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

By Anthony G. Wilhelm | Go to book overview

7

Catching the Red Queen: Public-Policy Renovations

IN LEWIS CARROLL’S WONDROUS Through the Looking Glass, Alice finds herself in a country ruled by the Red Queen, a place that challenges Alice’s assumption about progress. Rather than actually moving from point A to point B upon running fast, Alice finds herself where she began, a very strange occurrence indeed to someone coming from a perspective in which running implies movement across time and distance. A brief exchange between Alice and the Red Queen highlights their incompatible Weltanschauungen:

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” (147)

This phenomenon, referred to as the “Red Queen effect,” subverts our traditional notion of progress, abroad world view in herited from the Enlightenment. The Red Queen forces us to reflect on these principles as well as the empirical reality of contemporary life in which so many people in America struggle to keep pace in economic (Blackburn, Bloom, and Freeman 1989), social (Case and Katz 1991), and political life (Verbaetal. 1993).

This chapter will suggest ways in which the Red Queen effect can be mitigated. The diffusion of new technologies in general and information and communications technologies in particular oftentimes exacerbates inequalities in society, including political inequalities. The Internet, for example, amplifies the voices of those who are already advantaged, since regular online users strongly correlate with likely voters, heavy campaign donors, and so forth (Bimber 1998a, 1998b; Davis 1999). If the market were left to its own devices, then these services and commodities would remain more or less in the hands of the most affluent households and communities, and the less fortunate would run faster only to remain on

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