, where to settle, how to get there, and how to support themselves than any almost other frontier society in history. For the most part - and in contrast to, say, Australia's development in roughly the same period - settlement of the American frontier did not demand forced transport or military conscription. Going west was largely a matter of choice, as was staying. Even many who worked under conditions that we would now consider unfair - the treatment of the Chinese by the railroads, for example - still had chosen migration to the New World as a more attractive alternative to realities and inequities at home.

As a result of different historical approaches to exploiting opportunity, we should take care to understand what these differences portend for perspectives on and desired outcomes from future development of this new technological frontier compared with many other countries. Americans wanted the government to help them settle the new territories; they did not want government to decide where they should go. The frontier spirit encouraged action within broadly-agreed upon boundaries - not seeking permission. And when the pioneers settled the land, they wanted to make the rules and enforce them, not have a far-away government impose laws over them; the statehood movements throughout the west reflected the demand for self-rule.

This factor of personal choice in determining who went to the frontier is crucial to understanding its pattern of development and its impacts on the nation as a whole. One implication of individual choice is that the American frontier from the Colonial period onward was peopled through a process of self-selection. This self-selection, acting like a centrifuge, resulted in concentrating certain character traits, thus amplifying the frontier tendencies of individualism, independence, and self-determination. As historian Mildred Campbell observed now more than 30 years ago, migration selects for the ambitious and the entrepreneurial. It is likely that this amplifying process contributed substantially to the intensity of feeling and experience, the enthusiasm and exhilaration of setting forth with a group of like-minded pioneers on a grand adventure.

The cyberfrontier shares this characteristic of choice with the west. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find these same processes of concentration and amplification at work in the self-selected population that has first embarked out on this new cyberfrontier - the "early adopters," as they are known. This self-selection process is one important aspect of what makes a frontier special. People have no choice about existing in a "Space Age" or an "Information Age;" it will wash over and around them, whether or not they choose to participate. But active participation in a frontier experience is a matter of choice; the frontier draws those who have made a conscious decision to explore new territory, whether physical, conceptual, or virtual.

Implications for Institutional Development

When the changes are extreme or widespread, entirely new cultures can develop that go beyond merely incremental changes to old forms [ 34]. One only has to think about the dramatic changes in business practices and social etiquette caused by the widespread proliferation of the telephone to perceive the creation of a new culture and the need for appropriate new institutional arrangements [ 35]. In similar fashion, the fast-paced adoption of e-mail by both businesses and consumers over the past decade is now triggering a rapid evolution of new cultural norms that are appropriate to this new medium.

Indeed, such major changes in environmental or technological conditions usually spur new patterns of social organization that in turn demand new cultural features, e.g., the development of new institutional arrangements and behavioral norms appropriate to the altered conditions. This process goes beyond learning how to use new tools to the more encompassing issue of "social construction" in the face of new environmental or technological conditions - that is, the matrix of social, economic, and political considerations that influence how we respond as the challenge of adaptation is accepted, as new technology is developed, and for what purposes it is applied. Importantly, America has historically been more welcoming and less afraid of such major cultural shifts than most societies.

This focus on cultural evolution emphasizes that the processes of societal adaptation to a new environment or technology are crucial for developing ways to address the difficult choices among values and equities that are in tension. On the American frontier, these competing equities were seen, for example, in conflicts between ranchers who wanted freedom to graze cattle freely on open range versus farmers who wanted to protect their planted fields with fences. On the cyberfrontier, there are fundamental differences in views between those who want freedom to disseminate ideas and information (including encryption, pornography, and intellectual property) and those who want tight controls over and protection for many types of information. Other conflicts include strongly divergent views over government versus private control of initiative and innovation.

Both evolution and process imply a progressively achieved outcome rather than simply a pre-defined end-state or result that can be accomplished all at once. This factor suggests that it may well be important to recognize in what stage we are in this evolutionary process in order to understand the best way to proceed on deciding institutional and governance issues. For just as the conflicts on the western frontier took time to resolve, and the resolution was dependent on the stage of development, we need to be sensitive to the fact that our current situation will continue to evolve. Solutions appropriate to current conditions may not necessarily be appropriate to tomorrow's stage of development.

As pioneers extended the American frontier into uncharted and dangerous areas (particularly where Army forts did not exist for protection), it was common to witness a three-stage progression in the development of communities from mere collections of individual settlers. In the first stage, as early settlers established their individual homesteads, each family was largely responsible for its own subsistence and protection. During this stage, settlers were often isolated from each other and individual self-defense (by families) was the norm since no organized, or outside, means of assistance or protection existed.

In the second stage, clusters of population were created with the arrival of more settler families. Along with denser settlements, a sense of community developed. As trust increased through the development of personal relationships, a collective responsibility for reciprocal assistance and protection was accepted by most members of the settlement. Furthermore, it is worth stressing that we began our national existence with a militia-based military force and depended, until only very recently, on citizen-soldiers, not professionals, to fight our wars. This characteristic American reliance on the ordinary citizen to perform important public functions is also well captured by the notions of the colonial Minutemen or Western posses - in each case a collective duty to participate actively in protection of the entire community.

