Online Reporting, Discussion, Activism and Emerging Democracies

Satisfactory Essays
Online Reporting, Discussion, Activism and Emerging Democracies

In the rise to prominence of weblogs and other social software, Jim Moore and Joi Ito see a fundamental transformation in how people act, interact and make decisions. In essays first published in 2003 - Jim Moore's The Second Superpower Rears Its Beautiful Head[1] and Joi Ito's Emergent Democracy[2] - they paint hopeful, if sometimes vague, pictures of how Internet communities can show us techniques and tactics that could radically change real-world politics.

Where I'm uncomfortable with both essays is the fact that they extrapolate from the behavior of the people currently using the Internet to make generalizations about how a larger world might use these tools. My work for the past few years, helping spread information technology in developing nations, has convinced me that technology transfer is much more complicated than bringing tools to people who previously lacked them.

I think it's worth taking a close look at what happens when we try to include the developing world in the models Ito and Moore put forward - in other words, "Is there room for the third world in the second superpower?"

Moore's Second Superpower suggests that a group of people are changing democracy by using a three-part model for social engagement - collect information, comment and debate, then act. These three steps are all being transformed by new technologies. While we continue to be informed by mass media, we're also getting information from alternative media, published cheaply on the Net, and from personal accounts in weblogs. We're debating and commenting in entirely new ways, enabled by weblogs, discussion groups, instant messaging and mailing lists. And we're discovering that these tools also make some forms of action more efficient: fundraising, protesting, and organizing face to face "meetups".

Ito's Emergent Democracy focuses on the third, "action" phase, and suggests that forms of decision-making emerging from the world of weblogs might lead to a viable form of direct democracy. In the way that ideas percolate from personal networks, to social networks, to large, political networks, reinforced by positive feedback loops, Joi sees a possible path for decision-making to move from individual thinking to group action.

While Moore and Ito have justifiable enthusiasm about the phenomena we're seeing emerge from interconnected communities - the growth of weblogs as an alternative to "mainstream" media, the success of grassroots campaigning in the United States - this enthusiasm needs to be tempered by some skepticism about who is currently using social software, and who has potential to use it.
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