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Making Technology Democratic

JonKatz posted more than 14 years ago | from the beyond-the-pre-installed-political-candidates dept.

United States 238

Americans used to love both politics and technology. That's no longer true, and the latter is being blamed for citizen disconnection from the former. But is it the fault of technology that fewer Americans are voting all the time? It was impossible to pay much attention to the pre-installed political conventions which concluded last week, hard to imagine a more anti-democratic, less interactive gathering. Now that these awful hypefests are over, it's time to ask one of the most interesting questions in contemporary politics: Can technology be used to promote democracy?

A century and a half ago, the visiting French critic Alexis de Tocqueville described a politically exuberant United States whose citizens didn?t let booming technologies like the steam engine distract them from enthusiastic personal involvement in public affairs and community life.

"If an American were condemned to confine his activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one half of his existence; he would feel an immense void in the life which he is accustomed to lead, and his wretchedness would be unbearable," de Tocqueville observed.

That description sounds more than 150 years out of date. As was apparent last week, politics is increasingly wretched and unbearable -- an arcane, irrelevant exercise carried out by media, political, lobbying and special interest groups in Washington. Individual citizens grow more apathetic all the time when it comes to civics and government, while politicians and their parties compete furiously to see who can do less and spend less. The average citizen has almost nothing to do with this process, so understandably pays less and less attention to it all the time.

It's impossible to draw even a bare majority of eligible voters to participate in a presidential election any longer, or to blame them for ignoring it. What rational person could be expected to pay attention to these pre-installed nominees, programmed mediafests and infomercials that masquerade as democratic gatherings? Last week, a Democratic party official on CNN announced with a straight face that his party's L.A. convention was "interactive" because webcams were running live in the make-up rooms where speakers checked their pancake before delivering their exhortations. And there seemed to be as many Apple logos as American flags on display in L.A., as the party was desperate to appear forward looking and original. The iMacs didn't work.

Political conventions may make journalists feel important and allow exhausted politicians to appear democratic, but fewer citizens get fooled each time around. By now, only a fraction of the public is paying attention at all.

New technologies like the Net have always held great promise for re-connecting citizens to the political process, and re-democratizing democracy. Some of the early Net pioneers and cyber-gurus believed they were creating a political, not a commercial or technological revolution, when they designed the Net.

But those fantasies have not materialized. In fact, many social critics blame technology for this. The idea that technology isolates and alienates people is widely held to be the reason for America's growing political apathy and disconnection, even though there's little evidence or logic to support that argument. Richard Sclove, an author and director of the Public Interest Technology Policy Project, argues that new technologies promise convenience, productivity and economic growth, but deliver disturbing hidden costs: deepening inequality, social alienation, community dissolution and political disempowerment.

"Contemporary technologies contribute indirectly to diverse social ills," he writes in a collection of essays called Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information. In particular, he argues, they conspire in subtle ways to significantly hinder participatory decision-making.

That idea is widely held by critics and members of the so-called intelligentsia, even though it's rarely explained and dubiously supported.

It's hard to see why technology -- rather than elitist, unresponsive political parties, government agencies and media institutions -- deserves the blame for political alienation. Online, technology has given new energy to the idea of free speech, fostered individual participation in discussions, created new kinds of vigorous communities with shared interests, and encouraged the spread of diverse opinions.

Still, Sclove argues that alternative technological strategies and designs might help sustain democratic community, civic engagement, and social justice. He agrees that the point isn?t to reject technology outright (is that even an option any more?) but to become more discriminating in how we design and use it. He suggests, for example, "barrier-free" designs for the Internet in much the same way "barrier-free" equipment and public spaces have been created for the disabled. Politically, the goal would be universal access to information, discussion and voting. Instead of being heard mostly through opinion polls -- perhaps the primary force behind contemporary politics and political journalism -- the people could simply speak and vote for themselves, using computing and the Net.

Sclove writes that if women were more actively involved in technological design, for example, they might promote more shared neighborhood facilities such as day care and laundries, or closer location of homes, workplaces and commercial facilities. (For that matter, men might want the same thing). This smaller scale use of technology and politics could work. A block or neighborhood chat room might work well to sort out community issues, even if most threaded discussions and chat rooms online are a nightmare of hostility and confusion. If you're chatting with your neighbor about draining problems, you're more likely to be civil and coherent.

Still, good luck. If technology itself isn't out of control, the people who design it and decide how we use it are. Human gene maps get rushed to completion so that bio-tech corporations can mass-market perfect humans, while some of the country?s best scientific minds are holed up in think tanks creating gizmos that allow us to get sports scores in our cars.

Technology that supports democracy and civic engagement? Nobody wants to pay to develop that at the moment, nor is there much evidence that anybody wants to buy it. Politics has an increasingly bad (and richly-deserved) rep and most research and development people in the tech world don't want to go anywhere near it.

Sclove's solution is to "open, democratize, and partly decentralize pertinent government agencies, create avenues for worker and community involvement in corporate R&D and strategic planning, and generally strengthen societal capabilities to monitor and, as needed, guide technologies' cumulative political and social consequences."

It's a fine, even noble idea. America's technology elite is particularly contemptuous of people it perceives as "clueless," (aka technologically inept). This increasingly powerful elite seems to lose touch with the non-tech world more with each passing day.

So using technology to revitalize democracy is a powerful idea, especially when the elephants and the donkeys are demonstrating once more just how dramatically the political process has changed since de Tocqueville dropped by.

Technology could surely make voting easier and more appetizing to citizens who could vote from their home or work computers. It could indeed encourage grass-roots decision making. We could start small. The Net, for example, could be deployed for communal discussions of manageable local issues -- crime, vandalism, barking dogs or trash pick-up. Citizens could use technology to get information about local budgets or follow legislation. They would have an easier way to communicate with lawmakers and officials. Moderated discussions could precede electronic voting, which could bring majority rule more directly to bear on stalemated issues, from the local school budget to town highway repairs. On a grander scale, such discussions might eventually foster progress and models for resolving intractable national issues like the environment, school vouchers, abortion and gun control, many of which rarely come directly to voters for resolution but get eternally debated by special interests, lobbyists, and politicians.

Is any of this likely? Probably not for a few years. The people who have been meeting in Philadelphia and Los Angeles show no signs of wanting to share the process with citizens, however they pretend to. But interactivity has brought a sense of empowerment to all sorts of groups, from computer geeks to online shoppers and music lovers to people seeking legal and medical information. Sooner or later, institutions like politics will get hit just as hard as the music industry.

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Everytime that Katz writes an article (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#837486)

Everytime that Katz writes an article it shows just how out-of-touch he is with society in general, and the USA in particular. There has neer been a time in the USA when the proles were in control. The USA is a Republic - The proles only have the illusion of power. Collectively, we don't trust Joe Six-Pack to make difficult decisions. This is a normally a good thing, but not now...

The actual *real* powers in the USA are slowly converting the country to an imperial state, with a large, permanent under-class that expects benifits and 'respect' (Welfare), a military that is ready to fight anywhere, anytime, to promote our 'values'(Bosnia, Middle East), a populous that is willing to trade freedoms for the illusion of 'safety' and/or money (Gun Confiscation, RIAA, Windows Products), and a ever expanding prison population made up of polictical prisoners (Drug laws). Oh, and we rely on foreign workers to man many of our critical industries. It is the Roman Empire all over again, complete with a Empororer/President that is a sexual pervert.

It is not too late to stop our self-destruction.

I give no more that 50 to 75 years to the USA Empire.

(This is posted anonymously because I really don't need the flames...)

Too much democracy (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#837489)

We have always been a representative democracy, not a direct one. Individual citizens do not govern, they elect representatives who reflect their views, values, etc. to govern. This system relies on informed voters. Anyone who needs the convenience of online voting and won't take the trouble to vote in the conventional way probably has not bothered to study the issues and probably should not be voting anyway. Relatively low voter turnout has been around since before de Toqueville. In a free society, some people take the initiative to learn the issues and vote, and others do not. This is as it should be. We have enough democracy as it is. Stop complaining.

Re:Glad to be mysterious, but 2002 (4)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 14 years ago | (#837500)

Yes, us youngsters are going to save the world. We are going to unleash the power of the net and make the entire world a better place. And then we'll change the name of the U. S. of A. to Shangrila and everyone will get a free iMac.

The problems with the current political landscape are more the fault of TV media than anything else. The Lincoln-Douglas debates went on for days and every American that could read eventually read a copy of them. Nowadays all the average American knows about the politics is what they hear in the 30 second soundbites between television commercials. Americans have become addicted to the "quick fix," and would rather burn cars and trash coffee shops than go through the painful effort of politics.

The good news is that for the people that are actually intelligent enough to vote the current system works just fine. Special interest groups get what they want out of the system because they take the time to vote. It's quite simple really.

As for the rest of the article, it's clearly ridiculous. Neighborhood chat rooms? Are you joking? Heck, I can walk right out my front door and actually talk to my neighbors (and frequently do). And politics is still an important topic amongst Americans. The last thing that the U.S. needs is one more barrier between the people in our communities. The Internet is great for creating artificial communities like /., but there is no reason to make artificial communities out of our actual communities.