Finally, in the later stage of these frontier settlements, the community often recognized the need for the professionalization of many key functions. It then formally delegated its inherent law enforcement powers with a grant of authority to a sheriff appointed by the community [ 36]. Functions delegated often became the sole duty of the hired professional, and individual citizens then avoided participating in these activities, even when they had previously performed them as a community responsibility. Interestingly, a frequent concomitant to the delegation of authority was abandonment of personal and collective responsibility by individual members of the community - well illustrated in the classic American film High Noon. In the movie, the townspeople abandoned the sheriff in the face of danger; only at the end, after being shamed by the sheriff's wife do they recover their sense of responsibility and fight to uphold the norms they wanted. While it is a work of fiction, the resonance of High Noon as an American cultural icon owes much to audiences' recognition of the intrinsic truth of this situation in our national experience. It is worth noting, however, that, perhaps for this very reason, Americans have been very careful about what functions we do delegate to government, and to what level. We have been comparatively miserly in what place we accord the government [37].

The American notion of "civil society" - voluntary, shared, collective institutions and arrangements - as an alternate locus of responsibility, as well as authority and capability, sets us apart from those societies that either depend upon family and clan ties or, especially, upon governments for ameliorative activities. Few people on the frontier expected much immediate assistance from the government. If American "civil society" was not born on the frontier, it certainly grew up there. Many early commentators, including Alexis de Tocqueville, saw "association" among its citizens as one of the distinctive qualities of the United States.

"In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America. Besides the permanent associations which are established by law under the names of townships, cities, and counties, a vast number of others are formed and maintained by the agency of private individuals.

The citizen of the United States is taught from infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon the social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he claims its assistance only when he is unable to do without it ... . In the United States associations are established to promote the public safety, commerce, industry, morality, and religion. There is no end which the human will despairs of attaining through the combined power of individuals united into a society" [ 38].

It is worth highlighting that the American Constitution gives very few powers to the federal government - originally limited to the 17 specific areas listed in Article I, Section 8, plus whatever was necessary and proper for carrying them out - and reserves to "the people" all others not specifically delegated. As Chief Justice John Marshall held for the Supreme Court in 1819,

"This government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the power granted to it, would seem too apparent to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge. That principle is now universally admitted" [ 35].

More recently, this critical principle was again restated by a former Solicitor General, "The national government has only those powers that the Constitution assigns to it" [ 40].

And as the Economist noted in contrasting American with Canadian attitudes, "Americans [are] innately suspicious of government" [ 41]. There are clearly views from the current cyberfrontier that mirror earlier suspicions of government intentions and ask little more than to be left alone. John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has written,

"On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather ... . Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project" [ 42].

As a result of the diminished sense of government authority and, in many cases, competency, there are currently substantial difficulties in defining the most appropriate federal government role in this new environment, even with respect to its traditionally recognized mandate for national security [ 43]. This has shifted considerably from the Cold War view when, at least within the then traditionally understood context of national security, the federal government clearly had such a mandate. Today, however, that mandate has been significantly diluted, given both the disappearance of the Manichean threat and the very substantial involvement of private entities in providing a wide range of critical national security services.

Therefore, the federal authority is substantially less clear. The federal government is not accorded either overt authority over or explicit responsibility for protection of most critical national infrastructures - although we recognize they constitute essential national security resources - but it is important to understand, at the same time, that the federal government is likely to be held accountable for any major disruption. This combination of antithetical views creates an unusually complex terrain over which national information policy must navigate. And as a result of these crucial changes in our national attitudes, defining appropriate roles for both public and private entities is extraordinarily complicated.

As discussed previously, our western frontier analogy suggests a broad spectrum of governance forms and institutional structures that could be adopted as paradigms for the new cyberfrontier. Each carries significant implications for patterns of further development and governance. How appropriate each may be is to some degree conditioned on one's assessment of where the new frontier stands on that evolutionary development path. These forms range from: 1) leaving protective measures in individual hands as a matter of retaining personal responsibility (individual self-defense); to 2) accepting the responsibility for protecting the community's interests and retaining the authority in the community's hands (collective self-defense); to 3) shifting the authority for community regulation to the government (formally delegated authority). While many outside the cyber-community argue for more government intervention and control over this new frontier, most members of this new frontier community would prefer only limited and very judicious intrusion by government, especially as most believe that few outside this frontier understand its distinctive characteristics - in particular its rapid rate of change. Thus, whether we accept as most appropriate choice for our form of governance the post-industrial or frontier analogy is an important decision.

