With the upcoming election I thought it’d be timely to repost this article from Meme Therapy’s earlier incarnation. Rreading these comments what struck me is that these are just as true now as they were two years ago. If anything much of what was said has become even more obvious than ever before. With that said let’s take talk a little jump to the left and do the time warp:
Originaly posted Sunday, 23rd of July , 2006
We’re getting political again. We’re kicking off a week of technology and politics oriented Brain Parades and interviews with this question:
Information technology seems to have dramatic potential to revolutionize democracy. Putting aside these visions for a moment what do you see as the current bleeding edge of progress, or potential progress, in this area?
MT: As usual you’ll have to wade through my two cents first: The first step that I see happening are networked grassroot movements gaining an increasing say in the internal politics of political parties. This isn’t going to happen quickly. But it has in fact already begun with political candidates co-opting (ie paying them) bloggers for self promotion purposes. Over time internet enabled grass roots movements will become increasingly more important, but unlike network television there’s only so much influence that money can buy in this arena. In fact the reverse may be true, the wired grassroots will become important sources of funding for politicians (that’s hardly a controversial idea anymore). And that means that eventually political parties may actually have to begin courting the support of these networks by giving them a say in and access to their internal machinations, candidate selection and policy formation. Political hacks and policy wonks won’t walk down this path eagerly but they may be forced into this by evolutionary pressure in the same way that politicians in the 60s had to adapt (albiet in a less fundamental way) to network television.
Now onto our commentators:
Networked information technology has extended our eyes and ears so we can see all over the planet. Sophisticated search technology makes it possible to easily discover what’s important. Weblogs make it easy to shares ideas with potentially huge groups of people, and call them to action. That’s why China and other countries with repressive regimes don’t allow their citizens to freely use these technologies.
Gotta be Al Qaeda. As a networked and extremely violent global NGO, they’ve had a stronger effect on democracy than anybody else in the world.
Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, editor, critic, blogger and a helluva good science ficion writer.
For reasons having to do with my basic conservatism, I am suspicious of political innovations. Not totally against, but suspicious. So in the Brandeisian spirit of “laboratories of democracy,” let’s try Instant Runoff Voting (as advocated by my colleages at the New America Foundation, Michael Lind and Steve Hill, and the Deliberative Democracy (as advocated by James Fishkin at Stanford). Each of these thinkers say that their ideas have been tested–I say, test ‘em some more, in limited venues–these ideas should sit in the tea saucer for a long time.
And in the meantime, even as we contemplate future reforms, I think we should be reflecting further on what has been lost in our country as a result of past reforms. For example, the two-century drift away from small “r” republicanism–replaced by more direct democracy and populism–has been regrettable. The Founders warned that too much democracy, at the expense of the oligarchic and aristocratic features that they explicitly wrote into the Constitution, would lead to military demagogues. It’s hard to say that they were wrong to be worried about that martial-demotic possibility.
But at the same time, technology marches on, including biotech. If we see humans speciate, for example, in the next century or so, we won’t have to worry about the reinstallation of aristocratic and oligarchic features of society–they will come along with the New Men and New Women.
And similarly fresh developments await us with AI and robots. What sort of politics will they adhere to? Here, and in other countries, such as Japan? Those who count themselves as optimists about technology should consider such possibly prophetic short stories as Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands” and Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.” Not to mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the grand-daddy of all dystopic tech-tales.
James Pinkerton is a columnist, author, and political analyst. He served on the White House staff under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and on each of their presidential campaigns.
Dr. James Hughes:
All communications and information technologies have the capacity to increase human self-determination, and our connections to one another, in that they make it easier to find information and collectively organize to participate in deliberative democracy. On the other hand, the corporate, cultural and political forces that want to maintain existing inequalities of power actively try to restrain those subversive capacities, and fill the channels with Paris Hilton, bombing runs and Fox News. Technology does not democratize by itself, it just changes the playing field on which democratic struggles are fought, creating openings that activist citizens can exploit. So I don’t see one hopeful tech, but just the constant effort to identify and make use of the emancipatory possibilities of new tech.
Dr. James Hughes teaches Health Policy at Trinity College, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and its affiliated World Transhumanist Association. Dr. Hughes produces the weekly syndicated public affairs talk show Changesurfer Radio andis also the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future.
“Seems” is the operative word. The current bleeding edge of progress is metaphorical, not actual. It’s not that some piece of technology allows for better representation (so far, most of them are actually just better tools for voting fraud by the corporations who control them). But using interactive technologies and communications tools changes people’s felt relationship to public discourse. It reinventsthe commons as a participatory experience, and provokes people to think about participating in collective decision-making. This is its real value.
Douglas Rushkoff is a New York-based writer, columnist and lecturer on technology, media and popular culture. He’s also the author of Demos‘ Open Source Democracy which in large part inspired this Brain Parade.
The most obvious recent advance is that blogs have been able to provide a check on the mainstream media’s most egregious abuses. What we’re seeing in the blog phenomenon is what I call a media fracturing. We’ve seen this once before recently, with the advent of cable and satellite television. In the olden days, when there were only three or four networks, TV dramas were bland, uninteresting affairs with simple plots, and almost no character development, and no major changes between episodes. Each episode ended pretty much where it left off. The reason was that networks were more interested in width than in depthâ€”they needed to get the biggest audience for an hour. So you couldn’t risk alienating your audience by killing off a major character or making overly intellectual plots, or whathaveyou. But today, we have so many more choices that TV shows are vastly more intricate they want audience loyalty, now. And the result is a much greater quality of television. Well, blogs have the same potential. They are so highly specialized that if you want to know what’s going on in a particular area, you can often find a blog that specializes in just that one thing. The importance of this phenomenon can be pretty exaggerated, but it does have obviously healthy implications for democracy, since the spread of knowledge is good for democracy.
That being said, liberty is vastly more important than democracy. And I’m very delighted at the proliferation of libertarian weblogs.
Timothy Sandefur is a Staff Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, where he is currently working to prevent the abuse of eminent domain, and to protect the right to earn a living under the Fourteenth Amendment. Timothy contributes to Positve Liberty and Panda’s Thumb.
I do not think there is one bleeding edge. Rather any technology which creates more distribution in resources, physical, informational, financial, is needed to strengthen peer production. Web 2.0 itself, as the creation of an architecture of participation, is pretty crucial and far from finished. I think we need systems that do not just rely on the wisdom of crowds, but allow for excellence and participation to flourish together, so that we do not get just lowest common denominator results. We need to insure that the new forms of social or algorhythmic selection (respectively a la Wikipedia and a la Google) do not create new entrenched elites, but remain flexible and changeable according to need. Finally, we need a lot of tools, technological and human (facilitation tools), to enhance transparent collaborative processes, and we need better institutional and legal tools. Conclusion: there is no magic wand, but continuous construction of the new participative world.
Clearly MySpace/Facebook social networking and YouTube.
Why? Because teens in LA used MySpace to organize protests to the immigration law througout the LA school system and no one had a clue it was happening.
Giving people the ability to mobilize social networks and throw up their own video which is watchable online give people a tremendous advantage in social communication. The more personalized a service can be, the easier it is to use, the more likely it is to allow people to become politically active. The desire for social change is always there, but the easier the level of commitment, the easier the organization becomes. Exchanging ideas has been the most difficult part of social activism. This personalizing technology makes it much more likely to engage people.