And as for your idea of voting from our PCs, quite frankly that is the last thing that I want. I am all for having political information be net-accessible, but I think that the actual voting should require that you take some time out of your day. After all, the problem isn't that we need more voters, the problem is that we need more informed voters. If voting were easier all we would do is increase the importance of things like the physical appearance of the candidate and how well he forms "sound bites." People would sit down at their PC and vote for the candidate that looked the "coolest."

Eventually the Net generation will realize that they need to vote (and be active in politics) to be heard, and they will get out and vote. They will give up their scruffy clothes, and their organized acts of violence in the name of "protest" and they will instead simply walk down tho the local elementary school and cast their vote. They will especially pay attention to the local elections because they will have learned that that is where they have the most influence, and where they can make the biggest impact. Of course, by then they will be Senior Citizens, but that is the way of things.

regarding politicians and DC (1)

ragnar (3268) | more than 14 years ago | (#837502)

It is rather cliche to criticize politicians and to cast Washington DC in a bad light. I happen to live in DC and I love this place. When you typefy this as a brood of corrupt politicians when 600,000 people live and work here, it is offensive and you make an ass of yourself.

The fact is that politicians generally work very hard. I know of several congresspersons who put in 12-16 hour days and their staff likewise puts in these long hours. From the outside it may look like they are living it up and spinning away their days with social events, but this simply isn't the case. Take a moment and imagine the type of stress they deal with. If you leave your house with your hair less than perfect or a stain on your shirt, will someone photograph you in your worst? If you are a politician, they will. They work hard, but they always have to look fresh because someone is waiting to for them to screw up.

This is the type of mentality which aggrivates me, and I see it in Katz' article. He presents the failure of politicians as a fact to be assumed by everyone. I have found that people have a much different viewpoint after they know a politician personally. Sure there are some bad apples, but generally they are simply people who are wanting to serve.

Politicians plead for people to get involved in the system, and when voters feel bored because voting doesn't resemeble a video game or a web site they blame the politician.

Some might think this is a predictable response from someone living in DC, but I encourage readers to get to know their representatives. Don't make the lazy mistake of lumping them together as a failed system.

A fourth arm to the federal government. (2)

Coins (3612) | more than 14 years ago | (#837503)

My thought has been for a while that the federal government should now create a fourth division, The Peoples' House wherein citizens may vote directly on issues. Not so long ago this would have been impossible, but with the Internet and touch tone phone systems so widely used there isn't any reason why those without net access can't vote via an 800 number and a touch tone phone.

Special Interest Groups (5)

Quark (6774) | more than 14 years ago | (#837508)

It isn't technology that has ruined Democracy: it's Lobbyists, and special interest groups, all looking after their own little patch, instead of looking at the big picture. The perfect case in point is the MPAA's support for the DMCA - extremely damaging to the person on the street, but ideal for the movie studios who pay for the lobbying.

Democracy used to be of the people, by the people, for the people. Nows its of the lobbyist, by the lobbyist, for the lobbyist.


This is great.. (1)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837509)

..and a truly astonishing use of your time..But under the dunce cap, I have little hair.. P.S. Can I get a copy of this?

We know.. (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837510)

..but what about technology and democracy? can one be used to promote the other?

Good post..Yahoo and politics (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837511)

Thanks for this post..but do these chats, which are tightly controlled (I've been on a few, and the questions are tightly edited and screened to keep the yahoos off who run amok on threads here). Politicians really aren't pressed, and only an infinitesmal amount of people get through..Has anybody seen a bit chat interview that really works? To me, this can only work on a smaller level, as in a block, neighborhood or school environment? Yes?

I did do it.. (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837512)

I didn't set it up, but when I was at Hotwired, we set up a local political chat room..Sadly (and familiarly), it was disrupted by the tostosterone poisoned, for whom there is no cure or antidote. There are two chat rooms in my town..one for a neighborhood seeking to revitalize itself, another for a school/parents group trying to resolve some racial problems..Both are working very well..I'm online enuf, but there are a number of groups who set up chats like this..Few chats work yet, in my experience, just as few coherent discussions online are possible because of the hostility..

Do politicians respond to e-mail? (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837513)

If pols are overwhelmed by e-mail petitions, does the e-mail have any meaning..Isn't it highly manipulable?

Don't understand this post.. (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837514)

My monicker on /. is "Gasbag" so nobody could disagree about the hot air, including me, but my sense is that this is a poster who read the intro but not the column..Lots of people much smarter than me believe technology could be used to make democracy work..it already does, from TV info to the mechanized ballot box..So I'd say I have lots of hot air, but this is a lazy post that didn't real the column

No, you didn't read the column. (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837515)

If you read the column (or the intro) you'd see that I was disagreeing with the statement that technology causes disconnection with politics, not agreeing with it. I have no problem with disagreement, but you might at least skim the subject matter and I do feel entitled to be quoted more or less accurately..at least within the ballpark..this is another lazy post..

Yes! The wisest post.. (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837516)

Yes..this is completely accurate and wise, IMHO. Lobbyists and corporations are the number one political contributors to candidates and have completely corrupted the political system, as John McCain has been arguing for years. I think much more than technology this has disconnected people from politics. Corporations have lobbyists, but citizens no longer do.

Very interesting, but... (2)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837517)

This goes back to the question of autonomous technology..does technology control us or do we control it..I personally feel technology has the power to reconnect people to democracy, depending on how it's use. But I agree with the poster that people perceive technology and its many offshots and disconnecting them..I blame this on the takeover of politics by greedy and mostly corporate interest groups..Why should people pay attention to a system that doesn't pay attention to them? But I don't believe it's technology's fault..we can, as some posters have suggested, use technology any way we want.

Glad to be mysterious, but 2002 (3)

JonKatz (7654) | more than 14 years ago | (#837524)

But the issue is really technology and democracy. I'm neither a Luddite nor a technocrat happily, as even a cursory reading would show..My own notion here is that the 2002 campaign will change things..that this will be the first election in which people who grew up on the Net and the Web will run for office, a la Jesse Ventura..when that happens, people will have a leader to follow and an agenda that make sense. Any thoughts?

Technology *is* anti-democratic (1)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 14 years ago | (#837529)

Yes, the purpose of technology is a huge game of 'one-up-man-ship' - I want a faster computer so I can sneer down my nose at those with old slow ones, I want lots of fast late breaking information sources so I can know about events before my neighbor does, and a fast car so I can pass those bozo's on the interstate, it's a socio-economic status symbol, etc., etc. While a few inventors and engineers entertain feeble notions of it being used for the benefit of all (like Radio, TV etc should be used for education, etc) what happens is it gets largely used for competitive business purposes (advertising, public manipulation, etc). Look at how international competitions, cold or hot, leads to lots of techno developements. You've got something there, Katz.

How to Reconnect (5)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 14 years ago | (#837533)

Jon Katz is correct in identifying one of the reasons so many people feel disconnected. Both wings of the Corporate Party (Democrat and Republican) are indeed disconnected from the public, unresponsive to their desires, and all too eager to take priveleges, liberties, and even rights from them in the name of some popular, pet cause.

People on both the left and the right sense something is very wrong, despite our unprecidented prosperity, but few can put their finger on exactly what it is. Even my mother, who is a (misguided) ardent supporter of the War on Drugs comments on the shrinking relevance of the constitution and the rights it was supposed to protect.

With most issues already decided by the corporate and industrial movers and shakers to whom both branches of the Corporate Party are beholden to, there is little rhetoric to differentiate the candidates from one another (pro-choice vs. pro-life, perhaps, and possibly pro-healthcare reform vs. status quo) and even less practical difference, as neither branch of The Party is known for ever keeping its promises if such should disrupt the status quo.

To reconnect, we need to break free of the myth that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote! This myth is the single most destructive and counterproductive mindset the voters have.

If you dislike the Corporate Party's policies (Democrat or Republican), then voting for them (and thereby vindicating the very policies you oppose) is a wasted vote. Worse, it is a vote counter to your conscience and desires, which may help to explain why so many people chose not to vote at all, rather than vote for something or someone they abhore. Of course, if those were the only choices, I probably wouldn't bother to vote either, and who could blame any of us!

But there are other choices, other parties, some with very good candidates for both president and congress. In particular, Ralph Nader of the Greens, and many of the Libertarian candidates for congress, are quite good options, and there are others.

As Ross Perot demonstrated by putting the budget deficit back on the political agenda, despite the Corporate Party's respective branches unwillingness to even discuss the issue, a candidate or party doesn't have to win in order to affect change in public policy. We have a balanced budget today in no small part because Ross Perot got 20% of the vote in 1992 and shamed both branches of the Corporate Party into addressing the issue (and demonstrated in no uncertain terms that it was an issue many people cared about).

If you cast your vote for candidates who represent your views on an issue, be they socialist, libertarian, consumer advocacy (Ralph Nader), or whatever, two things will result"

one: your vote will have a much bigger impact than if it were cast for one of the Corporate Party candidates. Each percentage point a "third party" candidate wins has a disproprotionate affect, simply because it is so surprising to the powers that be. Frankly, it scares the hell out of them (why do you think Ross Perot, a demonstrably viable candidate, was frozen out of the debates in 1996?) and this fear is an effective tactic to get politicians to listen, and quite possible adopt, the very issues the losing candidate is trying to address.