Domestically, the real issue is probably not choosing among these choices as exclusive options, but dynamically balancing among them. This choice depends fundamentally upon several crucial factors: first, where one wishes to retain responsibility as opposed to authority; second, how much authority the community is prepared to place in someone else's hands; and third, where the actual capabilities to ameliorate problems are lodged. However, whatever our national preferences, the very nature of an increasingly integrated global information infrastructure suggests that many other nations will wish to play a greater role in selecting governance mechanisms and directly taking part in them. The pressures to assure greater international representation on ICANN [ 44] are a likely harbinger of future international conflicts over governance of the new frontier, and the more recent furor in Seattle over World Trade Organization ( WTO) rules highlights how sensitive a subject governance choices are likely to be. Many other nations and interested parties will favor more government intervention, both in the process of technology evolution and in control of its consequences, and they will press strongly to have their views accommodated. Thus, it is likely that we will witness substantially more pressures to make the cyberfrontier conform more quickly to more settled norms preferred by older societies.

Some Implications for U.S. National Security

A proper appraisal of our national security outlook is an important element in appreciating the American prospect. Recognizing the immense opportunity presented by this new frontier should confirm that, unlike our fears during the Cold War, we are on the "right side of history." However, the concepts and instrumentalities that dominated our thinking during the period of superpower confrontation are no longer suitable guides for future national security policy. As Abraham Lincoln said, " ... we must think anew and act anew" [ 45]. If the cyberfrontier is indeed " ... at the hither edge of free land," then in framing our policies we should be thinking about the nature of competition and confrontation in exploiting this vast new open space, not conflicts over existing limited resources and demarcated territory.

It is important to remember that for most of our history, national security implied defense of our borders and frontier territory, not interventions abroad. This meant primarily defense against physical attack by external military forces, although during the Cold War prevention of ideological infection and subversion became an additional element of concern. Certainly after the War of 1812, the United States faced no serious threat to its territorial integrity, but security on its moving western frontier was of constant concern. Not until the Spanish-American War (1898-1899) did the United States extend its domain beyond its continental borders and engage in "foreign wars."

However, from the time of our colonial occupation of the Philippines in 1898-1899 through the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and collapse of the Soviet Union, we tended to see our security frontier as "over there." During the first nine decades of the twentieth century, our defense perimeter was forward, both on land and sea. With the breakdown of the bipolar international structure after 1989, our security posture for the last decade has more resembled defending the "imperial marches" (as the Romans would have said) than the more historic American concerns with securing our own territorial defense. Perhaps it is worth pondering whether our security circumstances have now come full circle - to where we were when Turner presented his paper in 1893 - with protection of our frontier at least as important as foreign adventures.

The U.S. propensity since the Gulf War to operate with impunity overseas (especially unconstrained by an opposing superpower), whether acting unilaterally or leading coalitions, will certainly trigger future opponents to consider the American homeland fair game. Thus, American military forces engaged in overseas operations in response to aggressive acts by regional powers should expect to face multiple threats. In addition to the areas of forward operations, the U.S. itself is potentially vulnerable as are the routes and the supporting infrastructures in the regional theaters of conflict and throughout the world. We should certainly not expect safe havens or secure rear areas. Both our global interdependence and the emerging doctrine of force projection with sustainment from a distant continental base will exacerbate our growing vulnerabilities. And we are unready physically and ill-prepared psychologically for the consequences of attacks on these targets that could inflict large-scale civilian casualties as collateral damage.

The United States has entered an increasingly communications- and information-rich environment in which all of society is dependent on the proper functioning of its critical infrastructures - especially the national information and communications systems [ 46]. The economic, technological, and political dimensions of power, are now clearly recognized as key components of national security along with military strength, and they are also heavily dependent on information and advanced information systems. As a result, there is concern that one of our most vulnerable territories may be our own cyberfrontier. In the developed world, no individual, organization, or government can choose to remain apart from the interconnected network of systems and relationships if they wish to function as part of society, whether domestic or global. An over-riding feature of this new environment, therefore, is "reciprocal dependency." This means not only sharing in the mutual benefits but also becoming both reliant on the information web in which we are all enmeshed and vulnerable to the actions and behaviors of others, whether intended or unintended. While this feature of reciprocal dependency may not be new, as frontier settlers well recognized, the speed and intensity of its current manifestation set it apart, as do the immediacy of the linkages to distant and unknown parties.

Increasing concern with terrorism (both transnational and home-grown), the emergence of information warfare, and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, on the one hand, and the vulnerability of our citizens and our critical national infrastructures at home, on the other, have raised important questions about the continued validity of the national security construct that we held throughout the Cold War. Governments historically held a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, the classical expression of sovereign power, and they often also possessed a real monopoly on the ability to wield violence on a large scale. Coupled with the clear constitutional mandate for the common defense, the U.S. government, therefore, was (and, as importantly, was seen to be) uniquely competent to address national security problems, especially when they presented themselves in the classic forms of overt threats by a hostile foreign government.

