Some old-fashioned ballot casting. Credit: Adrian Clark / Flickr Creative Commons
The Internet was supposed to revolutionize democracy. It was supposed to take the power from wealthy elites, give ordinary people a voice in the political process, and make the system more responsive.
“I think a lot of us, ten years ago, were overly optimistic that, by itself, the Internet was going to ‘democratize democracy.’ And in the early days, it felt like something different was happening, because so many more people were getting into the political process because it was so much easier," explains Micah Sifry, author of.
The promise of those early days hasn’t exactly been realized. The Internet does have a role in politics - just look at the amount of money politicians- but it hasn’t been as transformative as Sifry hoped.
“What we see now [is that] the people who already had a lot of power, [they’ve figured] out how to adapt to the Internet to make it work for them and keep the balance of power where it was," he says.
Politicians like Ron Paul, Elizabeth Warren, andhave been able to use the Internet to increase awareness and fundraise, but with PACs, Super PACs, and , Sifry sees the voices of those who don’t happen to own being drowned out.
He believes changing the political process using the current Internet ecosystem is difficult - and reminds people that “none of the tools [we use online]: email, Facebook, wikis… were designed for large group decision making.”
That’s not to say that the Internet can’t mobilize people to enact change. Take, for example, the relatively small amount of time time it took.
And tomorrow’s Internet might offer a different set of change-making tools
As Sifry looks to the future, he sees three reasons to be hopeful about technology’s impact on political systems:
First, there's technology. The app grew out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as a way for online groups to reach a consensus quickly and easily. Unlike other online tools, it was actually designed for large-group decision making. In fact, one of Spain’s major political parties, Podemos, uses Loomio to . Tech like this could actually change how politics works.
Sifry is also hopeful about the media ecosystem that the Internet has created. Though mainstream media is still “,” Sifry thinks “this new media system is much more reflective of the actual makeup of our country. And it’s because it’s open that this is possible.”
Finally, Sifry sees a lot of techies getting disillusioned with the profit-driven world of Silicon Valley. In his opinion, some of them want to use their skills for more than just “getting people to click on ads.”, he says, could lead skilled technologists to create apps and systems that really do change the political process. Loomio is a start, but there’s the opportunity for far more, and Sifry wants impassioned engineers and designers to get started.
“The human ingenuity that tech makes possible says, with the will we can solve these problems, it’s just whether we can coordinate our will.”.