As use of the Internet and World Wide Web by citizens has increased, a number of scholars have touted the web as a means to increase democratic participation and strengthen political community – so called digital democracy. It has been argued, new information technologies will transform the nature of political activity by infusing representative democracy with the direct democratic ideals of Ancient Greek city-state, or by fostering local communitarian political structures . The paper examines more systematically whether telecommunications technologies might enhance civic participation by improving information and fostering communication between young citizens and pubic officials, and the paper will also define the values and behavioral patterns of N generation resulted from digital democracy.
Information and Communications Technologiesand Democracy
Information and communication technologies are undoubtedly powerful, but they are not so autonomously . On the contrary, the deployment of computers, telecommunications and information systems is the consequence of human choices which are themselves constrained and shaped by social context. The importance of ICTs derives from the potential for supporting new informational capabilities, as well as for introducing changes in the way that information is communicated. By the same token, much of the resistance to ICT-induced innovation lies in the political and cultural significance of information and communications processes. It follows that it is the digitalization of information and their communication, which should be the core focus of social scientific enquiry of the information age. While the physical machinery has become the common-sense focus of attention, this process has meant that we have become purblind to the distinctive properties of these technologies. What are the specific properties of information and communication technologies which have lent themselves to such a dichotomized view of the information age? What is it about these technologies that leads commentators to adopt such definite, but contradictory, convictions about their social implications? To address these questions we will refocus our discussion on the informational and communications capabilities associated with ICTs.
It is our view that there are two interrelated qualities of ICTs which help us to answer these questions. Each of these qualities is concerned with information. The first highlights the significance of ‘informatization'. The second relates specifically to new capabilities for communicating information.
The use of the term 'informatization' can be confusing, because it is used in the literature on ICTs in two different ways. It is often used generically to refer to the increasingly intensive exploitation of the capabilities associated with ICTs . However, the term 'informatization' is being used in this paper more precisely, to refer to the distinctive properties of ICTs which were first identified by Zuboff when she coined the notion of ICTs as 'informating' technologies . According to Zuboff , the insight that information technology provides a distinctive foundation for innovation, because it adds 'an additional element of reflexivity: it makes its contribution to the productbut it also reflects back on its activities and on the system of activities to which it is related' . Unlike other technologies, ICTs inevitably produce information which enables reflection upon the organization into which it has been introduced, intended or unintended ways, human peRCEPtions of the context in which that technology is employed. ICTs cannot, therefore, be interpreted simply as production technologies, designed simply to speed up and otherwise improve production and administrative processes. While they might well bring greater efficiencies to transaction processing, the distinctive importance of ICTs lies in their reflexivity. Thus, as public service providers come to use these technologies extensively, so they could learn more about the relationships involved in their activities, particularly those between themselves and their employees, customers and citizens. For example, professional librarian scan learn about their customers' preferences from their computerized circulation and control systems. In other words, the data which are generated by the processes of issuing, returning and reserving books can be exploited to permit the reshaping of book handling activities, so that libraries become more efficient in the use of stock.
The second important characteristic of ICTs is identified by the 'C' of ICTs. It is one which, when taken in conjunction with the first, establishes a prima facie case for understanding why it is that exploiting ICTs has more ambiguous effects. As we have seen, information systems open up possibilities in contemporary organizations for enhanced forms of self-control by employees and customers alike.
The key features of information and communication technologiesare claimed to the potential for the development of a new variety of democracy. The reasons are as follows:
l Interactivity - users may communicate on a many-many reciprocal basis.
l Global network - communication is not fettered by nation-state boundaries.
l Free speech – net users may express their opinions with limited state censorship.
l Free association – net users may join virtual communities of common interest.
l Construction and dissemination of information – net users may produce and share information that is not subject to official review or sanction.
l Challenge to professional and official perspectives – state and professional information may be challenged.
l Breakdown of nation-state identity – users may begin to adopt global and local identities .
The N generation will be influenced by ICTs to change their behavioral patterns, and they also will adopt the new values.
Three Factors Influence Participatory Democracy
To explore how the Internet and the World Wide Web might be used to improve the democratic process, the focuses will be put on three types of improvements intended to enhance citizen participation. First, we examine the contention that citizens do not have the civic education necessary to act meaningfully in the political process, technology might provide citizens with better information, elucidate values and contribute to public debate regarding public issues. Second, the author considers the perception that there is a generalised apathy towards civic affairs among the general public, and a decline in the ‘social capital’ required to build political community and encourage participation. Third, the author discusses the idea that citizens are disconnected from their government. Also I will examine the extent to which technology might bridge the gap between the governing and ordinary citizens.
