The internet and democracy

I was talking with a woman who is a pensioner a few days ago, and she had no computer and hated the idea of having one. She loved books and prefered holding books and turning pages. But she realised the incredible breadth of opportunity that the internet gave, with almost immediate access to huge amounts of information. She also felt that she was beginning to miss out on opportunities, so many services were being put on line. Isn’t it possible that internet access will become essential for us to communicate and find out what’s happening?

For children, having the internet at home, has already become a marker of who is poor or who has parents that want their children to learn (while respecting that some families choose not to have computers for moral or cultural reasons).

We think that the internet is having an influence on democracy in Iran and China (in particular), but of course what is just as significant is how it is changing the way we live our lives. Part of me hopes that everyone will at some point in the not too distant future, have access to the world wide web, just like we all assume there should be running water in our homes.

If this were the case, that we all had access to the internet, then we could set aside a weekly time, perhaps two hours, when we reviewed the political issues of the moment and voted on them. This could help our democracy in several ways.

Parliament could still debate the issues, if that were the best forum to articulate the variety of views about political matters, but the votes would be taken by the people. This type of change would clearly be an improvement on our limited “representational” style of democracy. My feeling is that changes of this sort should be introduced gradually, with limited votes intially, on things of paramount public interest. For example, war is probably the greatest act that any citizen can inflict on another. So this should be the first topic that is transferred to democratic decision making. We will then find ourselves in the fortunate position of being able to vote for war, pay for war and going to fight it ourselves, if we chose to do so. And the rest of humanity could be left in peace, except of course the unfortunate targets of those who wanted to fight.

There will be huge resistance to such democratic change. That can only be expected. It will be a few years in the future – but the yearning for justice, fairness and peace that the vast majority of people long for (92%), is within our grasp. Democracy is changing in the west as much as the east.