Internet And Politics Essay, Research Paper
Technology, it seems like such a common word. It brings to mind images of palm pilots, two-way pagers and electric cars. Whether or not we realize it, we live in a day and age where almost everything around us is a product of technological manufacturing. Despite how common it is in our everyday lives, rarely do we ever consider technology as having any political impact. How often do people associate their daily television watching with government? Though rarely recognized, it is a logical and powerful pairing. Like all things, information communication technologies (herein referred to as ICTs ) are capable of doing as much evil as good. Depending on how the medium is used, each can promote and damage representative government.
A democracy is a political system in which the sovereignty belongs to all of the citizens, with no distinction whatsoever. Above all, the whole of the democratic practices should reflect the needs and wants of the community. It should respect the basic human rights, notably political, civil, individual, and intellectual liberties. It should allow for the possibility of making relevant choices, for the citizen as well as the consumer and producer. Thus there is a direct link between democracy and culture, as well as democracy and the expression of rationality.
According to author Robert Dahl in his book, On Democracy, there are three conditions that are essential to the stability of a democracy. These three are: control of military and police by elected officials, democratic beliefs and political culture, and no strong foreign control hostile to democracy. In the following, there will be a discussion of how specific ICTs influence these conditions.
The radio is an example of an invention that has had a revolutionary impact on democracy. With this, people all around the world were suddenly exposed to a whole new realm of communication. People could now turn on a box and hear the voices of others within the comfort of their own home. This seemingly innocent instrument proved to be anything but that. Politicians used the radio to bombard citizens with messages of who and what to vote for. Radio news shows informed listeners of current events and ongoing war and peace relations of the world. It may have helped promote democracy in its efforts to share information with the public, but it simultaneously robbed every listener of his independent thoughts.
Television is undoubtedly one of the most major developments of the twentieth century. Life would never be the same once the tube infiltrated American homes. The television s influence on politics is unquestionably huge. From the first televised presidential election with Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, we can see how easily people are swayed. The following polls that resulted from that debate reflected that Kennedy s popularity soared. It was then that America realized how powerful this invention was. Based purely on aestetics, J.F.K was suddenly America s favored candidate.
Now, the television is used to show commercials that boast its sponsors and slander its opponents. Predictions and opinions of how elections will turn out are available around the clock. Television has a way of manipulating what we know and believe about issues. It feeds us information at the push of a button. The dangerous part is that most people assume that what is shown on television is the truth. This is derived from the fact that we do not trust our own opinions. Because it is on television, it is assumed to be the popular consensus. Humans are innately drawn to adapting the bandwagon mentality, especially when it comes to politics.
The most controversial form of technology to come about recently is the Internet. This multi-faceted invention has redefined communication in every sense. Through the use of e-mails, chat rooms, web pages, and instant messaging, the Internet has permitted interaction never-before imagined. Politically, it has opened up a whole new realm for voters. We can now register to vote and learn about what and who we are voting for. Without ever leaving the home, the voter is given access to a plethora of prospects.
As with every ICT, the Internet has a cornucopia of drawbacks. It has been abused in every sense of the world. Just as easily as it is to find information on propositions and referendums, one can download pornography at just the same rate. At a click of a button, the user can enter a chat room to discuss various issues. Politically, it should pose as a great forum for debating. Unfortunately, most people who go into those chat rooms already have similar ideals. Another innovation stemming from the Internet is the invention of the e-mail. Now, citizens can contact their political representatives instantly and cost-free. There is no longer the need to send letters conventionally. E-mails are quick and easy. The problem lies in the fact that because they are so quick and easy, they have a tendency to be informal as well. This informality causes the recipient (the political figure) not to take the letters as seriously.
It would thus seem that a new technique, in the early years of its mass distribution, profits those who succeed in appropriating it for themselves, often in the form of a monopoly, and that this economic confiscation often has harmful political and cultural consequences. But in order to spread, such a technique needs discourses that legitimate it, that proclaim utopias (or generate anxieties for those who do not yet possess it). These discourses mask the reality, falsify the political debate, and, in so doing, threaten democracy.
In order for ICTs to foster democracy, we must insist on the need for vigilance. This means rejecting the idea that a new technology can make us forget the questions that we might have posed in the past on relations between technology and society. With this, we can remain confident in the critical sense of that portion of humanity that has the cultural and political means to make use of it. Even if this means employing all the technologies at its disposal to that end.
The political effects of technological progress can only be measured after it has been disseminated throughout the society for a considerable amount of time, because the appropriation period is often long and may take unpredictable detours. But above all, analyses of technical innovation are marked by the idea that technical progress is always related to political and social progress. It seems that a successful innovation quickly leads to monopoly, and economic monopolies are a threat to democracy. Throughout history, major technological and intellectual transformations have allowed the emergence of political groups asserting themselves at the economic expense of others. Some examples of this are the bankers and merchants at the end of the Middle Ages and the industrialists and bankers of the Industrial Revolution. It could be said that as soon as a new technique has significant economic implications (the prior condition and proof of its success), it whets monopolistic appetites and frequently leads to a loss of rights for large elements of society.