Even if the vote is split among several third party candidates, can you imagine the power the message of discontent would have if 15% or 20% of the voting public voted for none of the Corporate Party candidates?

The only truly wasted votes are the ones which are either never cast, or cast for a candidate the voter does not like. The only weak vote is one cast for the status quo, be it Republican or Democrat.

The most powerful vote is the one cast in opposition, not because the candidate necessarilly wins, but because it empowers the losing candidate to be heard, and (if enough people vote for them) makes them impossible to ignore. Your single vote, alone, is much more likely to tip Ralph Naders percentage up by one, than it is to tip the balance between Al Gore and Dubya Bush.

In short, get out there, vote your conscience, and don't let the powers-that-be convince you that voting in opposition to them is a waste of your vote. It isn't. It is the most powerful thing you can do with it.

Re:I can't figure you out Katz (1)

Augusto (12068) | more than 14 years ago | (#837534)

Not being able to figure out which of your "categories" he fits, is probably a compliment for him or anybody.

Re:In support of facism (1)

Augusto (12068) | more than 14 years ago | (#837535)

In 1996, only 54% of registered US citizens voted for the presidential elections.

And you want, less people to vote ?

If there were some way to limit voting based on competance (IE, do you understand the candidates positions in issues) that would be ideal (in my mind) since it is not discriminating against anything except lazyless.

There is no way to determine competence short of a mind reading device, so your idea is not practical.

What problem are you trying to solve ? Most people do not vote ! Are you afraid we're choosing the wrong people, when most are not voting ?

Re:In support of facism (1)

finkployd (12902) | more than 14 years ago | (#837538)

In 1996, only 54% of registered US citizens voted for the presidential elections.
And you want, less people to vote ?

No, I'd like more people to get involved, but keep in mind that all options expressed from me are hypothetical, relying on the ficticious basis that I am living in a country that ISN'T completly apathetic.

I'm fully aware my idea isn't practical.

I don't have an answer to the problem, I was simply spouting out random thoughts.

Sorry :)


Re:American's are victims of their own complaints (2)

finkployd (12902) | more than 14 years ago | (#837539)

Man, that was pretty insightful :)

It sort of goes along with something I said in a post a few days ago, about voting signal:noise.

The signal, being the people who activly participate in civic politics and research voting records to determine which candidate to support, is being drowned out by the noise, being the people who absently pull a party lever without researching anything or based off of a single issue.

When people activly participated, the party system worked well, now that people vote for a party like a reflex action without thinking, it doesn't.


Re:In support of facism (2)

finkployd (12902) | more than 14 years ago | (#837540)

Democracy doesn't mean jack if EVERYONE doesn't have access to the vote

Agreed, however we are not a democracy. The popular vote has nothing to do with who is actually elected president.

As for apathetic voters having less a voice? It would be nice if they did. If you are not following issues and actually paying attention to politics, then your uneducated vote is simply throwing noise into the mix.

If there were some way to limit voting based on competance (IE, do you understand the candidates positions in issues) that would be ideal (in my mind) since it is not discriminating against anything except lazyless.


Re:How to Reconnect (2)

finkployd (12902) | more than 14 years ago | (#837541)

While your points are correct, the road to a day when a vote for a third party is not wasted will be long.

Let's face the simple fact, those who voted for Ross in '92 (by and large) would have voted for Bush if he was not there. Given the margins, it's pretty safe to say that had Ross not run, Bush would have been elected.

This year, I would say the same about Nadar. I don't know any Republicians who are planning to vote for him, but plently of my Democrat friends are split and because of this, may cause Bush to win (which I consider truely ironic)

So, maybe someday what you say will be true, I look forward to it, but right now, I just don't believe that is the case.


At least you can count on some things... (1)

superdoo (13097) | more than 14 years ago | (#837543)

Like reading Mr. Katz's articles and mentally substituting apostrophe's for question marks.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (1)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 14 years ago | (#837545)

Rather than respond myself, I thought I'd ask my wife to defend herself. Her response:
How does he (streetlawyer) reason that the Roman, Chinese, and Hindu flush toilets aren't examples of technology? Does he mean to imply that technology is only a USian phenomenon? If technology is only a USian phenomenon, he's quite the ethnocentrist. Bad anthropologist. Bad.

To which, allow me to add the following: just because something is 1500 years old doesn't make it technological.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (1)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 14 years ago | (#837546)

just because something is 1500 years old doesn't make it technological.
Dammit. "...doesn't mean it's not technological," that should read.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (2)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 14 years ago | (#837548)

The trouble with the argument that technology is to blame for a lack of interest in politics is that these are issues that don't really have a direct causal connection - it's not fair to say that because technology is improving people are paying less and less attention to politics.

At the risk of invoking a pretty good episode [bewarne.com] of The West Wing [nbc.com] , "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc." Which is the pretentious Latinate way of saying that just because one thing happens after another, doesn't mean it happened as a result.

Unfortunately, this is a lesson I don't think you're taking to heart. For example:

[Technology] has also allowed us to concentrate on acquisitiveness at the cost of others, the roots of modern capitalism.

This is as silly a piece of luddism as I've ever heard. While I can't claim to actually have been around at the time, I'd be willing to bet that our ancestors were more than willing to beat each other senseless for the sake of food, or a desirable mate, or even plain old obedience. Just about any garden-variety anthropologist will assure you that technology isn't a prerequisite to avarice.

But, it cannot be argued that... technology has, in general, turned people away from the old USian small community ideal... Why would people care about politics in this situation? In fact, they're more likely to come to mistaken views about the evils of "Big Government" than the true evil - capitalism, and it's partner technology.

I think what you're trying to say that this point can't be disputed, not that it can't be argued. In any case, this is a clasic example of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" at work: because capatilist societies sprang into being after technological innovation, you jump to the conclusion that technology creates capitalism. In doing so, you neglect every other economic and political system that has ever been devised since, as you put it, we "made the transition from hunter-gatherers." If technology causes capitalism, it also causes feudalism, democracy, socialism, communism, facism, and God only knows what else. Technology doesn't just allow us to focus on exploiting others, it allows us to focus on anything other than satisfying the most basic of needs.

Or, as my wife (a Phi Beta Kappa, cum laude - more Latin! - graduate in anthropology) put it, "Technology is what allows you to flush your poop away. So wipe it, bucko, and don't forget to put the lid down." Wisdom for the ages, I think.

Does Technology help? (3)

JJ (29711) | more than 14 years ago | (#837562)

Have you ever gone to see/hear a political candidate speak? I mean really listen to the words, observe the gestures not just hear the soundbites? It is a very different experience from a ten second clip on the television or the net. I do look up what the different candidates say in many speeches on their websites. However, I don't cast my vote until I've actually heard both candidates speak twice, once in front of a positive audiance and once in front of a receptive but not overly positive crowd. The web is a great aid but it doesn't convey the full experience. How many readers can claim to really have observed Clinton so closely? If people had actually listened to Dole, he would have done much better.

Re:This is great.. (2)

cluke (30394) | more than 14 years ago | (#837563)

Nice to see you replying in the forums Jon... but perhaps you'd best browse at +1... ;-)

Advogato is one way forwards (3)

Paul Johnson (33553) | more than 14 years ago | (#837566)

Take a look at Advogato [advogato.org] . It uses a "trust metric" to judge how much people are contributing to its community. This idea stems pretty directly from ESR's writing on how hacking free software is rewarded by kudos in the community: Advogato is an attempt to make this kudos visible.

This in turn gets around the "tragedy of the commons" in large populations. In small communities one's reputation with the neigbours is important, but in large ones you don't often meet the same people twice, and hence have no incentive to be nice to those you do meet, or to let them see how civic you are.

The Advogato metric has its problems, but its still pretty interesting.

For that matter, Slashdot has its +1 bonus for those with over 20 karma. If you consistently post nice things, your postings get more attention. Same principle.

Can we build a trust metric which can help us identify and reward civic-minded people? What would such a system look like? Any ideas?

Incidentally, "Distraction" by Bruce Sterling includes a rough outline of just such a system.


Examples of Technology as an Aide to Democracy (1)

EarthQuaker (42232) | more than 14 years ago | (#837567)

I think Katz may be overreacting a bit here...and I'm not one of the Slashdot Peanut Gallery members who flash their street creds by bashing Katz.

Some sites set up recently to help facilitate coverage of political convention related news from an "outside the convention" perspective. The news is posted in a strictly "ground up fashion," and tends towards a leftist and anarchist user base. Unsurprisingly, I find it refreshing.

Indymedia LA [indymedia.org]

Indymedia Philly [phillyimc.org] (a neat implementation of slash)

And if you want to bypass the corporate press:

The Media Channel [mediachannel.org]

It has nothing to do with difficulty. (3)

GMontag (42283) | more than 14 years ago | (#837569)

It is much easier to be involved in the US political process now than it has been in my almost 40 years of life.

The reason fewer people involved is because they DO NOT WANT TO BE INVOLVED!

Why this is such a burr under the saddle of those that are involved is beyond me. Sounds suspiciously like self centered arrogance on the part of the political hobbyests and pro's alike.

Just because *I* enjoy or view as important a particular activity does not make others lesser people because they are interested in different things.

