Monday, June 15, 2009

Capitol Offense: Technology as the Great Democratizer

I think anyone reading this post is likely to recognize the important role that technology can and is playing in changing the way politics and government work, both in the U.S. and beyond. Whether it be the new methods of disseminating news and current events or online fundraising or the use of Twitter and other technologies in the events going on in Iran right now, we're seeing clear evidence that the new information technology that people are incorporating into their leisure time is also being incorporated into activism and social change to some success.

But there is a long way to go, particularly at the state and local level, before we see the true possibilities of these technologies or before we see the limits they may face over the longterm. We know that we are far from seeing the upper limits of where the technology can go, so we are also far from seeing what impact it can have on people's lives in terms of freedom and democracy.

There is no question that it can have a major impact, though. They key to running a repressive society is control over information. If a population doesn't know that there are alternatives to the repression they face, they are unlikely to revolt. If they don't know how to revolt, they can't do it. And if the people can't communicate with each other on a large scale, a revolution is unlikely to have much success. Totalitarian regimes have always realized that if they undercut these avenues for sharing information, they have a much easier time dominating their population. But they need technology to control and disseminate their propoganda to the masses. The problem, for them at least, is that the same technology that allows them such control, can also be their downfall. As soon as the government figures out how to block information, someone else has already figured out a way to get around those methods of supressing information. Ask the RIAA.

The Republican majority in Florida (and elsewhere), works under very similar premises. They present themselves as moderates who represent the will of the people -- that the masses are with them -- while at the same time pursuing a radical corporatist agenda that, when successful, does harm to the masses, while keeping a few rich people rich. They've been very successful in Florida because of the inherent biases and laziness of the media in modern society and because of the decline in revenue the news industry faces, leading to cuts in coverage and information gathering at the state and local level. This means that the average Floridian lacks in the basic information she or he needs to make key decisions to help themselves and to help the people in general.

Technology can be part of the answer. There are more people with a progressive point of view than a conservative one. There are many people with the inexpensive technology -- cell phones, PCs and Macs, digital cameras, flip video, etc. -- more than enough to gather and disseminate the information through places like blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. All we need is for the people with that technology to realize that they are no longer passive consumers of information, that they are the ones who should be gathering the important information and passing it along to the rest of the population. Once people realize that, democracy stands a really good chance, not only in Florida, but everywhere.

That's not to say that technology alone will solve our problems and move everything forward. Obviously, we need people to use that technology to gather the right information, we need people to run for office that can use information to change things for the better and we need money to pay for it all. But technology means that we don't need nearly as much of any of those as we used to. Time is on our side and progress will come. Technology will be one of the key reasons.

I'm Kenneth Quinnell and I approve this message.

Read more on Florida politics at the Florida Progressive Coalition blog ( and the Florida Progressive Coalition Wiki ( You can check out any of the Florida blogs mentioned in this article by checking out the sidebar on the FPC blog.

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