wire fence cover image for borders issue

Borders and walls are going up all over the world

Image credit: E&T

Can you ever imagine the world living as one? Not with all these walls and borders.

John Lennon’s 1971 song ‘Imagine’ should be more controversial than it is. We can all get behind the overall sentiment of “Imagine all the people / Living life in peace”, but other lyrical details are more divisive. The line about “no religion, too” will alienate at least half the world to start with. And he sang “Imagine no possessions” while sat at a white Steinway baby grand in the enormous, luxurious, all-white living room of his stately home in England.

“Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do” is easier for the very rich who can choose to live more or less wherever they want in the world, but not so for most people. Generally, we’d prefer the world to be an easier place for us (if not everyone else) to move around in. Yet right now it’s going the other way. New boundaries and borders are being thrown up everywhere, both physical and virtual.

The most obvious example that springs to mind is Trump’s plans for the US-Mexican border, which so far he continues to insist will be a real physical wall despite criticisms that it may not be practical or even possible. Yet it’s making progress and you can see the contender designs. Don’t get too excited; they are all, erm, just walls – albeit very big ones.

For an even more ambitious engineering project, how about fencing off the Pacific Rim? Technology editor Tim Fryer calculates what it would take to make real the fictional barrier as it appears in the new science-fiction blockbuster movie ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’.

There are plenty of extraordinary barriers already on Earth, though, and associate editor Josh Loeb will take you to the most romantic, strangest and even revolting walls in the world. Features editor Vitali Vitaliev visits the line between the North and South Korean border to see what it’s like on the world’s most volatile border, while Tim Fryer looks at sea walls and defences in times of rising sea levels.

Are physical barriers the best way forward or should we learn to live with climate change by accepting we’ll lose more land to the sea? He looks at the difficult choices facing engineers and governments around the world.

Are physical barriers always stronger than virtual ones on dry land, too? Crispin Andrews looks at how the idea of a digital or virtual border, such as that proposed for Ireland after Brexit, does and doesn’t work elsewhere, while Rebecca Northfield explores the opportunities for technology within - or instead of - prison walls.

Technologists have long hoped the internet would bring down barriers around the world. Sadly, things seem to be going the other way in the virtual space as well as the real world, with more barriers around countries’ cyberspace, too. “Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world” ought to be more possible with today’s technology but we’ve a long way to go before “And the world will live as one”. We still live in hope.

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