When you get down to it, once you get past your local elected officials, the DC based wonks do not have much of a day-to-day impact on the average person. Looks like most people have realized that, since they now have a chice to watch something else *besides* a convention (in contrast to the 1960's) during this season. They are not forced to watch the president on every channel whenever he has the whim to call a press confrence, etc.

So, political hackers, just chill (including me), because other people have other things to do that THEY feel is more important. Anything less would be Stalinist, or at least Chilaian(sp?).

Visit DC2600 [dc2600.com]

Good idea, it's kind of starting here... (3)

djx (42517) | more than 14 years ago | (#837570)

I used to work at Houston City Hall and I took it upon myself to convince my boss (a councilmember) to use the net as a communication tool for her office. It wasn't exactly an easy task to accomplish, but once I got her to accept the simple fact that more of her constituents could participate in our forums and neighborhood meetings, she had no problems with me implementing the idea. I know that I was very fortunate to have worked for her because of her open mind towards technology, but, at the same time, other councilmembers who I thought weren't as open towards the idea were asking me how they could set something like that up in their offices.

All it takes is one person to get the ball rolling, and others will follow. Anyone out there who is working in a governmental office needs to work on getting their offices to embrace the technology we have available to us because the net is a wonderful way for local government to become less of an ethereal object and more of a tangible leadership.

Involvement is all that's missing from the political arena here in the US. Something like net-based forums would help get people involved in their local governments, and from there, it can only grow. One of the biggest problems facing all governments here is that people are too afraid to get lost in the bureaucracy. The office I worked in took some of that bureaucracy away by letting our constituents get in direct contact with our councilmember. If we start locally, I think it would logically follow up to the state and (eventually) national levels.

Just my $0.02 on the issue.


Not only that... (1)

HMV (44906) | more than 14 years ago | (#837571)

...but pure democracy is plain and simple mob rule. There's a reason why the word "democracy" is hardly mentioned if at all in the U.S. Constitution. Our founders knew better. Technology or no, Americans have flourished under a system by which the will of the majority can be (thankfully) overridden by the rule of law. Civil rights legislation is clear enough example of that.

The US has a constitutional republic which uses democratic processes within it. However you want to use technology to enhance that, fine. But don't ever confuse that with the idea that government in America has or should have democracy as its core.

Re:Special Interest Groups (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#837575)

Don't like lobbyists and special interests corrupting your government? Well...see my sig...

(as Nader says, "government of the Exxons,
by the General Motors, for the Duponts")

Re:Does Technology help? (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#837576)

Both candidates have a prescripted series of tripe that they know the public will eat up. It's just a ploy, and it's insulting. "I'm not FOR killing babies, like my opponent, I'm against it!" "RAHRAH!" "I'm AGAINST messing up the economy!" "RAHRAH!"

Re:It has nothing to do with difficulty. (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#837577)

I'm sure a lot of people don't want to be involved because it is just degrading. If I was only given the choice of the self-serving Democratic and Republican candidates I'd be disgusted out of participating too, which is probably what they want in the first place.

Us geeks are always talking about "choice". Well, if you want choice, help open the debates so that we can get Nader (and Buchanan) into the debates. Please don't be resigned to accept the two choices that are presented to you. America deserves much better than tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber.


Re:American's are victims of their own complaints (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#837578)

The key thing with each of these issues is the shift from a republic to a democracy, and with each one them resulting in more apathy. Each step of the way, more power has been turned to the common people.

Power turned to the common people is a BAD thing? Bullshit. It is really sad if you actually think two political machines alone constitute a healthy and "grassroots" government. That is rubbish. We are in this shape because barriers have been RAISED to public participation (how many people do you know are actually civil servants or have run for office)? Corporate money floods the political system ensuring that big corporations get a larger voice than citizens. Big money needs to be taken out of politics, campaigns publicly financed so that they are fair, and candidates beholden to the people.

America deserves much more than the anologue of two flavors of vanilla in government. There should be a plurality of ideas and parties and people should be active in them. Not just mindless lever-pullers to be won by multi-million-dollar conventions of all show and no substance.

So do it yourself (1)

meadowsp (54223) | more than 14 years ago | (#837583)

So why don't you set up a neighbourhood chat room? Whay don't you go round and talk to your neighbours, see which ones have got computers, organize cheap 2nd hand ones for the ones that don't.

If there's one thing that's been learnt from the Open-Source "revolution" is that it's no good just talking about it, if you've got an idea and it's feasible to do it yourself, then what are you waiting for?

So what are you suggesting? (1)

meadowsp (54223) | more than 14 years ago | (#837584)

So what are you suggesting, if chat-rooms don't work, then surely by extension, on-line democracy won't work.

I agree with you to a certain degree that forums such as this one don't work once they get mass-appeal, too many posts to make a valid conversation, too much randomness and uninformed ranting etc.

Don't get me wrong, I love Slashdot, but it's more as some sort of interactive circus than a place for serious discussion.

I'm sure that I can remember when it was much better in the old days, and kuroshin used to be good, before it got too famous.

But this doesn't bode well for online democracy, if the only way that serious discussion can happen is keeping the masses out. Not too democratic is it.

Or perhaps it's the anonymity that does it. I'm sure that most of the first posters etc. wouldn't come out with the same sort of crap in a physical meeting, or perhaps I'm overestimating them.

Until these problems, phenomenons, call them what you want, are better understood then on-line democracy isn't going to work.

Do it yourself (2)

meadowsp (54223) | more than 14 years ago | (#837585)

So why don't you set up a neighbourhood chat room? Whay don't you go round and talk to your neighbours, see which ones have got computers, organize cheap 2nd hand ones for the ones that don't.

If there's one thing that's been learnt from the Open-Source "revolution" is that it's no good just talking about it, if you've got an idea and it's feasible to do it yourself, then what are you waiting for?

(Sorry to post twice, replied to the wrong thing)

Thank you. (2)

The Queen (56621) | more than 14 years ago | (#837589)

My honey and I had this discussion a while back, and for the sake of argument he took the 'wasted vote' approach. You explained it more eloquently than I could. (Lux, are ya reading this? ;-)

As for technology being the cause of political disenchantment, that's bull. I would not be suprised if a disproportionate amount of the 'techno elite' are apathetic about politics when compared with the general public, but I really think that has more to do with the fact that most geeks are members of Gen X...and we know how jaded Gen Xers are... [including myself]

Whether tech can be the catalyst for renewed political involvement, I don't know. I think it has the potential, if Congress and the Mega Corps don't legislate it to hell and back first.

The Divine Creatrix in a Mortal Shell that stays Crunchy in Milk

...hit just as hard... (1)

GavK (58709) | more than 14 years ago | (#837592)

And of course they won't just make the laws so that it doesn't, coz there's no money in politics...

Hamilton 1, Jefferson 0 (1)

Hnice (60994) | more than 14 years ago | (#837593)


but this isn't the way that things turned out. cute little rustic communities where people relate to their neighbors because they like them, a bunch of subsitence farmers -- it was a nice idea, but the big fat commercially-driven community where we relate to one another not out of social desire but economic need, *that's* what actually happened.

technology means i don't have to speak to my neighbors, and that's not unamerican. the notion that jefferson's republican ideal is somehow more american than hamilton's urban model for what makes us great is silly, and unfounded. tech destroyed your relationship with your neighbor? sure, maybe, but it also made you a million new neighbors.

i dunno. seems to me that the argument that tech make it possible to relate to those to whom we choose to relate, rather than those to whom we've got a physical proximinty, and therefore degrades the quality of our relations with others, is at odds with common sense.

Microradio (1)

ssafarik (63841) | more than 14 years ago | (#837595)

Absolutely it's possible. While both conventions had huge protests outside their doors, which the mainstream media generally hid from the public, it was all broadcast, however, on the growing http://www.microradio.net. Then streamed out to multiple locations, and broadcast on local microradio stations in various US and Intl cities. It was truly great hearing live from the streets audio, interviews, etc. (archived audio is available in 30 min bites).

This is an example where a very cheap technology ($150 for an xmtr to attach to your computer) is giving the people a powerful democratic voice to compete with big money media. Access to media is, in my opinion, essential to a democratic process.

Re:Glad to be mysterious, but 2002 (2)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 14 years ago | (#837596)

that this will be the first election in which people who grew up on the Net and the Web will run for office

'grew up on' implies that the 'net was already in existance during the formative years of the persons life, say age 3 and up. Since the 'net as a public entity has been around since about 1988 (Public entity remember, I know it was around before then, but there wasn't even much of a public BBS system before the mid 80s) the people who 'gre up on' the net are just now turning 16-20. None of them are eligible to run for anything higher than class president. So I think instead of 2002 you might want to aim at 2016 for the Age of the Net to be ushered in. The People who grew up on the net are now VOTEING (well, eligible to), but they aren't running for anything.


Re:Glad to be mysterious, but 2002 (2)

Durinia (72612) | more than 14 years ago | (#837602)

Oh, to have some moderator points right now...This is a great post. This discussion is a very good example of how words can *sound* convincing (or as convincing as Katzy can be) but when you actually LOOK at what is being said, it makes the problem even worse. Bravo!