But major acts of domestic terrorism, including the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings as well as attacks on American facilities abroad in Saudi Arabia and Africa, triggered new examination of our national vulnerabilities and potential threats. A series of studies on these issues, culminating in two 1998 Presidential Decision Directives, PDD-62 and PDD-63, began to refocus attention on protecting our security against threats directed right at our homeland, and especially against our vulnerable critical infrastructures. More recent foreign commentary, especially in the aftermath of NATO's intervention in Kosovo, tends to reinforce the fear that the main threats against our security will come not on foreign battlefields, but at home since many potential opponents see direct confrontation with our military forces as futile [ 47]. And these threats, from within and without, will demand an entire range of "homeland defense" capabilities.

Thus, a not unreasonable case can be made that our most important security perimeter is once again on this continent and that, in the face of growing threats from technologically sophisticated opponents, "homeland defense" of our people and territory should become a principal mission of American military forces. It was only a little over one hundred years ago that the American Army's principal focus was defense of our frontier territory. Circumstances now suggest that focus once again ought to be reemphasized as a core responsibility of our entire national defense establishment.

Beyond the narrow concept of military defense, for much of our history, foreign affairs and national security involved not physical entanglement and overseas presence but engagement with ideas and principles, such as the Monroe Doctrine and Open Covenants. This tendency to want to reshape a world by words, ideas and values rather than deeds culminated with Woodrow Wilson's crusade for a new, more pacific and democratic world order, based on a strong institutional framework through the League of Nations. This tendency, furthermore, would be consistent with the forces - such as democratization, economic liberalization and globalization, and the Information Revolution itself - that are reshaping the international system and the strategic environment and, thereby, both redefining the role of military force and highlighting the importance of what we now term "Soft Power" [ 48]. However, many of the most powerful instruments for promulgating words, ideas and values are not in government hands - nor, in a free society, should they be under government control. Thus, these trends substantially complicate our national security challenge.

For all the reasons noted above, a key element in developing a national security strategy suitable to our Information Age circumstances must be to realign responsibility, authority, and capability consistent with the current transformation. Responsibility is defined here to mean the inherent obligation to address the problem. Authority is defined as the legitimated power to address the specified problem; it is granted through explicit delegation by the people (or, in some systems, seizure by coup de main), and it may possessed by several holders concurrently. Finally, Capability is the physical potential or expert competence to address the problem.

These factors create a radically new and different environment from our industrial-age inheritance. In particular, the information age threatens to disrupt prevailing patterns of responsibility, authority, and capability among government and private entities - including how we plan and execute critical national security tasks. Any assessment of the role of government and the extent of its legitimate functions, including how it exercises its powers, cannot ignore these types of changes. The frontier analogy is useful exactly because it suggests a different balancing than those of the industrial or post-industrial periods. Agreement on these issues must, however, be achieved within the bounds of our social compact if an acceptable solution is to be found [ 49]. How this is accomplished - that is, the choice of where to vest these powers and which instruments to use - must be consistent with our nation's political beliefs, economic system, and social fabric.

While many societies might choose, on the basis of their perceptions of efficiency and effectiveness, to place all these powers in the hands of the national government, the tradition in the United States has been to diffuse authority among levels of government (federal, state, and local) and, indeed, to retain many powers in the hands of the people themselves. Whatever the frictional losses, Americans have traditionally preferred foregoing the arguable advantages of centralized decision-making, believing that there is less risk in minimizing the powers granted to government [ 50]. Consistent with our federal form of government, even where the people are prepared to grant government the authority, the public often prefers to disperse that authority among many government hands, thereby creating an intricate web of federal, state, and local relations that must be accommodated in any new initiative. Moreover, even if there were agreement on authorities, protecting the nation's entire range of national security interests under these new circumstances is not a problem that will be solved by swift arrival of the Seventh Cavalry, or any set of government forces acting alone [51].

Therefore, solutions to these critical choices appear not in granting government more authorities and providing additional capabilities, but rather in learning how to induce, not order, appropriate actions by all the relevant players, most significantly individuals and private organizations. As it did on the western frontier, civil society must be prompted to accept responsibility and employ its capabilities (perhaps now through liability and contract enforcement), not rely on government to protect all vital national security interests [ 52]. To a very large degree in the United States, the capabilities, along with the necessary authorities, to protect many of these crucial resources, even those performing vital societal and national security functions (except for those clearly owned and operated by governments), already lie in the hands of private owners and operators. What is needed is for these powers to be exercised - in self- and national interest. It should be noted that these perspectives on distributed power and more voluntary coordination are not fully shared around the globe; therefore, it is to be expected that these different perspectives will give rise to significant tensions as international agreements to reduce information vulnerability and enhance information security are sought.

