Technology matters in the world that IR makes – it always has and it always will. This is because it helps us understand and explain the world and also helps to shape it. So, the same kinds of technology that have helped to develop drones that are killing people in the Middle East and elsewhere have also enabled the delivery of more effective health care in remote parts of the world. Today, technology seems – irrevocably, perhaps – to have changed how scholars and students access information and how it is processed and published in an acceptable and professional way. This is because technology is changing faster than are understandings of the world that IR is making.
Technology also constantly changes the very ‘stuff’ of IR. For example, the complex and still unresolved relationship between IR and the idea of globalisation may well be the result of IR’s failure to understand the fact that new technologies have eroded the discipline’s central tenets – those of sovereignty, order, power and the very idea of ‘the international’.
Technology may well have finally shattered any hope of a detached, or objective, search for truth that the academic discipline of IR once hoped to tap from the practices of the natural sciences. Can IR scholars pretend to be objective on an issue when technology (media, internet) regularly reminds us that in some distant place, bodies are piling up?
Notwithstanding IR’s undertaking to provide understanding and rationality, technology seems to have widened conceptual cracks at the social, political and economic levels. As I write these words, there seems no end to the erosion of this order and the headaches that will follow. Consider three technology-generated issues that immediately knock against IR’s busy windows. First, as viruses like Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS spread, the invariable question is whether technology can halt this. Second, packaging its ideological message in bundles fashioned by technology, the Islamic State group continues to wreak havoc and draw in supporters globally. Finally, the global monetary system is flummoxed by bitcoin – technology’s reimagining of what money is, and can be, at the global level.
Is one tradition of storytelling in IR – that of the state, sovereignty and an international system – at an end? In earlier times, the making of the international was slow and ponderous as letters and directives travelled slowly between the metropole and periphery. Today, this is an instantaneous process – the international is being made and remade by bits, bytes and blogs. The discipline is challenged to respond to this new way of knowing – which makes the book in which this chapter appears – with its presentation in various formats and its open access – an investment in IR’s future.