Michael Gurstein on 6 Feb 2001 20:55:45 -0000

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<nettime> Reform Democracy for the Internet Age

[This email is a reaction to Don Tappscot's vision of the Internet as
reviving democracy (see original message at the end of Michael's post).
Tappscot, btw, is Canada's most prominent business consultant and IT
futurist. Felix]

I've been thinking about issues of on-line participation and democracy
quite a lot recently and so I guess, have a lot of other people.

What I think is clear is that the Field of Dreams approach--build it and
they will come is just that, a Field of Dreams... lot's of folks are
building them (on-line processes for consultation/participation) but not
many folks are using them...

The question is how to draw some useful conclusions/direction from the
participation (or lack of participation) in these and on a different
level, to ask the question does the lack of (low level of) participation
overall mean that this approach doesn't work and should be abandoned.

My personal conclusion is that we are just at very early stages in this
process and we are just testing out different technologies--physical,
social, emotional--for how these things can, or can be made to, work.  We
are collecting examples of how they won't work (Fields of Dreams) but
there are also some interesting examples of how they can be made to
work--the anti-MAI and anti-WTO initiatives, C4LD in Toronto, even GKD and
the GDG discussion are very good examples...  The failed examples are too
numerous to even try to list...

Some personal observations:

    * if you want specific kinds of outputs, you need to work at them and
this doesn't come for free... If someone wants to use ICT's for
consultation it is not enough to just set up an email list and expect the
consultation to flow... It needs care and nurturing--facilitation and
animation--time and attention

    * web consultations work even less well than email consultations
except in highly constrained spheres or environments

    * to a very considerable degree silence is consent.  Around any single
issue or area of concern, there will be a rainbow of responses--from those
with a passionate interest to those with only the vaguest knowledge.  If
the issue matters enough to them, people will begin to pay attention and
respond.  If those with the passionate interest are diverting the process
then they will elicit a response from those with a less passionate
interest and so on... This happens on the net just as it does IRL...

    * we have no idea at this point how to link Net
democracy/participation into Real Life democratic participation... what
has been done in this area to date is the political equivalent of the
DotCom craze/crash people threw a lot of unsustainable models at the
problem and when they weren't sustainable they crashed... it doesn't mean
that E-Commerce (E-participation?) is a dud, only that figuring out how to
make it work is going to take more effort/resources than people originally

    * we need some theory on participation/democracy on the Net and we
need some significant re-analysis of current theories of
participation/democracy in the light of the Net as participation

However, IMHO the technology is fundamentally supportive of democratic
participation.  It has the capacity not only to facilitate communications,
information/knowledge sharing, and multi-logues but also to enhance and
extend these and thus by any definition they can only lead to greater
democratic participation (political disintermediation) rather than less.

There are of course, issues of access, but probably even now in developed
countries and in many parts of developing countries, more folks have more
access to broader political and participatory processes via computer
communications than through any other available means.

(I have a feeling BTW that a lot of those who are saying, well it hasn't
worked so let's give up on it, are pursuing other and fundamentally
anti-democratic or anti-participation agendas rather than anti-technology

Mike Gurstein

----- Original Message -----
From: Colin J. Williams <cjw@sympatico.ca>
To: CPI-UA Universal Access <cpi-ua@vcn.bc.ca>
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2001 2:19 PM
Subject: [CPI-UA]: Reform Democracy for the Internet Age

A Don Tapscott, a Toronto guru, offers advice to President George W. Bush
and looks to the new president to lead the way so that Bush will assure
his place in history.

As he sees it, an interactive democracy would increase civic engagement.  
With politically engaged citizens, we would see a flowering of
civic-society organizations, businesses and social relationships.

He gives the ICANN process as an example of electronic democracy and
claims that elected representatives and lobbyists would both feel
threatened if a move were made in this direction.

He gives no attention to the problem of ensuring that everyone has an
opportunity to participate in the process.  Is the legislator to spend
his/her time reading a list server for guidance?


Colin W.

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