Revolution/Evolution (2)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | more than 14 years ago | (#837603)

Things are going to change, but a change in politics is going to take a change in our society, and things like that don't happen in weeks or months, but decades. People like to think of revolutions as distinct, sudden change, but for true lasting change, it must be more like an evolution, where things change slowly over a long period of time, and except in retrospect, the individual doesn't notice the change in day to day life. There may be a few specific dates that stand out in political history (like women's sufferage) But that did not "just happen" It was the result of years and years of work, first starting out small, and then getting bigger and bigger, until the pressure to change is overwhelming, and then we get the discrete event, in this case, women getting the right to vote.

I'm all for slow movement in politics- when something works on such a vast scale, quick changes can go both ways, good and bad. If we want a lasting change, we need to be patient. The internet is far from being a mature technology. We must be patient so it can find its lasting place in our society.

What a fine collection of cliches (1)

ericlj (81729) | more than 14 years ago | (#837606)

1. You say that you can't imagine a more anti-democratic, non-interactive assembly -- what about the Academy Awards you were so fond of? They are specifically and pointedly both non-democratic and non-interactive. Remember, the point of the political conventions is not to be democratic, it is to confirm and celebrate a decision already made.

2. If women designed things, there would be communal (neighborhood-oriented) laundries? What world would this happen in? Where I live, the women get home from work around 6:00 PM and I doubt that they want to have to go down to the neighborhood laundry to do a quick load of clothing anymore than most men do.

I am sure that it is wonderful to be smarter and more caring than everyone you know, but it is possible that some things have come to exist because they work best and that's the way that people want it.

In closing, I agree that it's sad that more people don't vote, but I don't find it surprising: people like Katz have been telling them that their vote won't help or count for close to 40 years.

If We Become A Democracy, I'm Leaving (2)

TrailerTrash (91309) | more than 14 years ago | (#837609)

If America ever becomes a democracy, I'm leaving the country. The founding fathers had no idea how helpful the idea of a republic is - they were concerned with the population (well, white, affluent, landowning, male population) being too stupid to handle voting, but it was never more problematic than today. The media utterly controls our every thought and opinion. Due to control of the release of facts, even many spirited dicussions on Slashdot are a bunch of us who heard the same media reports discussing implications - but in the vast majority of cases we are all basing things on what we hear N+1-hand. It is exceedingly rare in the "real world" (whatever that is) when the public can personally experience a situation. If the media goes on a vandetta against a political candidate, bill, law, issue, country, etc., the public will follow suit. Imagine what could happen if the public could vote to impeach a president? Even less actual work than ever would get done, with officials continuously pandering to public opinion. The shifting winds of public opinion could instantaneously result in knee-jerk reactions by a public whipped into a frenzy. Wag the dog... Republics may be lead by representatives that every 2/4/6 years (in the US) have to pander to public opinion, but imagine if they had to constantly? How would an American public make decisions on public works, national defense, international commerce, space and science, or any other detailed issue? Imagine the MP3/napster debate - one really good speech by either side and the public confirms or elimninates copyright law. Are politicians in the US republic great? No, they are cheating, lying, lazy, marginally felonious lawyers who seek only their own self-interest. But I'll take that any day over a public who receives most of their information from People magazine. Bottom line - I strongly question a goal of promoting more democracy.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (1)

NTSwerver (92128) | more than 14 years ago | (#837610)

Moderators are on the $3 crack again.....The parent of my original post might as well have been taken straight from the 'Troll How-To', yet I get modded to Troll for pointing it out?

Wrong! (1)

NTSwerver (92128) | more than 14 years ago | (#837611)

I don't care about the content and I don't want to see it censored.

Anyone who has ever seen a Troll How-To will recognize that this is simply a cheap attempt to provoke reactions and gain karma

Re:Wrong! (1)

NTSwerver (92128) | more than 14 years ago | (#837612)

Indeed it would.....Dan?

Re:Wrong! (1)

NTSwerver (92128) | more than 14 years ago | (#837613)

hehe....like it!

It was very subtle. In future I'll pretend to take the bait, or agree. 8^)

~NT Swerver

Re:Technology will definitely change politics (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 14 years ago | (#837616)

oops....and I forgot <p> tags

Re:Technology will definitely change politics (2)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 14 years ago | (#837617)

IMHO, Politicians talk about issues just to play the role of Presidential Canidate. People rarely vote for people based on the issues that they bring up. For example, the tallest Presidential canidate has won every election since the advent of TV
This partially sums up why I refuse to vote (that and moral objections to putting individuals into positions of power). Its all a game of "who can come off sounding the smartest". Just smile, look pretty, and don't say anything that pisses too many people off. My favorite Gore quote was when he was asked by a little kid "Whats your favorite car?" His response? "OH I don't know, something made by the United Union of Auto Workers". Yea. and American car of course...any one really yea. If he said the Buick LeSaber, that would offend everyone working at Ford. Lets just go with the safe answer. They never say anything of substance. Just lots of catchy phrases and sweeping proclaimations about getting tough on crime and protecting the children. Democrat, republican. They are the only real choices, noone else stands a chance (they grow larger, they stand more of a chance every year, but still...no real chance...and will they be any different when they come to power?...its easy to talk of ideals when your the little guy). Gore or Bush? Are they different enough that you can even call that a choice? All I am left with is hoping that, for my own entertainment, Bush will win and will have the decency to do what Reagan was too inconsiderate not to do - die in office like Lincoln FDR and all the others in the "Zero Year Club". I figure that entertainment value is the only value left in Government at all. --Steve

American's are victims of their own complaints (2)

alexhmit01 (104757) | more than 14 years ago | (#837622)

Over the post-civil war years, Americans have been on an unended quest to trash the republican system that was brilliantly crafted.

Several steps have been taken that have resulted in complete alienation.

1. Obsession with Judicial review and the Supreme Court's power and responsibility to interpret the Constitution.

2. Direct Election of Senators

3. Universal Sufferage (I would argue in SUPPORT of "negro sufferage" (voting rights regardless of race) and women sufferage, Universal Sufferage is a DIFFERENT concept) - no qualifications to vote

4. Constitutionally limiting the President to two terms

5. Lowering the voting age to 18

6. Post Watergate fundraising limits

7. Presidential primary system

The key thing with each of these issues is the shift from a republic to a democracy, and with each one them resulting in more apathy. Each step of the way, more power has been turned to the common people.

This was a mistake. The two party system worked when the parties were actual parties. They actively recruited people, each town was a two newspaper town (Philadelphia Democrat and Philadelphia Whig, for example), and you were really involved with your party. You'd attend meetings for the party, pay dues, etc. You were involved, and you would try to sign up others to your cause. This was an engaging process. You would send representatives to fight over your presidential candidate, etc.

With the removal of the parties as real organizations, it's a joke. Their are die-hard partisans, but it doesn't make any sense. I am a registered Republican because my state is a closed primary state, but if I didn't care about the primaries (which only the actual partisans should care about), there would be no point in registering.

Besides, why should someone who isn't a strong Republican help pick their nominee. Essentially, we've neutralized politics.

Instead of allowing the politically active to get involved and recruit their neighbor, we've trashed grassroots activism and replaced it with television.

Direct Election of senators DESTROYED state governments, because it let Washington go amuck. The expansion of the federal government at the expense of the states would be less of a problem if the state governments were directly represented.

Fundraising limits (not indexed to inflation, doh!) has resulted in a silly mess of different sides raising money through fake organizations. People that would like to be involved are limited in their involvement. This has saved the parties (soft money is necessary, therefore the national parties remain relavent), but hampered the nation.

You can't run without money, and you can't get money without soft money through the party... good luck running as an independant.

We wanted to equalize everyone, and we did. As a result, the politically active class shrunk (no incentive to be involved anymore), and stopped recruiting others.


Re:Does Technology help? (1)

Nezumi-chan (110160) | more than 14 years ago | (#837625)

However, I don't cast my vote until I've actually heard both candidates speak twice, once in front of a positive audiance and once in front of a receptive but not overly positive crowd. . . . How many readers can claim to really have observed Clinton so closely?

I wonder how many of your countrymen have the opportunity or ability to do as you apparently have done? In a country so large, the opportunity for the average person to physically travel to whereever the candidates are speaking (sometimes not such an easy task) and absorb both travel and time-off costs, is not necessarily easy.

The course of an election campaign is relatively short, and a large number of voters will not be able to see or hear these candidates at all if not for television and online broadcasts.

Whomp-ass? Hardly. (1)

Nezumi-chan (110160) | more than 14 years ago | (#837626)

For the entire history of our nation, beginning when we opened a can of whoop-ass on King George's redcoats, we have called ourselves "Americans". Your "politically-correct" revisionism is not going to change that.

Speaking of revisionism...

If anything, it was the French, Spanish and Dutch attacking the British on other fronts (and for their own reasons, very little concerning democracy and independence) that weakened the British presence in the colonies and allowing for American victories. To say nothing of French military support of Washington's forces.

Americans didn't open any kind of whomp-ass on the British. The British simply found themselves with more urgent matters to deal with than a rather expensive revolution. In fact, it was a full two years after Cornwallis' defeat that the war finally ended. Not exactly a decisive victory, by any means.

