The Past and Future of Information Politics
TODAY’S NEED TO MATCH SOCIAL GOVERNANCE to technological change is but the latest chapter in a long story of political adaptations to material innovation. Improvement in social governance has tracked the improvement of the political information sphere—the sum of political institutions that facilitate the creation, distribution, and use of social knowledge. Improvements in the information sphere have in turn depended on technological innovation. In the information age, information can now be readily seen as a driving force of history, one that is probably more important than race, ethnicity, class, or religion.
The history of the symbiosis of information, technology, and governance cannot be written here. Nonetheless, a few vignettes from ancient Athens, Britain on the cusp of the industrial age, and our country’s own founding can display the arc of change, the manner in which successful societies exploit the technologies of the time to construct a more productive information sphere to better assess and predict social policy. Despite the differences among these societies in time and place, their successes depended on the same kinds of reforms necessary for our own society, such as creating a more powerful compound of expert and dispersed information, distributing social knowledge more efficiently, and giving political actors better incentives to use it. These sketches thus confirm that our need for better mechanisms of social assessment is not unique to our age. They also underscore that even if we adopt reforms today, new information mechanisms will be needed tomorrow.
in Social Governance
Throughout the history of the world individuals have invented new devices for human benefit. These inventions in turn alter the relations of people to one another, creating opportunities and needs for new forms of political structure. Thus, accumulating acts of individual genius often end up transforming collective governance.