Technology and Politics

The articles The Net and the Future of Politics: The Ascendancy of the Commons and The Tragedy of the Commons are very interesting when read as a pair. One discusses the reality that many problems do not have technical solution, while the other speaks of how the Net aids Democracy. While the Net provides tools to encourage Democratic action, those tools themselves do not provide a solution to the problems faced in a Democratic society as the article suggests. Instead, it requires a fundamental extension in morality, just as the population problem does.

Hauben suggests that technical advancement such as online newsgroups and other discussion forums create meeting spaces for those who are unable to attend traditional political meetings. However, I’d be curious to see who was actually attending those meetings. Are they the same people who attend town meetings and are just finding another forum to voice their opinions or are participants in online meeting spaces really these citizens, as Hauben puts it, who are just “too busy to leave their normal jobs on a regular basis to help govern the community?” I suspect the former. I believe it would take a lot more than just providing the tools necessary to participate in Democratic activities to get people to be more involved. A change outside of technology, an overall shift in values and priorities of citizens would have to take place for and increase in political involvement to take place.

I guess the most evidence I have is from my own personal life. Over the past month, I’d seen people standing on overpasses with signs, which gave me a general idea that an election was coming up. However, I did not find motivation to seek out information either in the public forum or online. Time wasn’t even my excuse, although I certainly could have used it. I simply wasn’t interested. Basically, it took my friend sitting down with me and going over the initiatives the night before the election and driving me to the polls the next morning. It was human influence that got me involved. And that was just merely voting. Being involved in actual political discussions is out of the question for me – over dinner, online and certainly not in a community meeting.

These two articles also got me thinking about the digital divide and, in turn, the political divide. Technology provides a division between the haves and the have-nots. Generally, this is a divide between the young and the old, the rich and the poor. These divisions exist in politics too. The older generations are typically more involved in politics. If the Net is drawing citizens into political discussions that wouldn’t normally participate in offline discussions, is there also a divide between what is being discussed between the two groups? It would seem that some sort of liaison would be necessary to bring the opinions, discussions, topics of online meeting forums into the offline world to make the discussion at all effective. Perhaps, the better solution would be to tie on and offline discussions together through technology. For example, streaming town meetings over the internet and allowing citizens to participate with the live discussions through online chat sessions. That way, the divide would be somewhat closed and opinions of all involved parties would be communicated regardless of access to technology or constrained by time and location.

This solution, however, does not solve the overall problem – many people are politically inactive not because of time, location or technological constraints, but because they simply are not interested or have some other personal reason for not being involved. It has nothing to do with the forums available to participate.

– Heather

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Comments

  • Meg  On 15 November 2005 at 7:31 pm

    Heather,

    Good observation about your personal life, voting and having someone influence you to vote. I like your idea about streaming Town Meetings but I still have doubts about how many people would watch. Do you think it would work?

    Meg

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