Try here [let.rug.nl] for a little information about your own country's history.

technology is not the problem!!! (1)

Lucretius (110272) | more than 14 years ago | (#837629)

Though technology may be a contributing factor to the problems of our democracy, I don't think it deserves half the credit that Katz gives it. Katz seems to think that the reason that the political parties are able to get away with conventions that are no longer what they used to be has everything to do with TV and nothing to do with the apathetic masses of America who do nothing about it

Think about it, if people would get off their collective lazy asses and vote, there would not be this problem. Instead, people prefer to stay in, watch a bit of TV, maybe go out to a movie, rather than vote and then complain about it for the next year or so, telling everyone about how so-and-so is a dumbass and shouldn't be allowed out of his house, much less hold political power -- yet they continue to not vote and not do anything about the problem.

If Americans as a whole would go out and vote (even if their decision is half-assed and not totally thought out), half of this problem would go away. The other half will have to wait until Americans actually think before they vote (but I'm not sure that happens in any democracy, or has ever happened period)... once both of these things happen, then and only then will the problem of our quasi-Democracy go away.

Re:Glad to be mysterious, but 2002 (1)

Senior Frac (110715) | more than 14 years ago | (#837630)

'grew up on' implies that the 'net was already in existence during the formative years of the persons life, say age 3 and up. This week, I'm going to learn all about how technology can enable politics; and, while I'm at it, I'll also potty train! Words must be interpreted within the context with which they were written. The exposure of the average person into politics does not normally begin until mid teens. Quiz time everybody. At 12 years old, which had more importance to you? Whether Jimmy stole Mary's notebook with the heart stickers all over it? Or whether the latest highway subsidy bill got out of committee in the House?


Re:Technology will definitely change politics (1)

Smitty825 (114634) | more than 14 years ago | (#837631)

While I am an American, I do have a different view on politics than the average American.

Now politicians will have a tougher time side-stepping issues or just focusing on issues (or dirt) raised by the opponent. They'll now have to consider the real issues

IMHO, Politicians talk about issues just to play the role of Presidential Canidate. People rarely vote for people based on the issues that they bring up. For example, the tallest Presidential canidate has won every election since the advent of TV (and maybe longer than that...Oh, yea, George W. Bush is the tallest presidental canidate this year).

Also, when a Politician gets elected, they almost always try & implement the issues that they campaigned for during the election. Almost always, the Americans people get upset when the Government tries to change things. Case in point:

1) Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992. He promised a new Health Care System. He put his wife Hillary in charge of revamping the system, and after they spent millions of dollars on the research of the system, they tried to implement it. Americans complained how it was the worst idea ever, and as far as I know, it hasn't been implemented yet.

2) In 1996, the Republicans were elected to the House of Representives based on the "Contract w/ America." When they tried to implement many of the changes that they promised, Americans balked, and it cost several dozen congressman their jobs in the next election.

...And to talk about Katz's point about people not voting, the Republician party *wants* that. (FYI, I'm a Republican because I believe that we should strive for a smaller, more efficient govt, but that's my humble opinion & respect the beliefs of others, too) Anyway, election data has shown that as the number of people that vote increase, the more likley people are going to vote for the percieved liberal party. For example, there are a few countries where voting is almost mandatory, and in those elections, the most liberal party almost always wins.

Re:Technology will definitely change politics (1)

Smitty825 (114634) | more than 14 years ago | (#837632)

Whoops, sorry, I forgot to close the italics tag =-)

The title should be... (1)

Hoo00 (123566) | more than 14 years ago | (#837634)

Use Technology to Vote

and don't even try to enshrine technology or heighten the sacredness of technology. Technology don't speak. Technology is neutral. It is the people that do the talking.

Technology alone can't promote democracy (3)

Raunchola (129755) | more than 14 years ago | (#837637)

It's one thing to say, "Hey, look at us, we have webcams!" It's another to say, "Hey, look at us, we're using the technology to supplement our concerns over the issues people care about." It really doesn't matter how much of a technocrat a candidate is, that's not why someone gets voted into office. It's the issues that matter the most. Using the technology in your favor isn't as important, but you had better believe that it can help.

Remember Jesse Ventura? His appeal to everyone out there was that he a take-shit-from-nobody kind of guy. He spoke his mind on the issues, and made no apologies for it. Some people didn't like what he had to say, but they have him credit for having the balls to say what he said. That's the main reason why he was so successful in Minnesota. What also made him successful was his JesseNet [jesseventura.org] . It's really nothing more than a glorified mailing list, but it was certainly able to band together Ventura supporters to go out and promote the guy.

It doesn't matter if you're a technocrat or not, being one doesn't guarantee victory. We don't elect people because their website has the most webcams or java applets. We elect people because of their concern (or lack thereof) of the issues we care about most. I doubt Ventura is a big technocrat, yet he still won over two established candidates. And it was because of the issues. As soon as candidates start listening to and focusing on issues people care about most, then maybe more people will get involved with the political process.

And on an unrelated note, I'm surprised Al Gore isn't embracing the technology in his campaign. C'mon, he did invent the Internet, right?


Re:Don't understand this post.. (1)

BgJonson79 (129962) | more than 14 years ago | (#837638)

Giving 18-year-olds the right to vote was so they could vote for/against the men that were sending the boys off to war! Wouldn't it just suck to be drafted or to enlist at 18 but be unable to have a say in what you are fighting for?

Eliminate politicians!!! (2)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 14 years ago | (#837641)

In theory, we could eliminate the politicians. Individuals would be able to submit bills, on-line, vote on it on-line.

There will be some need for people to take a submitted bill and reform it into a properly worded, considered bill that would perform the intended action of the bill. Some laws have had unintended side-effects, but if the unwashed write them, it would be more of that.

The lack of elected politicians would reduce crime :).

But not having elected politicians would give paper pushers much more power.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (2)

nilremk (150024) | more than 14 years ago | (#837646)

I don't live in the US, but I live in a capitalist country and am perfectly happy with the way things are going. I don't see why you say that we are less and less happy about the situation. Are you suggesting that people were happier during another timeline ? (renaissance? middle age?..) Personnaly I don't know if we are happier, but we certainly are not more miserable than they used to be.

About the reason why people arnt interested in politics.. IMHO, it maybe because it now has more to do with lobbyists & money than to the average citizen, or maybe because people are happy the way things are & don't feel the need to get involved?


Gee... (2)

TheFrood (163934) | more than 14 years ago | (#837650)

It seems you switch between luddite and technocrat as dictated by your topic-du-jour.

Could it be that he doesn't fit neatly into your little "luddite" and "technocrat" boxes?


links to democracy (1)

cr@ckwhore (165454) | more than 14 years ago | (#837651)

vote.com rushlimbaugh.com drudgereport.com newsmax.com

Advogato has problems, and is not a solution (2)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 14 years ago | (#837653)

Advogato has become popular. Very popular. The chance of a new user getting others to read their posts is fairly slim at this point, unless you want to spend most of your time creating posts in a hope of garnering readers through sheer volume. Even then, what is the motivation for the already-accredited members to read your post? It may be a meritocracy, but it doesn't solve the motivation problem.

Advoagto favors early members - look at the discussions and you'll see the same people doing all the posting. The early folks could handle reading each other's posts and crediting accordingly. Now that there are so many users, what is the motivation for accredited users to read new posts and accredit all the new users?

Advogato simply makes the process of being heard and participating altogether too exhausting. Slashdot may have its weenies (me among them), but most of the good posters here wouldn't have the patience to jump through the advogato hoops.

I can't figure you out Katz (4)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 14 years ago | (#837654)

It seems you switch between luddite and technocrat as dictated by your topic-du-jour.

If I had to nail down your perspective neatly, I'd simply have to conclude that you're simply a habitual complainer.

Re:Technology *is* the problem (1)

streetlawyer (169828) | more than 14 years ago | (#837658)

I take it your wife isn't much of an anthropologist, then; the Romans, Hindu and Chinese all had flush toilets about 1500 years ago.

Technology good for Democracy, Bad for community (2)

korosh (170857) | more than 14 years ago | (#837660)

Good thing:
The ability to be able to vote from your computer or even shortly from your handheld device or cell phone can only help to increase voter turn out or *turn on*.
Bad thing:
Information->infomercial->commercialization->corpo rozation of everything including bandwidth use will result in more avenues of revenue for corporations and the inclination to watch your every move which will lead to big brother syndrom.
Conclusion The good thing will cancel out the bad thing since it allows the emergence and success of third parties like reform party (yuk) or the green party (woohoo) that will curtail corporate abuse.
Side note: Personaly I can not live without internet access or information access any longer. If it were to go away now, I will wither and die.
But then again that's what every drug addict thinks before letting go of the substance.

Re:Advogato is one way forwards (1)

Spudley (171066) | more than 14 years ago | (#837661)

In the movie "Starship Troopers", the government system is democracy for 'citizens'. To become a citizen, the people had to perform some sort of civic duty such as military service (which is where the movie takes it), or something similar. Most people are not citizens and as such cannot vote.

This is pretty much what would result if your proposals are taken to their logical conclusion.

The trouble is that it's easy to be 'civic minded' while you rack up the credits, and then play for your own agenda once you've acheived the position you want. In fact, it's often possible to play your agenda, while still appearing to be civic (I believe that the majority of politians do this already ;-).

you got it backwards (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 14 years ago | (#837668)

That's no longer true, and the latter is being blamed for citizen disconnection from the former

Actually, thanks to the recent DeCSS ruling, I think we are more likely to blame politics for our disconnection with technology.