The civic education required for democratic decision-making involves not only the dissemination of information but also the building of the values underlying democratic decisions. Effective democracy requires that the public reconstruct value choices in civic or collective, rather than individualistics, terms. Democratic renewal required not merely information, but a shift in values at the most fundamental level. Also civic education must develop the public’s ability to understand and confront the value trade-offs inherent within policy choices .
One line of criticism holds that citizens lack the basic education and decision-making skills necessary to be active participants in the political process. Without civic education, democratic choice is little more than the expression and aggregation of private prejudices' . Barber echoes a common view among media scholars and political scientists that ignorance on the part of the American voter severely constrains their ability to develop consistent political positions, 'to understand and evaluate policy options, and hence, to participate meaningfully in democratic politics' . Importantly, Barber appears to equate information and education with 'good' political judgement. From this perspective, polls that consistently find that most people cannot name their Congressional representative, let alone state or local representatives, might be considered proof that citizens are unable to participate effectively in the political process. Whilst information may be necessary to engage the public in policy decisions, many argue that it is not sufficient. Yankelovich, for example, argues that this emphasis on the role of information is elitist, in that the traditional definition of 'well-informed' is to have the knowledge base of the governing elite. From this standpoint, civic education would imply the mere conveyance of facts from experts to the citizenry at large. Yankelovich wryly comments: The logic is this; they, the experts, are well informed; the public is poorly informed. Give the public more information, and it will agree with them' . From this perspective, the civic education required for democratic decision making involves not only the dissemination of information out also the building of the values underlying democratic decisions. Effective democracy requires that the public reconstruct value choices in civic or collective, rather than individualistic, terms. Etzioni , Putnamconcur that democratic renewal requires not merely information, but a shift in values at the most fundamental level. Finally, Yankelovich believes that civic education must develop the public's ability to understand and confront the value trade-offs inherent within policy
A second line of argument regarding the failure of democracy is that citizens have become so alienated from and frustrated with the political process that they have become apathetic. Declining voter turnout and lack of attendance at public meetings are routinely heralded by scholars, politicians and public administrators as evidence of citizen apathy. . Putnam cites declining membership in civic and fraternal associations as evidence of a withdrawal from the public sphere . Similarly, Blakely and Snydercontend that people are retreating from civic life to the insularity of gated communities.
Political economists argue that citizen non-action is actually the result of a rational calculus comparing the costs and benefits of participation. Given that any single individual's effort is unlikely to make a difference, that it is usually difficult to exclude non-participants from enjoying the benefits of political action, and that the costs of participation are high, most citizens will choose to 'free ride' on the political activities of others .
Critical theorists have argued that citizen apathy stems from a shift in focus and power away from communities and towards the world of work. Barber contends that this shift leads to apathy. As he argues, people are 'apathetic because they are powerless, not powerless because they are apathetic' . Similarly,
The policy prescriptions for reducing citizen apathy range from technical interventions aiming to lower costs of participation, to more fundamental efforts to build political community. On a deeper level, a number of scholars contend that to address political apathy, one must build effective local political communities based on neighbourhood organizations to bring about democratic renewal. For example, Barber argues that there is a need to reinvigorate our 'thin'democracy with a 'strong' democracy that combines democratic participation with meaningful association of citizens within a civic community: Community without participation first breeds unreflected consensus and conformity and finally engenders unitary collectivism of the kind that stifles citizenship and the autonomy on which political activity depends. Participation without community breeds mindless enterprise and undirected, competitive interest-mongering Barber and othersbelieve that to embed democratic participation within the community requires that interest group politics be replaced with the politics of association within and among civic groups, at the neighbourhood level. The importance of networks of associations in a strong democracy is not a new idea.
Much of the recent work on social capital highlights the importance of building strong civic associations as a means to reduce apathy and improve the democratic process . According to this literature, democratic processes function better when individuals operate within social networks of overlapping groups that have repeated interaction over time. Such networks of civic engagement increase confidence in social relations by increasing the costs of defection, foster norms of reciprocity, and improve information about the trustworthiness of individuals . These values of N generation in turn facilitate the negotiation and compromise that democratic governance entails .
