e-democracy redux

Joi Ito links to Ross Mayfield’s post on “Indirect Democracy” and complains that some seem to be confusing what he is calling “emergent democracy” with direct democracy.

Of course, there is a rich and varied literature on democracy and networked technologies. While blogs are a hopeful technological move in the right direction, they are not at all a brave new world. The same sort of hype (yes, I am reinventing myself as a non-bloghyper) existed around Usenet, and indeed around the radio.

I am excited by the new interest in how blogs might be employed to encourage democracy. I think they might have a valuable role to play. But I worry that the current discourse is trying to reinvent the wheel a bit. Why not fall back on people like de Sola Pool, or even Herbert Marcuse, to a certain extent. We don’t have to even go back decades, we can go back years.

Suggesting that folks read the literature to get a richer view of the problems of electronically mediated democracy sounds both elitist and pedantic. But really this is something that should appeal to techy people: the virtue of laziness. If people have not only thought about this before, but argued and experimented, why not make good use of their experience.

And so, treading deeply into pedantry, here is a very brief and incomplete list of links to follow:

Froomkin, Habermas@discourse.net: Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace

Iyangar, Luskin, Fishkin, Facilitating Informed Public Opinion: Evidence from Face-to-face and Online Deliberative Polls

London, “Teledemocracy vs. Deliberative Democracy

Fung and Wright, “Experiments in Deliberative Democracy

Witschge, “Online Deliberation: Possibilities of the Internet for Deliberative Democracy” (pdf)

In brief answer to Ross Mayfield’s post: I don’t think it is so easy to disaggregate direct democracy and deliberative democracy. The recall is a great thing, if you trust voters to think through the issues before casting a vote. The problem is that it is difficult to get the average person to think about politics. This is not a new problem (cf. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems). The real question is whether blogs might have led to the kind of public deliberation that would have yielded a better choice of representation. I think they could, potentially, lead in that direction. I also think it is equally possible that the kind of “discussion” encouraged by the atomized nature of blogs is detrimental to deliberative processes.

In other words, blogs are not the answer to democracy. Build it, and they will not come. As a technology — in the usual sense of a set of programs — they are nothing: snippets of code (if that!) to allow frequent content updates on the web. As a social technology, they do allow for mass interaction, but they are neither the only, nor necessarily the best, way of doing this. The real question is how to create an environment in which people can make intelligent decisions. This may have an electronic component, but I sincerely doubt it is essential.

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  1. Posted 10/9/2003 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    i’ll say that Tamara presented this paper to good effect, and i think she’s on to something much more significant than the necessary requirements for democracy, she is well into the realm of defining whats possible in online deliberation of a political nature, which is a more expansive category.

  2. Posted 10/13/2003 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    is internet realy abut normal pepol is it not just a digtal version of mensa wher smart persons that dont have anybody in real life to talk to becuse they dont undertand what they are talking abut to share ideas make creative soulions and get things done that would be to much hassel to do in real life

  3. Posted 10/13/2003 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    This presumes that most people who use the internet are smarter than average. I see little evidence of this.

One Trackback

  1. By silent dreams on 10/11/2003 at 5:45 am

    =-” href=”http://alex.halavais.net/news/archives/000646.html”>-==-. Just want to log this for later retrieval. Lots of e-democracy related articles, not in the least a 125 pages beast written by Michael Froomkin….

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