Re:No, you didn't read the column. (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 14 years ago | (#837669)

And if you had taken a moment to digest my comment, you would have noticed that I was just applying a little wit and levity to a dry an humorless statement. I was going for "Funny", not "Insightful".. This is another lazy knee-jerk reaction to perceived criticism..

Re:Special Interest Groups (2)

Golias (176380) | more than 14 years ago | (#837676)

The problem with Nader is that he won't win and he knows it.

Nader has came right out and said, on several occations, that the reason he is running is to help the Green Party get major party status (which entitles them to government assistance).

This means a vote for Nader is not really a vote for what Ralph Nader says he stands for, but a vote for the Green Party platform, because it is the party, not the man, who stands to rise in stature from a good Nader performance. What Nader would do if elected should not be a factor in your choice, because he won't be.

This is a dramatic contrast from Bush and Gore, who each has a good chance of winning, and who belong to already strong parties. Their party platforms are not at all as important as what they would do in office.

In otherwords, vote Green, Reform, Independence, or Libertarian if you support the goals of the party, vote Bush or Gore if you support the man. All other decisions are less-well-informed.

the midnight nitpicker what nitpicks at midnight (4)

Golias (176380) | more than 14 years ago | (#837678)

...turned people away from the old USian small community ideal...

There is no such thing as a "USian". People who live in the United States of America are called "Americans".

Other people living on the same continent (like Canadians and Mexians) can be referred to as "North Americans", but not "Americans", because the contintent they live on is "North America", not "America". Many Canadians and Mexicans are proud of being Canadians and Mexicans and would prefer you don't think of them as "Americans".

For the entire history of our nation, beginning when we opened a can of whoop-ass on King George's redcoats, we have called ourselves "Americans". Your "politically-correct" revisionism is not going to change that.

Now stop being so pretensious.

Unfortunately in capitalism people are seen less as individuals with their own special contributions to make,

Seen by whom? Certainly not by corporations. Corporations are artificial economic constructs. They don't "see" anything. If there is a failure of perception it is yours, in that capitalism has proven to be more favorable to the individual than any collectivist system, for the obvious reason that capitalism is not collectivist.

than as parts of an assembly line, valued for little more than what they produce.

Unlike socialism, where people are valued for... what they produce. Or communism, where people are valued for... what they produce.

Re:Don't understand this post.. (2)

Alarmist (180744) | more than 14 years ago | (#837679)

Lots of people much smarter than me believe technology could be used to make democracy work[...]

No amount of technology can make up for an ill-informed and apathetic populace. The public school system in the United States, coupled with the socialization of children as consumers first, creates an atmosphere in which it is not in the short-term best interests of the powers that be to have an informed, motivated populace of voters.

Until we can stem the tide of apathy and get people to consider what things are really all about, then technology cannot save us. Look at what giving the vote to 18 year olds did: nothing. Voter turnout has been declining for years, even though we have more people who are eligible to vote than ever. We made voting so easy that few people want to have anything to do with it.

Technology will not save us, Jon. The Founding Fathers gave us a federal republic instead of a democracy for a reason.

Politics and Involvement (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 14 years ago | (#837680)

When political power moved from the individual to the group, and from local control to state, federal and global governments is when the populace lost interest. Quite frankly the average citizen has about as much input into the current process as his pet dog (actually the dog might have better representation). Take you average Joe off the street and place him before any senator/congressperson and see how much input he actually has. This was exemplified well when Meryl Streep had more input than a scientist who knows what he is talking (Alar scare). The process is broken because people are prevented from being involved. I have two simple rules that would fix this problem. First, no nonvoting entity could contribute money to any political candidate. PACs, Unions, Corporations and the like would be prohibited from making any monetary contributions to any canditates. Second, members of one branch of government would be forever prevented from serving in any other branch of government. Lawyers and Judges would be prehibited from serving in the Legislature and Executive branches. Congressmen and Senators would be prevented from serving in the executive and Judicial branches. And people who serve the Executive branch would be also prohibited from serving in the Legislative and Judicial branches. These two simple rules would keep the powers of government seperated, and allow the average citizen to retain more power. Scary thought isn't it?

The nature of politics has changed - much too much (2)

satch89450 (186046) | more than 14 years ago | (#837683)

One of the problems with politics today (both USA and world) is that the number of issues has increased by several orders of magnitude. In the kingdoms of Europe, the issues were pretty much directed at survival and growth. In the Colonies, the issues centered around British remote control, survival, and management of the growth potential that the New World offered.

Now, today, when you look at the Thomas Web site you see thousands of bills that go way beyond the limits of survival and growth [management]. Morality in technology. Ecology. The War on Some Drugs. The War on Some People (think DCMA, anti-discrimination, hate speech). The Welfare of the Corporations. The Business of Government.

And people wonder why the population of the United States is turned off to politics? When politics is focused again on survival and management of growth, then it will become small enough to be grasped by normal people.

We don't need 1/5th of the people and 1/6th of the Gross Domestic Product dedicated to having one person crack the whip over another.

Even religions know better than to expand core teaching beyond a single easily-carried book.

A Serious Question for Jon (1)

ZetaPotential (186121) | more than 14 years ago | (#837684)

Jon, I've reread your post twice, and I keep getting the feeling that your post has this sort of plotline:

"Well, it looks like the plane is going down, we seem to be losing altitude rapidly, and the pilots apparently don't want to share the task of piloting with us, but somebody will figure out how to keep the plane from crashing some time in the future."

I'm not trying to imply that politicians/lobbyists are like the pilots of our societal airplane. What I am trying to say is that very often your articles give good examples of what's going wrong, and then contain absolutely no follow through except for vague prognostications about the future. Why don't you ever include any proposed plans of action for us /. readers? Given this article, you could have had links to the EFF [eff.org] , or to the Democracy Project [democracyproject.org] , both of which are directly concerned with the issues you raise and certainly could use support from the /. community.

So Jon, instead of collecting a paycheck for merely writing more filler for the "eternal debate," as you phrase it, why not finish your articles with concrete suggested plans of action for us to consider? Maybe that way we can band together to save us all from a "crash landing."

Blame ignorance and apathy, not technology. (2)

scotay (195240) | more than 14 years ago | (#837687)

Lowering prices and raising ease of use is the way technology democratizes itself. Currently, computer technology is in its infancy. Should it be surprising that the early adopters are primarily white male geek types? These are the kinds of people that currently design this technology. Is it a geek conspiracy or just a reflection of the way engineers see the world?

Producers want to sell to the widest possible audience so improvements in interface and pricing will continue. It will then be up to the users to build the communities that work, whether real or virtual.

Technology will not replace the choices that individuals choose to make or not to make. If individuals are alienated from politics, they have made the choice to stop voting, or they keep voting for the same old two parties.

We get the government that we deserve. We have earned the mess we are in because of ignorance and apathy, not technology.

Technology just showing root causes (2)

TimRue (202378) | more than 14 years ago | (#837689)

In general, technology doesn't cause the symptoms described. Rather, it enables the exposure of the problems. The more people believe (correctly or not) that they are powerless or can't affect anything or don't have the right to have an opinion, etc., the more they will use the technology available to pursue self-gratification alone. For example, as pointed out, technology could be very useful in resolving local neighborhood issues, but let's face it, it's hard to get any neighborhood together on anything, anymore. There are many causes, but one of them is that civil discussion is not trained or modeled (e.g., TV talk shows) or apparently valued (same e.g.). To engage in a neighborhood activity holds more danger than it used to. This isn't to say that a particular technology is morally neutral, necessarily (a position I used to hold). Certain technologies afford certain uses, and thus lead to certain preferred action. It's not that certain technologies can't be used for a moral use, it's just that it's a lot harder. Given that, I think most of what this post is referring to as "technology" doesn't necessarily afford immoral uses primarily (except for maybe TV :-).

Open-source politicians (1)

Ayon Rantz (210766) | more than 14 years ago | (#837696)

Sooner or later, institutions like politics will get hit just as hard as the music industry.

This brings up a good point. Why doesn't anyone build an open-source senator, congressman or even a free (as in beer) president?

The ones we have now are old, severely limiting and _way_ too expensive for the home user.

Re:What a fine collection of cliches (1)

White Roses (211207) | more than 14 years ago | (#837697)

Remember, the point of the political conventions is not to be democratic, it is to confirm and celebrate a decision already made.

Was it always this way? I seem to recall my mother telling me that she used to watch the political conventions to see who the nominee would be, not to just watch some bland cheerleading ceremony for a done-deal. This might be why the Academy Awards are more attention-getting: the answer isn't known yet.

On top of that, neither candidate this time around is really firing me up to vote (I will, because it is my right, and rights, like muscles, tend to atrophy if not used). So why would I watch a media circus celebrating someone I'm not particularly interested in, with little or no suspense to keep me from switching over to Simpsons reruns? The simple fact of the matter is that there is really very little to do between the time the candidate is annointed and election day except hear them speak about issues, or better yet, defend their platform to people outside their party. You won't see that at a convention. Best to wait until MTV has some Rock The Vote forum, or an actual debate. The Clinton/Bush/Perot debate, now there was a debate.

