INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Prospect JULY 23, 2009 - by Brian Eno
Brian Eno's monthly column takes in the minor miracles of global regulation taking place every day.
Those of us who fantasise about a future in which the thornier problems facing mankind are managed by miraculous new forms of global governance tend to overlook the fact that there are already several longstanding working examples. These are the global organisations that make sure things carry on working. They are run by the kind of people usually disparaged as "faceless bureaucrats." I raise my glass to them.
The grandmother of them all must be the General Postal Union, founded in 1874 to establish the protocols by which a letter posted in London can find its way to Istanbul or Toronto and vice versa. The name then changed to the Universal Postal Union, perhaps in anticipation of its services being required in other parts of the galaxy.
Last summer I bought a rail pass and travelled through several European countries. It was so easy, and I wondered how it all worked. I discovered that there exists, somewhere in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Association for Railway Interoperability. It's responsible for making sure that you can board a train in London and find yourself a day or two later in Belgrade or Athens or Copenhagen, having travelled via the railways of several countries on the way.
You thinks railways are old hat? How do you imagine the internet keeps on running? There's a committee called the World Wide Web Consortium, "created in 1994 to develop common protocols that promote the web's evolution and ensure its interoperability" - composed of hundreds of member organisations.
There is even the International Committee on Standardised Genetic Nomenclature for Mice. And there are thousands more. I find it reassuring to know that while we're busy arguing about things like MPs' expenses somebody's doing some useful work.