Concluding Thoughts

And so, now five centuries after Columbus and almost four centuries from landings at Jamestown and Plymouth, we have again embarked on a new frontier adventure. Appreciating our heritage is a key to understanding some of the complex challenges that currently becloud our vision of the future. As the new cyberfrontier beckons, America's prospects appear bright. The CyberFrontier is no more a "South Seas Madness" or a Tulip bubble than was the West - occasional freefalls of the stock market notwithstanding. But it is important to discern the big long-term picture rather than the short-term perturbations. It is the implications of a renewed sense of "boundless opportunity" that should guide our way. Thus, appreciating the American frontier experience should allay fears that the cyberfrontier is just another giant Ponzi scheme. America is in the vanguard in exploiting this new territory; and our historical affinity for the betting on good luck, undertaking risk, and exploiting opportunities should stand us in good stead as we continue the transition from an industrial to an information age.

As a result of self-selection, our new cyberfrontier has concentrated certain historically American traits as it evolves its distinctive culture. Thereby, it has magnified the inherent differences in attitude between itself and the rest of the country. At the same time, the diffusion of those traits throughout American society has been more rapid and accepting than elsewhere in the world. We should expect that there will be significant disagreements and even open confrontation with other nations in making the transition to Information Age societies. These types of transformational changes take time.

It was not until the Great Depression of the 1930s, well into the Twentieth Century and more than a full hundred years after the Industrial Revolution began, that the alignment of responsibility, authority, and capability among public and private actors was adjusted to conform to the altered political, economic, and social realities of domestic conditions in the Industrial Age. Working out our arrangements for the Information Age will likely take a substantial period of time for both internalization of appropriate new behaviors and codification of rules and procedures; adaptation to revolution is, by necessity, a long-term process. How we choose to realign and balance these three critical powers will tell us much about our views of the social contract.

Making these choices will require a framework for decision as we have before us two significantly different paradigms. Which one we choose to emulate - whether the frontier or the post-industrial paradigm - will have dramatic implications for the culture that evolves. Culture means accepted and ingrained behavioral norms and patterns of behavior, including appropriately supportive and reinforcing legal and formal structures. Thus, culture implies an underlying consensus among society's members on values; currently, there is little evidence that such a common sensibility concerning the evolving information environment exists. Unlike the earlier frontier, we are still feeling our way towards an appropriate cyberculture that puts emphasis back on individual self-reliance and community self-help, rather than government reaction. Perhaps this is because we are still in a "pre-community" phase focused primarily on our own individual concerns. We are not yet ready to put our lives in collective hands because we do not fully appreciate our circumstance of "shared risk" from reciprocal dependency [ 53]. In most cases, there is only a fragmentary understanding of these factors and even less appreciation of the implications that will flow from them. But the notion of a cyberfrontier can be a bright lodestar to help guide our way as we explore and settle this new territory.

An Annex: Turner's Frontier

But what was the American frontier? While the terms "West" and the "frontier" are often used interchangeably by many commentators, Turner's "West" needs to be understood as more than just the lands beyond the Mississippi River. The "West" was an entire process of development as well; and under its powerful influence, the frontier was where America forged its distinctive character and evolved "peculiar" ways of responding to challenges and opportunities. From the earliest colonial times until the end of the nineteenth century, "west" was the direction of the American frontier; and from those colonial times, the west represented an opportunity space for those brave enough to try for it.

"Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them" [ 54].

Turner saw the "frontier" not as a continuously moving line, but as a series - successive waves - of discrete expansions: first up the eastern river courses and then finally through the great western deserts.

"The fall line marked the frontier of the seventeenth century; the Alleghenies that of the eighteenth; the Mississippi that of the first quarter of the nineteenth; the Missouri that of the middle of this century (omitting the California movement); and the belt of the Rocky Mountains and the arid tract, the present frontier" [ 55].

We may now tend to forget that even the pastoral areas of gentle New England countryside were not always thus. On the cold winter night of February 29, 1704, of the 300 settlers in Deerfield, Massachusetts (now the site of a well-known boarding school), 48 were slaughtered and 111 of the survivors were captured in a large Indian raid by allied Mohawk, Huron, and Abenaki tribesmen, fomented by the French. "When dawn broke, the attackers set fire the houses and barns afire and slaughtered the livestock. The captives were forced to march north in the snow, leaving with only the clothes on their backs" [ 56]. While most of the captives were eventually ransomed, the raid stood as a clear reminder to all the colonies and to Britain as well of how dangerous was frontier life.

Not only was there a series of expansions pushing the geographic frontier continuously westward, but each new expansion started the cycle of social development anew. With each stage of westward expansion, there was a " ... a return to primitive conditions" [ 57] in which life-threatening dangers were commonplace. Turner saw a progression of these stages of frontier exploitation: first by hunters and fur traders, then cattlemen and ranchers, miners, and then farmers, and finally manufacturing and industry - "a recurrence of the process of evolution" [ 58]. As a result, there was also a progression in stages of settlement and density, each with their attendant development of appropriate behaviors, rules and institutions. As Turner noted, " ... one can study the germs of processes repeated at each successive frontier ... . And the settlement of these and similar questions for one frontier served as a guide for the next" [59].

