[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Digital Democracy [/.]
> X-within-URL: http://slashdot.org/features/98/12/18/1319204.shtml
> Digital Democracy: An Idea Whose Time Has Come News Posted by JonKatz
> on Friday December 18, @01:19PM
> from the We-Really-Don't-Have-To-Take-It-Anymore dept.
> As the Middle-Aged White Guys in Suits dig in in D.C. for what is
> hopefully their last stand, the idea of Digital Democracy never looked
> better. If it's a good idea (and it is) to empower individuals by
> teaching them how to master their own technology via movements like OS
> and free software, isn't it past time to use the technology of the Net
> and the Web to reverse the flow of power, away from the entrenched and
> increasingly lunatic journalists and politicians in Washington and
> back to the individuals staring from a distance in shock and horror
> and what they're seeing on their TV screens? Forget Wag the Dog.
> Joseph Conrad, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppla (maybe Fellini, too)
> have seized the capitol. Only we can't leave the theater.
> Never mind the silly allusions to "Wag the Dog." Somehow, Joseph
> Conrad, Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola (maybe Fellini, too) got
> together to take over the government and play out their own visions of
> our political life. The American capitol is now the Heart of Darkness,
> fusing the darkest and most paranoid visions of "JFK" with the
> spectacularly represented lunacy of "Apocalypse Now."
> The movies have somehow become real life, but we can't leave the
> theater and go home. The horror never ends. Whenever we turn on the
> TV, they're all still there, shouting, posturing, spinning.
> More and more, it seems clear that they're never going to go away.
> Each one will have to be dragged out kicking and screaming, the last
> zealot in Congress, the last self-righteous reporter, the last
> screaming pundit on cable.
> It's time to start thinking about Digital Democracy. We have to be
> able to do better than them.
> If the goals of OS and the free software movement are, in part, the
> free and democratic sharing of technology, why not stretch the notion
> farther and put it into the context of our increasingly surreal, even
> mad, political times?
> The natural extension of the booming OS and free software movements
> are into politics and democracy, especially the radical new ways in
> which digital democracy could once again empower individuals instead
> of politicians and journalists, and reform the obviously broken and
> outdated way in which we resolve political issues.
> America was founded as a Republic, not really as a representative
> democracy. For one thing, Americans were scattered far from one
> another and couldn't make their feelings known quickly. So elected
> representatives were elected to gather and make decisions on their
> The authors of the Constitution didn't have all that much regard for
> the judgements of the average citizen, any more than their successors
> seem to. The structure was tilted towards a deliberative, rather than
> simply representative system so that educated and affluent landowners
> could screen the passions of the rabble and have the final say.
> The early pundits and cyber-gurus of the Internet's first generation
> spouted on quite a bit about the impact of networked computing on
> democratic institutions like Congress and journalism. These
> institutions, they predicted, would increasingly become ineffective
> and irrelevant, swept away by the power of digital technology to
> reverse the flow of power.
> This cyber-rhetoric seemed - was - heavy-handed, Utopian and
> overblown. It evoked the table-thumping Marxists more than the
> architects of a new, civil order. But this week, it looks more better
> by the hour.
> If you take the OS idea and daydream about it for a bit - millions of
> individuals taking control of their own technology and shaping the
> information they access and share, doesn't this idea have even greater
> application for politics? And could it possibly be more timely? If
> would could express ourselves politically - and have our expressions
> count - isn't it at least conceivable that the U.S. Congress might be
> talking about something that matters today, and for the last year?
> Digital democracy is no longer a pipedream, not in the year of the
> online dumping of the Starr report and the impeachment proceedings.
> It's no longer difficult to imagine every American having a computer
> in the next few years, or having easy access to one in schools,
> libraries and public buildings. People could vote online now as easily
> as they vote by ballot or booth - more easily really. Each citizen
> could be assigned a digital voting number and use it to vote from home
> or the school or library down the road, where computers already exist
> or could easily be set up. Fraud would be easier to spot and guard
> against, thanks to advances in both encryption and programming. And
> this wouldn't even raise fresh privacy issues, as voters have to
> register now.
> This week, the country is confronted with the bizarre spectacle of a
> runaway political entity - Republicans in the House of Representatives
> - deciding, correctly or not, that no interest is more important than
> impeaching President Clinton - not public sentiment, military action,
> education, health care, the economy or any other civic or social
> agenda. Even if they're right, lots of people are uneasy about this
> willful disregard of public will. Most Americans don't want this to be
> happening, and have said so for months. The politicians have said that
> it doesn't really matter, the next election is two years away. By
> then, nobody will remember this strange time. That's a good argument
> for some form of Digital Democracy.
