Friday, March 9, 2007

Web 2.0 and political opportunities

I asked myself, why has Web 2.0 and all of this exciting technology we're all buzzing about not reformed democracy? Why are democratic habits and practices atrophying around the world? For the United States, I have part of an answer...there aren't opportunities for citizens to wield effective authority in governance. An vanishingly small elite group of leaders make decisions and there is not infrastructure for the general public to participate.

The extent to which the general public can participate is simply to participate in semi-annual elections in which citizens are reduced to consumers. We each have one vote/dollar and can spend it as we see fit. Here web technologies are doing some good. The George Allen campaign debacle illustrates how the web can make politicians accountable to the entire electorate for what they say. One commentator complained that YouTube prevented politicians from being able to 'hone their message'
to particular audiences. If you look at it another way, YouTube is preventing pandering - if you say something to one group, everybody is gonna know it, and you'd better not pretend you think something different (unless you change your mind. But learning to accept politicians changing their minds is a skill that we need some practice with!)

But besides holding politicians accountable for everything they say, what else would count as an enhancement for participatory democracy? A closer relationship to individuals and government? Given the current strength of hierarchy in government, there are too few decisionmakers for them to be able to make meaningful connections to many of us. The poor dears would be overwhelmed. How would government function if it were less centralized? There would certainly be problems with that. Oh, I'm confused.

By the way -
In post-modern society there isn't a clear definition of the 'general public'. Individuals' relation to governance is on a sliding scale. Identifying two classes - the leaders and the followers - is misleading, perhaps. On the other hand, there could be a power rule in effect. People with government power accumulate more and more. The other name of the power rule, by the way, is the "rich get richer" rule. That's a topic for further discussion, though.

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