The frontier was a harsh place and, if it was to be exploited, demanded initiative, self-reliance, and the ability to work hard and endure isolation. It was not a place of fully fleshed laws and rules. The overall American legal framework was reinterpreted and adapted to fit the exigent circumstances, and rough justice was often the result. Fairness in result rather than process was the object; and certainly equality in outcome was not expected. Luck and circumstance, as well as hard work, were seen as keys in that equation. But most of all, it was seen as a land of boundless opportunity, a place to seek solitude or fortune. The frontier developed its own rules and patterns of behavior, its own culture and community, that shape many American attitudes to this day.

"The stubborn American environment is there with its imperious summons to accept its conditions; the inherited ways of doing things are also there; and yet, in spite of environment, and in spite of custom, each frontier did indeed furnish a new field of opportunity, a gate of escape from the bondage of the past; and freshness, and confidence, and scorn of older society, impatience of its restraints and its ideas, and indifference to its lessons, have accompanied the frontier" [ 60].

The frontier provided a " ... safety valve for all the discontented who were trapped by past customs or by present economic hardships" [ 61]. Timothy Dwight, historian and President of Yale, in 1821 had characterized the pioneers as social misfits - "too idle, too talkative, too passionate, too prodigal, and too shiftless to acquire either property or character" [ 62]. The chance to walk away from failure and have opportunity for a fresh start often acted as a spur for tackling the hardships of the frontier. The frontier was the land of the "second chance" (and often third and fourth); it was populated by people often without history, intent on abandoning their pasts. Many of those who went forth on the frontier often wished to leave government, family, status, neighbors, church, and other entangling relationships behind. It was the place and chance to recreate identity. The frontier offered the rare opportunity to be defined by deeds, not by one's ancestors or even one's own past. It was far more egalitarian - almost all shared the hardships of frontier life - and less socially stratified than the more settled east; either sudden fortune or disaster could change one's place.

"The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom - these are traits of the frontier, or traits called elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier" [ 63].

For much of our frontier experience, and for most frontierspeople, despite the hardship and danger, it was a history of profitable extraction and exploitation - taking from the vast treasure trove of wild animals, minerals, open lands, and rich soils what individual labor could manage without the need for large amounts of capital investment - thereby producing a people " ... restless, inventive, self-confident, optimistic, enormously energetic" [ 64].

The American frontier also offered space, on the one hand, to accommodate the huge influx of new immigrants; and, on the other hand, these immigrants helped to populate and make productive the vast open spaces waiting for settlement. At the same time, the frontier was a major influence in helping to socialize and acculturate these new arrivals. "The frontier is the line of most rapid and effective Americanization" [ 65]. Turner believed that the frontier had been a powerful force in fostering nationalism and working against sectionalism while concurrently instilling a skepticism about relying on outside institutions or distant government. In addition, the special conditions of frontier life contributed to forging a new and distinctive American culture there as well as shape an idiosyncratic political perspective far different from the east or Europe. The frontiersman " ... eschews both authority and society if he feels choked by them" [ 66]. These distinctive traits acquired on the frontier would have long-lasting effects on American political beliefs.

"As has been indicated, the frontier is productive of individualism. Complex society is precipitated by wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family. The tendency is anti-social. It produces antipathy to control, and particularly to any direct control ... . The frontier individualism has from the beginning promoted democracy" [ 67].

The frontier was very much a place of "do first" and write the rules afterward; expedient solutions to problems were preferred to careful procrastination. At the same time, Turner himself marked the dark side of the frontier character traits:

"But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits" [ 68].

"In this connection may also be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency and wild-cat banking" [ 69].

However, we must not ignore the important role of government in frontier history. The ease of exploitation and the appearance of individual initiative often masked the rich infrastructure that underlay frontier settlement, even in its most primitive days. The American government had explored and surveyed the lands before most claimants arrived; and pioneers brought with them the American framework of civil and criminal law. The government contributed a legal regime for land, mineral, and water claims, as well as enforcement mechanisms; and the Army provided at least minimal protection from Indians. But on the whole, the federal government was not anxious to remain the principal authority for governance of frontier settlements.

As early as 1787, for example, under the Continental Congress, the Northwest Ordinance created the means for local self-government and representation, and for obtaining statehood, rather than permanent reliance on direct rule from the national capital. The Ordinance established townships and set aside land for local government and education, as well as private settlement. As another example, in a clear attempt to spur western settlement in the early 1860s, the federal government had taken an important series of steps to create the necessary social as well as physical infrastructure. The Homestead Act (1862) specified a process for obtaining nearly free private land patents for individual citizens by settlement and improvement rather than payment, that while not an unqualified success, allowed over 600,000 families to receive clear title to their farms by 1900. That same year, the Morrill Act (1862) created the system of land-grant colleges throughout the states and territories and fostered programs in scientific, agricultural, industrial, and military studies. And in 1863, the transcontinental railroad link, which the federal government had encouraged, was completed, providing the crucial communications link that tied the west to the markets and peoples of the east. Throughout this period, the Army helped to defend the sparsely settled territories and federal judges literally "rode the circuit" to provide justice.