> Digital voting made possible by the Internet would make a spectacle
> like the impeachment proceedings impossible. Everything shouldn't
> necessarily be subject to popular vote, but the impeachment of the
> President should be, and the Net and the Web could make it possible
> even now.
> Watching music lovers challenge the primacy of the music industry
> through digital technology like MP3's and the Rio raises the question
> of whether we really need a middleman institution like Congress to
> decide issues like this for us. After the year long Lewinsky/Clinton
> media barrage and the dumping of reams of material, pornographic and
> otherwise on the Internet, we know as much about the charges against
> the President as they do. We are able and equipped to make up our own
> minds and express our own wishes. And perhaps even see our wishes
> carried out.
> Do we need to be bound to completely by their agenda, when we can now
> set our own?
> Unlike Colonial Americans, we aren't disconnected and remote. We can
> make our feelings known instantly. We have the technology to gather in
> communities and clusters to debate and consider as much or more
> information as members of Congress.
> Many politicians and journalists have feared, even loathed, the
> Internet, since its inception. Increasingly, it becomes clear why. It
> really does threaten them. It really does provide the means to take
> power away from them - and their co-produced spectacles like
> impeachment proceedings and presidential nominating processes - and
> distribute it more broadly. This week marks the perfect time to begin
> consider the possibilities of Digital Democracy. To broaden the notion
> of empowering individuals begin by the designers of the Internet,
> advanced by hackers, geeks, nerds, developers and designers and being
> played out on sites like this one today. From the moment the Internet
> began to grow, power and information began to leach away from
> entrenched institutions like government, the press and academe and
> towards hundreds of thousands, then millions of individual citizens.
> The impeachment proceedings are a powerful argument for the idea that
> it's time to take that idea farther.
> Digital technology doesn't mean that democratic decisions would have
> to be rushed or impulsive. They could be as deliberative as we wished.
> Digital voting could be spread over time, perhaps requiring several
> votes. A broad range of issues and decisions - appointments, foreign
> policy decisions, criminal matters - would be inappropriate for online
> But the Net is becoming a medium already well set-up for civic
> discussions. The Internet could host hundreds, even thousands of
> public online forums for debate and discussion - via message boards,
> chat rooms and websites that could be designed for towns, counties,
> states or regions. Politicians, agencies and advocates could
> disseminate information and arguments via national websites, mailing
> lists and e-mail.
> These forums would have to consider new kinds of rules for debate and
> discussion, an online issue long in need of attention. Posters would
> have to identify themselves and take responsibility for their words.
> Discussion would center on issues, not personalities. Presidents and
> legislators could bring information and decisions directly to the
> American public. If the Starr report was worthy of being dumped on
> line, why not the House Judiciary report on impeachment? Voters could
> read it online, debate it, decide to pass it along for further action
> or stop the process right there.
> If digital democracy were in place, this issue would have been
> resolved nearly a year ago. Tens of millions of dollars would have
> been better spent. Many more important issues would have considered,
> accepted and rejected. Clinton would either be doing his job or long
> gone. Instead of feeling cheated and ignored, the public would feel
> enfranchised and involved. Democracy wouldn't be a remote circus
> practiced far away by alien cultures, but something as close as a desk
> or living room.
> We are no longer a country of merchants and mostly illiterate farmers.
> Paine and Jefferson, the fathers of media, couldn't quite have
> imagined the Internet, but there seems little doubt that they have
> loved its communicative and democratic possibilities. Those of us with
> access to computers and modems have access to all of the information
> and opinions in the world, thus the means to consider issues and
> express ourselves. In fact, there are thousands of people who've been
> online for years and who are experienced at creating digital
> communities, monitoring conversations and developing the software and
> hardware to run them efficiently and accurately.
> No system involving Digital Democracy could work or even be seriously
> considered until and unless all Americans were guaranteed access to
> computers. A few years ago, online users were a tiny, techno-elite.
> That's no longer true. Computers are increasingly ubiquitous, at
> schools, businesses, and at home. Personal computers are already being
> mass-marketed that cost well below $1,000, and public agencies like
> schools, libraries and municipal office buildings are increasingly
> wired. They could offer online voting to non-computer users in much
> the way they offer voting booths and make them available. Many more
> Americans own computers than voting booths.
What raises the standard of living may well diminish the
quality of life.
The Club of Rome
The Armadillo Group ,::////;::-. James Choate
Austin, Tx /:'///// ``::>/|/ [email protected]
www.ssz.com .', |||| `/( e\ 512-451-7087