Will Digital Democracy Save Us from the Broadcast?

In an article in Counterpunch: Stolen Fire: the Future of Democracy in the Age of Network Technology, Michael Welton, a professor with Athabasca University, considers the utility of network technology in advancing and sustaining democracy.

Many have put their hopes for democracy in digital form, as blogs, forums and other forms of electronic communications. Here on the Left Coast, an organization know as Civinomics proposes to augment local democracy through online discussions and “voting” on local topics of political interest, and making the results available to local politicians and government staff.

One might think this would be a positive direction, engaging the interest of the public in local issues and providing an easy forum to express their opinions.

However there is an enormous difference between expressing one’s opinion and taking part in the process of democracy.

Democracy is not voting, electronically or with traditional pencil and paper. Democracy is taking part in the day to day process of decision making by meeting with representatives, attending public meetings and hearings and meeting with neighbors and community members to discuss problems and situations in our local communities and work out our ideas for solutions. We then take these ideas to the public forum, bring them to our representatives and follow and support the progress of their adoption.

We don’t always get what we want, of course. It’s a synergistic process in which the outcome is determined by an ever fluctuating interrelationship among those taking part in the process. The important thing is, unless one is part of that process, one’s views and opinions are not represented in the outcome.

Electronic voting does not and cannot substitute for face to face involvement in the process of representative government.

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