Not entirely (1)

Dan Hayes (212400) | more than 14 years ago | (#837700)

There have been a couple of times in the last year when I've wished to post to Advogato, but unfortunately I can't since I'm not "certified", no matter how important a point I was going to make.

As a working system Advogato encourages a level of "cliqueyness" (not a word I know) that a site like /. doesn't. I'm not saying trust models are wrong, but this is a real problem - how to build trust for unknown users without letting the idiots ruin it?

Technology *is* the problem (3)

Dan Hayes (212400) | more than 14 years ago | (#837701)

The trouble with the argument that technology is to blame for a lack of interest in politics is that these are issues that don't really have a direct causal connection - it's not fair to say that because technology is improving people are paying less and less attention to politics.

But, it cannot be argued that the increasing march of technology has, in general, turned people away from the old USian small community ideal where people knew all of their neighbours. Indeed, this is not so much a problem with the US, although its effects are seen here to a greater degree than anyone else (perhaps due to its corporate-orientated economy in which people tend to get pushed into second place), but it is a global problem that has been ongoing for centuries.

Technology has made us less and less able to relate to other people, and indeed to want to relate to them. In fact, whilst it has improved our conditions of living and made the transition from hunter-gatherer subsistance possible, it has also allowed us to concentrate on acquisitiveness at the cost of others, the roots of modern capitalism. And today, with the final death of any opposing systems, capitalism is seen as being somehow "right" for us. And capitalism is firmly linked to technology, made possible by such innovations as mass production.

Unfortunately in capitalism people are seen less as individuals with their own special contributions to make, than as parts of an assembly line, valued for little more than what they produce. Indeed, modern economics treats everything as capital, including people. Is it little wonder that people are disaffected and unhappy, when their sole worth is considered to be what they produce?

As people get less and less happy with their situation, they are of course going to become jaded and disullusioned. And politics is going to be seen as the root cause of this, since politicians have the perception of power, if not the substance.

Why would people care about politics in this situation? In fact, they're more likely to come to mistaken views about the evils of "Big Government" than the true evil - capitalism, and it's partner technology.

Re:Everytime that Katz writes an article (1)

euangray (212885) | more than 14 years ago | (#837704)

To a point, you are IMHO correct.

A closer approximation would be 1950s - 1960s Britain, rather than the Roman Empire.

Americans should look eastward and see what became of Britain, consider why, and make sure it doesn't happen in America. The choice is still there, and the example is plain.

Quasi-socialist policy designed to create a self-perpetuating welfare-junkie underclass which needs the constant attention (and funding and thus political control) of the government is NOT in the best interests of the American people (or anyone else, for that matter).

In any society at any time, some proportion of the people will be in need of some form of public welfare, and it is a mark of a civilized society that a moderate, prudent and appropriate provision is made, but only to the extent of holding out a helping hand to a temporarily stumbling "Joe Six-Pack". Once Joe has got off the ground and is on his own feet again, the hand needs to be withdrawn, and not (as in Britain) kept there with consequent ongoing cost, regulation and control.

Technology didn't kill politics (4)

euangray (212885) | more than 14 years ago | (#837707)

Technology is not disconnecting the people from the political process. What is happening in American politics is that:

1. The party machines and lobby groups are growing more sophisticated and are extending their control at the expense of that of the private citizen;

2. Government has over the past decades extended its reach into areas of private and community life that were previously left alone because it is frequently felt that increasingly complex matters require increasingly detailed regulation;

3. The success of the US economy has increased national and average personal wealth significantly, and this has inevitably engendered a sense of guilt and social responsibility towards the less fortunate. This manifests itself in a consensus that public welfare provision should be expanded (by whatever degree) - inevitably, this means more government, more funds, more scope for manipulation, and decreased political diversity as the consensus on political acceptability narrows.

Each of these leads to a more complex government apparatus, which is of course going to attempt to preserve its own livelihood. It also means more jobs & influence for the mayor's/governor's/president's buddies, so the average politician is going to be disinclined to suggest radical reform.

The range of choices open to the voter diminishes, and so fewer voters bother to cast their ballot (or even register to vote)

This process has nothing to do with technology. It happened in Europe in the early part of the 20th century, and is now happening in America. It took Britain 50 years to build a complex welfare system that imposed (and still imposes) a huge drain on the national economy, and it took another 40 years to realise that it had to be reformed and scaled back. This is still going on, and will continue for years to come.

It is of course possible to arrange for frequent county, state and federal plebiscites on a variety of matters, and it is easier to do this using the internet than with formal voting stations. However, the idea of representative democracy is that the elected representatives of the people make the decisions on their behalf, and such widespread popular voting would make this system irrelevant. In any case, would you want to have to vote three times a week every week?

The cause of the problem is not technology. The answer is not technology. The cause is bigger government, and the answer is smaller government. Government at any level should only be doing what (a) only government (and not the people themselves) can do, and (b) to do this only when it is actually necessary (and not just desirable).

politics and tech elite (1)

linesnatcher (215398) | more than 14 years ago | (#837710)

A real problem with technology and politics is that the people who don't understand computers are labelling people who do as terrorists. Before the whole country can operate around the Net, the old dogs in charge need to learn how it works. It would be nice to not have to feel like I'm being watched, just becaise I know how things work.

The ultimate democracy (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 14 years ago | (#837713)

The ultimate democracy is dollar votes. Just like those used for elections they are held by the wise and unwise alike. Each dollar you spend on crappy tech is one less for good tech.

Vote [dragonswest.com] Naked 2000

Yes, let's have more public discourse! (2)

Hairy_Potter (219096) | more than 14 years ago | (#837714)

By spending all day and night in a chatroom meeting our neighbors through a monitor.

Anyone else see a dichotomy?

I think the reason that Americans are growing apart and volunteerism is dying is that the economy is worse than it was in the 50's and 60s'. My dad could spend 6 hours a week doing volunteer work, I spend that time keeping up on computers.

Technology will definitely change politics (2)

ibot (219510) | more than 14 years ago | (#837715)

With the candidates getting exposure on Yahoo there can be more of a dialog between the candidates and the public. Now politicians will have a tougher time side-stepping issues or just focusing on issues (or dirt) raised by the opponent. They'll now have to consider the real issues.

The other portals should also give space to the candidates. Maybe slashdot could too.

Long live the internet

Founder's Camp [founderscamp.com]

Tech will only briefly illuminate the PowersThatBe (1)

jctribble (223665) | more than 14 years ago | (#837717)

The Conventions used to be a place of real debate. Then, once massive press coverage started the real decisions and king-making moved to "Smoke filled Rooms."

Today we have "Shadow Conventions." But even they have too much spotlight to have any real debate.

I've proposed to my techie friends that the entire legislative process could be utterly transparent in real time using web technology. They thought it was a good idea but would only force law-making even further into back rooms than it is now.

It's like what a Teamster once said, "You don't want to elect the leaders ot the Teamsters Union-- You wouldn't know who was running the place!"

Your home internet gateway appliance [ucentric.com]

Re:Do it yourself (1)

Linux Ate My Dog! (224079) | more than 14 years ago | (#837720)

If there's one thing that's been learnt from the Open-Source "revolution" is that it's no good just talking about it, if you've got an idea and it's feasible to do it yourself, then what are you waiting for?

Exactly. The technology to 'empower' random people and groups to form political structures is available and accessible to motivated users right now. The question Katz steers away from in order to complain again that technology isn't to his liking, is why this motivation is so lacking.

Better or different tech for chatrooms and community webboards just isn't going to change any of the relevant impediments towards an involved society: it isn't suddenly going to make people more involved in the world outside their television, it isn't going to make them smarter and more articulate after years of exposure to advertising-propelled mind-drugs, it isn't going to quell disillusionment over being sold out to PACs, and it isn't going to create more free time for them to stay active and informed.

If the bulletin board in the local supermarket is not creating local organization, a virtualized environment in the one damn modality where location isn't an issue ain't gonna do it either.


And (1)

Bob Abooey (224634) | more than 14 years ago | (#837722)

Bababooey to you all !

Democracy is what the people make it (1)

Sun_Tzu99 (224988) | more than 14 years ago | (#837723)

I hate to say this, because it will sound like an NRA sound bite but... Democracy is a full time job. We must be ever vigalant to protect what democracy that we have and do all in out power to make our society a more democratic one. For the past few months people have b*tched and moaned about the DMCA and the damage that it has done but how many of those people were actually out fighting against that act before it was passed! How many people are writting there congressmen to ask them to repeal the law? Technology can be the ultimate aid to democracy, more information can be shown to more people faster than ever before but most people don't take advantage of it. We are to busy reading userfriendly and playing diablo rather than checking up on our congressman. If you are going to whine about the fate of technology and democracy get out and do something about it. Whew! I'm glad thats over. The national conventions were a joke because the parties do not want to be embarrased. When we vote in primaries (which everyone should do) we only vote for party delegates, not for the actual people. In the "old days" the delegates that got elected to the convention could vote for anyone they want, not the people we told them to. It would be real bad for a party to say "GW Bush" is our next candidate, and then for all the delegated to get to the convention and elect McCain. The moral of the story... Quit B*tchen and get out and do something!
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