‘But, Tony Blair, I Sent You an Email…’

As The Next Big Thing, the Internet has been hailed as a
potential solution to many of the world’s problems, and the world
has fewer high-profile problems than those of the political
process. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have opened
themselves up to email input, but this hasn’t done much to change
the democratic process — the interaction elected officials have
with the public is characterized by significant accountability but
little interactivity. For example, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair must answer to the critical public eye, but only every four
or five years. On the other hand, a conversation with a friend or
neighbor over politics is intrinsically interactive, but unless
such conversations are meticulously recorded, there is little
accountability as to what is said. The political process, then, is
traditionally characterized by a trade-off between accountability
and interactivity, with a number of national and local bodies
providing various gradients between the two extremes.

The Internet does nothing to change this — national politics
still sacrifice interactivity for accountability. What the Internet
does change, however, is the scalability of political debates.
Since conversations on the Internet are not limited by physical
constraints, local debates can easily grow into national debates,
and large issues can readily be discussed on an intimate scale.
Moreover, these discussions can take place in forums that more
effectively balance interactivity with accountability, provided
moderation while still facilitating free discourse. Official
government information can now be discussed as it is released,
linking the accountability of transparent government with the
intimacy of person-to-person interaction. The Internet is not, nor
will it ever be, a panacea for fixing democracy. But it has the
potential to expand and unite the many conversations that take
place in the process of government.
Brendan Themes

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‘But, Tony Blair, I Sent You an Email…’

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