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The New Technology of Democracy (2000)

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The future of humanity is being significantly influenced in every way and at every level by technology – who has it and who doesn’t – what it could do in principal and what it can do constrained to the narrow interests of a few multi-national corporations (see 'Ethics-. Given the enormous potential of technology and its unprecedented scope of influence over modern life, prudence demands that we become more conscious and intentional (beyond the marketplace’s invisible hand) in stewarding the technology’s stewarding of us.

What is our leadership responsibility in applying this technology to the maximum benefit of everyone? How shall we make use of this new technology such that it furthers the cause of participative democracy, serves the American Vision and empowers our people? What is the role of technology in the evolution of governance and what is the role of government in the evolution of technology?

Our ‘system’ of government is, after all, a complex social technology (a low-tech WEB). The ‘architecture’ and ‘engineering’ of this ‘technology’ was based on the number of representatives and frequency of congressing that was technically reasonable in the days when mass messaging had to be letter-by-letter hand set in printing presses, and the fastest speed of message transportation was horseback. If we were to start over today and envision a new democracy that was design-enabled by the frequency and quality of citizen participation that modern technology makes possible, what would it look like?

It is clear that a new form of politics is already emerging. Its signature difference will be the level of citizen participation it makes possible (in detail and frequency). Its foundational assumption: that radically enhancing the quality of participation will affect the governing dialogue in ways reframing and rehashing issues can’t address.

Technology is destined to enable a heretofore-impossible relationship between "representatives" and the "represented" - one that provides the people represented significantly more meaningful ways to participate (to think and feel included - value adding) while redefining the representative as a leader and facilitator of the new forms of constituency.

How should the political leadership, situated as it uniquely is, at the intersection between the evolution of technology and the evolution of democracy, be proactively involved in defining the role of technology in the evolution of governance and the role of governance in the evolution of technology?  How should we take up the challenge history has handed us? It is our nation's destiny – our destiny as its leaders - to take up this challenge and become the architects of the new technology of democracy.

Some starting points to explore:

National Cyberspace Agency (placeholder)

Develop strategies that could inform policy on how to best leverage the emerging technologies to the benefit of national democracy.

Develop strategies that could inform policy regarding the legal infrastructure of the emerging cyberworld.

Develop strategies for playing the role of strategic vision/venture capitalist with emerging technologies that have significant social or economic benefit.

Develop a new form of ‘voting’ on issues that is above ‘tampering’ suspicion and that is based on a frequency appropriate to the issues at hand not the term of the representatives involved.

Prototype a parallel representational democracy system (initially like non PAC driven governmental focus groups) that uses the web to enable people of common national and local interests to join and/or form constituencies and elect representatives responsible for facilitating ongoing distributed dialogues within the constituencies - dialogues that facilitate the mutual learning and actions of its members and that feed a different granularity of intelligence into the existing governmental system.

Partner with technology companies in envisioning and proto-architecting the new technology of democracy.

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Adapted from a paper in Support of Vasconcellos/California Sept 2, 2000


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