The government clearly played a crucial role as enabler of the western settlement; but it did not, by itself, play the dominant role in the settlement and subsequent development of the frontier. Unlike many other colonial offspring, the American frontier was settled by private initiative; and the value system evolved by those pioneers still informs the American character. The pioneers did not wait for permission, nor for completed social institutions and government structures. What the frontiersmen wanted most from government was not to get in the way; these attitudes were the consequence of that relentless westward movement and they still remain a powerful force in American life.

"This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character" [ 70].

About the Author

Jeffrey R. Cooper is Chief Scientist, Strategies Group and Director, Center for Information Strategy and Policy and Policy (CISP) at the Science Applications International Corporation in McLean, Virginia.


This paper was created with the editorial assistance of Dr. Amy Friedlander, Associate Director for Research Center for Information Strategy and Policy (CISP) at the Science Applications International Corporation in McLean, Virginia.


1. John Babsone Lane Soule, Terre Haute (Indiana) Express, 1851.

2. See Francis Fukyama, "Second Thoughts: The Last Man in a Bottle," The National Interest, Summer 1999, pp. 16-33.

3. For an interpretive look at the technologies and impacts of the Information Revolution, see Jeffrey R. Cooper, The Emerging Infosphere, Center for Information Strategy and Policy, October 1997.

4. See Norbert Wiener, God and Golem, Inc. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1964. It is also worth recalling Arthur Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible.

5. See, for example, Mike Dash, Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. New York: Crown, 2000.

6. However, even Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has now taken the position that the "New Economy" is real and the source of altered productivity and growth relationships. See A. Greenspan, "Is There a New Economy?" Address to the Haas Annual Business Faculty Research Dialogue, Berkeley, California, September 4, 1998, reprinted in the California Management Review, Fall 1998 (volume 41, number 1), pp. 74-85.

7. Greenspan, op. cit., p. 76.

8. Turner is now thought to be too triumphalist and lacking respect for Native American cultures and achievements; others criticize his emphasis on emotion and ethos. See below.

9. Harold P. Simonson, ed., Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1966; cited subsequently as Simonson.

10. Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in America, In: Simonson, p. 27; cited subsequently as Turner.

11. Turner, p. 57.

12. I am indebted to Dr. Paul Strassmann for this important insight into the economic impacts of new frontiers.

13. Only within the past year has there been an acknowledgement that a "New Economy" exists. See Michael Mandel, "How Most Economists Missed the Boat," Business Week, November 11, 1999.

14. One needs only to look back twenty years to July 1979 and President Jimmy Carter's "national malaise" speech to appreciate how far we have come.

15. See section VI at p. ff.

16. Even though we are only partially there, Paul Strassmann deserves recognition for highlighting this issue.

17. The focus on Turner's appreciation of the frontier's impacts on character and affective aspects of the American experience, even if clichéd (or because of it), reveals an important truth often lost in the focus on technology issues.

18. Turner, p. 27.

19. Turner, p. 28.

20. It must be recognized that Turner wrote with a typical Nineteenth Century sensibility from a reference frame that hardly recognized indian (Native American) or minority (Black or Mexican) rights or claims, especially with respect to the vast western lands.

21. As Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad wrote, "These managers [of successful new companies] seemed to spend less time worrying about how to position the firm in existing "competitive space" and more time creating fundamentally new competitive space." Competing for the Future, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1994, p. xi. This is really frontier-style behavior.

22. These issues arose as early as colonial times and were a significant factor in debates over the Northwest Territories and Ordinance.

23. Alvin and Heidi Toeffler, The Third Wave.

24. Turner, "The Problem of the West," 1896, cited in Simonson.

25. Paul Johnson, "The Prospering Fathers," Commentary, July-August 1999, pp. 66-69.

26. The Progressive tradition, started at state level in the Midwest, became a powerful national force in response to the rising private power of corporate interests. See, for example, Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. New York: Random House, 1960. The "muckrakers" and novelists such as Upton Sinclair in The Jungle and Frank Norris in The Octopus helped to highlight widespread corporate abuses.

27. The War Industries Board headed by Bernard Baruch and the Food Administration by Herbert Hoover, both established during World War I, set the pattern for later government involvement in control of civil industries for national security purposes. Sedition acts, modeled on the earlier Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 established the model for later controls over free speech in the name of national security.

28. See Carol J. Loomis and Joshua Mendes, "Dinosaurs?" Fortune, May 3, 1993, p. 36ff. In this cover story, the authors examined the near-collapse of Sears, General Motors, and IBM, the then dominant companies in their respective industries, and questioned whether such large organizations were fit to survive.

