The Parameters Of Modern Utopia – Chasing The Perfect State With Twitter Data

The word ‘utopia‘ means the ideal state – a nation, or society, where laws, government and socioeconomic conditions are as perfect as they can possibly be.

We have Sir Thomas More to thank for this strangely beautiful word. Many have tried to describe a perfect state – Plato among them – but More, in 1516 book ‘De optimo rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia’, put a name on this elusive creation.

Throughout human history, we’ve tried to create utopias – you might say that’s all we’ve ever tried to do, really. History is littered with attempts to create perfect cities, and so is our fiction.

Image: the Golden Age by Lucas Cranach the Elder

This leads us to ask:

What would a modern-day utopia look like?

Last year, when the Global Shapers Colombo Hub contacted me about staging an event at one of their conferences, I returned to this question – this time, turning to Twitter for an answer. I downloading a dataset of 7,805 tweets containing the word ‘utopia’ to see what people were actually saying around the subject.

(you can download the dataset from here: Shapers Utopia data – Archive)

Twitter is not the ideal place to describe a society, it’s conversation gold – religion, economics, jobs and race play out every day across Twitter. My logic was that if I could isolate core elements in these tweets, I could piece together the parameters of today’s Utopia.

7,800 tweets. Weed out the spambots, the marketers, the shoe ads. Weed out anything not English. That brought me down to about 5,000.

Remember when people said, unironically, that young tech billionaires were gonna usher in a new utopia? said some. 

Your mama’s so classless she could be a Marxist utopia, said another.

Utopia doesn’t exists. Utopia will never exist. But it is an excellent marketing tool, said yet another. 

Basic keyword analysis failed, simply because the majority of the discussion was actually not constructive. ‘No utopia in #dytopian #world of THE ORGAN HARVESTERS’ doesn’t really do much for the conversation.

But then I struck something useful.

RT @telesurenglish: Can you imagine a day without cars? No traffic, no noise or pollution. Bolivia creates this utopia every year for a day…

RT @wifeyriddim: canada actually seems like utopia. mad liberal, free health care, beautiful landscapes everyday, low crime rates nd they s…

@gkjohn free speech is part of Marxist Utopia. There is no such thing anywhere in the developed world

RT @admittedlyhuman: Fractional reserve banking is basically a Marxist utopia right? Everyone contributes according to ability and withdraw…

Context really does kill brute tooling. I decided to use human analysis for the problem. Weeding out duplicates, I printed out two thousand-odd tweets and invited some sixty or so Global Shapers to pick up these Twitter thoughts and sort out whether they belonged in an ideal state or not. Here’s what we found.

By and large, here’s what an ideal modern Utopia will provide:

Free speech

World peace

Open data 

Gender balance, or equality 

Racial equality, especially with regard to discrimination (often voiced in the form of: @john_roddy96 You’re wrong, but okay. Keep living in a utopia where black and white people are policed the same.)

A stable economy (hints of fractional reserve banking, increased minimum wage, universal basic income)

Responsible news and media reporting (surprisingly)

Good healthcare for all (often voiced here as an end to disease)

But then things come to a halt.

@kailashwg @RituRathaur wow a world without Pakistan would be utopia

When God, discipline, decency, love of country are positively non-existent at home, you create monsters…not utopia…

Utopia – the model Society! Coming – Your Rulership in God’s Kingdom ▸ | #future #hope #prosperity

The differences creep in. Most potent seem to be the religious differences and nationalism. Politics, at the end of the day, seem to be merely the different roads we all take on the pursuit of utopia: the rest of them, however, bring a lot of differences to the table. An Islamic utopia is unlikely to be the same as a Christian utopia. An American utopia is probably going to be completely different from what China or India would hail as utopia. Even if we agree on everything else, there are still differences between our ideal states.

@LanceTHC_ What if black ppl had a our space….like a black utopia everybody was black … from the homeless to the wealthiest…

The problem, then, is not that we lack a utopia: it’s that in our heads we have too many utopias to ever reconcile properly. As Lyman Tower Sargent said, “[t]here are socialist, capitalist, monarchical, democratic, anarchist, ecological, feminist, patriarchal, egalitarian, hierarchical, racist, left-wing, right-wing, reformist, free love, nuclear family, extended family, gay, lesbian, and many more utopias.”

I assumed we were, as a race, building towards one utopia. We aren’t. We’re building utopias that will conflict with each other.

World peace will never happen because one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia.

We can look at this in two ways.

One, we can say that perfection is an impossible ideal, but pursue what we can – the common core than all utopias seem to share.

Or two: we can acknowledge that utopias must and will clash, and commit to building worlds and societies that can take a hit or two.

This brings us to an interesting point in fiction: no one utopia is plausible. When writing, when imagining the world of the future, we must realize that each utopia we portray will be a dystopia to some; and that even if we don’t imagine them, Utopia must have an antagonist – a rival, just as perfect to some – just waiting outside those city walls.

Further reading:

Co-living: utopia 2.0?

Co-living: Utopia 2.0?

The Independent: Nine of the most miserable attempts to create idealised societies

Airship Daily: Nine utopian cities and what happened to them

Project Gutenberg: Utopia, the translated text