TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Emergent Democracy

Joi Ito explored some of the ideas on how new technologies can make democracy a much more participative and bottom-up process in a paper entitled Emergent Democracy:

In complex systems the role of the leader is not about determining the direction and controlling the followers, but about maintaining integrity, representing the will of the followers and influencing and communicating with peers and leaders above. The leader becomes more of facilitator and a custodian of the process than a power figure, and is often the catalyst or manager of a critical debate or the representative of a group engaged in one. The leader is often the messenger delivering the consensus of a community to another layer or group. Indeed, some leaders in a representative democracy act in this manner. And as leadership becomes necessary to manage the development of an opinion or idea about a complex issue, information technology could enable quick and ad hoc leader selection and representation of that opinion or idea in a larger debate.

The world needs emergent democracy more than ever. Traditional forms of representative democracy are barely able to manage the scale, complexity and speed of the issues in the world today. Representatives of sovereign nations negotiating with each other in global dialog are very limited in their ability to solve global issues. The monolithic media and its increasingly simplistic representation of the world cannot provide the competition of ideas necessary to reach consensus. Emergent democracy has the potential to solve many of the problems we face in the exceedingly complex world at both the national and global scale. The community of toolmakers should be encouraged to consider their possible positive effect on the democratic process as well as the risk of enabling emergent terrorism, mob rule and a surveillance society.

We must protect the ability of these tools to be available to the public by protecting the commons. We must open the spectrum and make it available to the people, while resisting increased control of intellectual property, and the implementation of architectures that are not inclusive and open. We must work to provide access to the Net for more people by making the tools and infrastructure cheaper and easier to use.

Finally, we must explore the way in which this new form of democratic dialog translates into action and how it interacts with the existing political system. We can bootstrap emergent democracy by using the tools to develop the tools and create concrete examples of emergent democracy. These examples can create the foundation for understanding how emergent democracy can be integrated into society generally.

Just as sporting events like the Commonwealth Games or Olympics offer an opportunity to build out the physical infrastructure for cities, the elections offer an excellent opportunity to create Indias digital infrastructure and lay the foundation for an emergent democracy. This change will not happen overnight, but if we can use the 2004 elections to start building the platforms, we will have succeeded in moving towards ensuring that democracy and the elected representatives work for the greater good of the nation.

Tomorrow: Key Technologies

TECH TALK Technology and the Indian Elections+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.