The idea of building cities on the waves is an ancient one. From the pragmatic approaches of Venice and the Netherlands to the fanciful tales of Atlantis, it is a concept that has captured the human imagination. Using the vast stretches of blue reaching out to the horizon and exploring their secrets is a dream that we are now beginning to realize. We are on the cusp of going beyond mere expansions of building up shores or reclaiming spaces from the waves with dikes. In a new stage of the human tradition of exploration going back to the earliest human beings who wandered through and out of Africa we can now begin to settle on the remaining seventy-five percent of the surface of planet Earth.
The current version of the concept is generally called seasteading though it has had many other names across history. The basic idea is to build a floating and mostly self-contained island or archipelago out in international waters. These floating colonies would develop their own social systems, governments, industries, and new technologies in support of their goals of providing new opportunities for human aspiration and flourishing.
These are, of course, not new goals. What has changed from the visions of the past is that the technology is finally reaching a point where it is both cheap enough and safe enough that the majority of people can begin to take it with a bit more seriousness. A desire to break away from existing social structures and to pioneer new technologies and industries is what is providing the social impetus for these.
If you haven’t heard of seasteads previously it may not be too surprising. After all the closest examples of these structures to date are deep sea drilling units. These are an excellent proof of concept showing the viability of some of the concepts under current technology but there are several ways in which they differ from what we might truly call seasteads. To make this distinction clear then it is worth going through the points of what is generally meant when we refer to a seastead. For typical use, the term seastead refers to projects that include long-term occupation, semi-autonomous operation, and (___).
These aspects are necessary to making something a seastead but they don’t fully elucidate the draw of these places. After all why would any significant number of people want to move from the land to isolated islands in the middle of the ocean and far away from many of the comforts and luxuries we have come to enjoy on the mainland? There are of course many reasons and they are as varied and unique as the people who would choose to live on a seastead. One is that it is a chance to get away from it all. For some people, the isolation really is a selling point. Another is the chance to develop new methods of governance and test ways to live together that would be nearly impossible in mainland states. Others still will want to go for new opportunities to develop novel science and technology. And then there are just people who are always looking for the new horizons. Those who, throughout human history, have wandered out to see something new and challenge the unknown. The pioneering types will likely be the first and lay the groundwork.
Seasteading then is a new destination for humans. With custom build islands, we are beginning to convert the sea, which has previously been simply a place to cross, into a place to stay. Certainly, these places do have their drawbacks and limitations but new technologies are constantly being developed. Indeed these new developments are the only reason why this is becoming possible now when it has only been a myth in previous eras. Seasteads are a logical next step in technology and human aspiration and we can expect to see them appear around the world in the coming decades.