Democracy in the Digital Age: Challenges to Political Life in Cyberspace

Democracy in the Digital Age: Challenges to Political Life in Cyberspace

Democracy in the Digital Age: Challenges to Political Life in Cyberspace

Democracy in the Digital Age: Challenges to Political Life in Cyberspace

Synopsis

Democracy in the Digital Age is a fascinating philosophical exploration of how the emerging information and communication technologies are impacting political participation in the United States. Rather than being the antidote to democratic ills, the political conversations occurring online are neither inclusive nor deliberative, suggesting that new technologies, as currently designed and used, are as much threats to progress as they are vehicles of progress. Wilhelm discussses four features of digitally-mediated political likfe (resources, inclusiveness, deliberation and design) and puts forward public policy solutions to bridge the digital divide.

Excerpt

It is a little-known fact that a “revolutionary Vote Recorder” was the first invention on which Thomas Edison was granted a patent. In 1869 Edison freighted his device to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate it to a congressional committee, expecting them to laud its efficiency. The way the machine worked, congressmen needed only to close a switch at their desk, and their vote would be recorded and counted by the vote recorder, situated on the clerk’s desk (Josephson 1959, 65f.). Using this ingenious device, legislative roll call could be completed in a matter of minutes, effectively cauterizing dragged-out congressional sessions. Much to Edison’s chagrin, the audience of congressional leaders rejected the vote recorder, castigating it as an enemy of minorities who deliberately attempt to gain advantage by changing votes or filibustering legislation. Rather than applauding it as an important aid to expedite the legislative process, its skeptics regarded its very speed and efficiency as a weapon against minorities.

In a large and sprawling republic—in a political assembly in particular or in the public sphere in general—groups that are small in numbers or slight in influence need time to persuade large numbers of people of the worthiness of their cause. The more efficient the means of resolution of political matters, often the less advantageous this process becomes to those who are outnumbered or on the margins of society. Unless these groups have considerable financial means either to broadcast their messages to a wide audience or to buy influence, they are consigned to promoting their issues piecemeal. Thus, they need time and civic space relatively free from the encroachment of incumbent political authority and corporate influence to get their messages across to potential adherents to their causes. Edison’s vote recorder, while it was efficient, possessed considerable entailments, not the least of which were the unintended consequences and misappropriations resulting from its application to the realm of public affairs. . .

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