29. The fundamental divergence in value system and outlook between the U.S. and much of the rest of the world is highlighted by American suspicions and European acceptance of non-market mechanisms, such as government sanctioned trusts and monopolies. This difference is well captured in Franco Amatori, "European Business: New Strategies, Old Structures," Foreign Policy, Summer 1999, pp. 78-89.

30. Governor Ed Shafer (R-North Dakota), quoted by David Broder, "Despair and Hope on the Farm," Washington Post, August 15, 1999, p. B7.

31. Kevin Rivette and David Kline, "Surviving the Internet Patent Wars," Industry Standard, December 13-20, 1999, pp. 180-181.

32. Heather Green, "The Curious Culture of Silicon Valley," Business Week, August 9, 1999, p. 16. A review of Po Bronson, The Nudist on the Late Shift.

33. Alan Deutschman, "The Sand Hill Road Gang," GQ, June 1999, pp. 124ff.

34. This and the next section are derived from Jeffrey Cooper, Towards A National Information Strategy: Aligning Responsibility, Authority, and Capability to Provide for the Common Defense, SAIC, Center for Information Strategy and Policy, Revised Edition, 1 September 1999.

35. It is interesting to note that Bell and other early developers of the telephone system believed that each business would only have one telephone instrument. This misconception was repeated in the early years of computer development when IBM thought the entire market would number in the hundreds. In both cases, the developers failed to foresee the widespread proliferation and diffusion of these technologies. Important to note, it was not the invention itself but the widespread diffusion throughout society that triggered the cultural adaptations, and, therefore, the broad social consequences of these technologies.

36. A variant was the appointment of a U.S. Marshal who held authority from the territorial leadership.

37. One element that distinguishes the American political system from most others is that powers not explicitly delegated remain with the people, rather than authority flowing to the people by grant from a sovereign power.

38. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book I, Chapter 12, ttp://

39. McCulloch v Maryland, 17USC316.

40. Charles Fried, "Good Cause Make Bad Law," New York Times, Thursday, April 27, 2000, p. A31.

41. The Economist, Canadian Survey.

42. John Perry Barlow, "Declaration of Independence," Davos, Switzerland, February 8, 1996.

43. Mandate usually implies a coupling of authority and responsibility.

44. ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the new effective governing institution for Internet membership replacing the solely U.S. IANA, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

45. Abraham Lincoln, "Second Annual Message to Congress," December 1, 1862.

46. The eight Critical Infrastructures recognized in PDD-63 are telecommunications, electric power, transportation, oil and natural gas storage and delivery, banking and finance, water, emergency services, and government services.

47. See John Pomfret, "China Ponders New Rules of 'Unrestricted Warfare'", Washington Post, August 8, 1999, p. A1.

48. See Jeffrey R. Cooper, Seizing the "New High Ground," Center for Information Strategy and Policy, SAIC, McLean, Va., forthcoming.

49. This is an argument fundamentally about values and may be "out-of-sync" in a world that now demands econometric analysis of policy issues.

50. Many, if not most, Americans would further argue, rather convincingly, that centralized decision-making is, in fact, less efficient as well as more dangerous. See David Brin, The Transparent Society. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1998.

51. The reader will recall that the Seventh Cavalry operated in the transmississippi West. Five companies under the direct command of George A. Custer were decimated at Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. Leaving aside the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the attack, the incident reminds us that law enforcement occurs after the fact. In some cases, hoping that the cavalry will save the day is insufficient and some reasonable pre-emptive or defensive policy is necessary. For enthusiasts, offers transcripts of contemporary accounts of the event.

52. At the same time, civil society should demand that governments facilitate, not hinder, appropriate self-help measures. Unconsidered actions (such as the legislation (H.R. 2281) to conform U.S. copyright law to the new World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) standards) can prevent private actors from carrying out legitimate and necessary information protection activities.

53. Moreover, there will be some who are unwilling to accept the concept of sharing risk collectively and others simply unwilling to particiapte in collective defense.

54. Turner, p. 57.

55. Turner, p. 33.

56. Wendy Moonan, "Predicting a Defining Moment, " New York Times, July 29, 1999, p. B37.

57. Turner, p. 28.

58. Turner, p. 28.

59. Turner, p. 33.

60. Turner, pp. 57-58.

61. Simonson, p. 12.

62. Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New-York (1821-1822); quoted in Simonson, p. 3.

63. Turner, p. 57.

64. Simonson, p. 11.

65. Turner, p. 29.

66. Simonson, pp. 10-11.

67. Turner, p. 51.

68. Turner, p. 57.

69. Turner, p. 57.

70. Turner, p. 28.

Editorial history

Paper received 17 May 2000; accepted 5 June 2000.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

The CyberFrontier and America at the Turn of the 21st Century: Reopening Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier by Jeffrey R. Cooper
First Monday, volume 5, number 7 (July 2000),