The third line of criticism is that democracy is not functioning properly because there is a fundamental disconnection between citizens and their government. As Yankelovich describes: 'When the proper balance exists between the public and the nation's elite, our democracy works beautifully. When the balance is badly skewed, as in the present era, the system malfunctions, .
Some have attributed this disconnection to the increased size and power of the bureaucracy , or to the so-called 'iron triangle' of interest groups, administrative agents and legislators. Others have argued that meaningful citizen involvement is barred by the information asymmetry between the governing elite and the general public. Still otherscontend that high communication and organization costs bias the policy process to be more responsive to small, well-organized interests than to large, poorly organized groups.
Many of the proposals for reuniting government with the governed call for a transfer of power from representatives and the business elite to 'ordinary' citizens. The initiative and referenda processes represent another attempt to give more direct power to citizens relative to the governing elite . Efforts to 'devolve' decision; taking from the federal to the local level also aim to move government policy making closer to the individuals affected by policy decisions.
Many of these 'fixes' are little more than incremental and often, politically symbolic attempts by politicians to engender public confidence in their ability to affect change. They seek to reduce the costs of citizen involvement in politics or the degree to which the complex language of government prevents citizens from engaging in political dialogue. The assumption is that reducing financial or information barriers will inevitably improve the level and quality of citizen-government communication and interaction Many scholars , however, contend that a functioning democracy requires more than the removal of barriers to communication. It is not enough simply, to provide citizens with the opportunity to become active in civic affairs: arcane public hearings held at midday are of little use to those who work. More fundamentally, political communication processes typically stand outside the daily consciousness of most citizens. Fox and Miller characterise the existing political process as the: Politics of hypereality a rapid sequence of images and symbols with unknown or uncertain referents racing through the public consciousnesssimulation and media spectacle replace political debate' .
As with civic education, improvement in democracy is not simply a function of improving the mechanisms of communication, rather it requires developing a process that is deliberative in nature. Inherent in 'good' public judgement for Yankelovich and the authentic discourse of Fox and Miller is a focus on the value consequences of various policy options. Fixing democracy requires moving beyond mass opinion and snap judgements to thoughtful consideration of the important value conflicts inherent in political discourse. Consequently, improving the connection between citizens and their representatives requires public debate to be recursive, with repeated dialogue regarding goals' and the value consequences of various options for achieving them. This type of repeated interaction between citizens and the governing elite will arguably provide opportunities for the process of 'working through* described by Yankelovich, wherein individuals acknowledge the value trade-offs inherent in political choices. It is not enough for citizens and government to have the opportunity simply to talk past one another. Democratic renewal requires what Barber terms 'dialogical' communication:cross-communication between citizens and citizens, and between citizens and public officials .
As young citizens participate dialogical communications, the values of democracy will be deeper in mind.
Features of the virtual political public sphere
What are the characteristics of the public sphere that influence the political potential of this new generation? There are at least five aspects of this space, and each characteristic merits proper attention to shed light on the extent to which these venues can provide new avenues for democratic praxis. Five features of the virtual political public sphere are as following:Topography-places or spaces in which persons come together to discussion issues, form opinions and plan action.Topicality-the content of discussion or the topics that arise.Inclusiveness- notion that everybody has the opportunity to deliberate on policy issues.Design- the architecture of the network developed to facilitate/inhibit deliberative discussion.Deliberation – subjecting one’s opinions to public scrutiny for validation .
At the heart of the concept of the political public sphere is its topography, that is to say, the places or spaces in which persons come together to discuss issues, form opinions or plan action. With respect to topography, an important issue relates to how computer-mediated communicationconstitutes people. Whilst many communication researchers suggest that anonymity may liberate the individual and equalise participation in a forum where power is otherwise asymmetrically distributed, others argue that the individual's isolation coupled with invisible surveillance and hierarchical observation from the outside may lead to the veritable incarceration of the user . A useful model developed by Spears and Lea , called SIDE , describes the salient identity present in CMCand its contextual features . The model reveals the importance of self categorisation and context-dependence to a proper understanding of cognitive effects. The ramifications for online political debate are important, since this model undermines any reified notions of CMC effects. As the authors argue, 'there are unlikely to be universal effects of CMC because these will be determined as much by social context, the content of identities, and the nature of social relations' .
The second characteristic of the political public sphere is the content of the dialogue or the topics that are discussed, a feature referred to as topicality. When Habermas portrays civil society as a sounding board, he means in part that it is the public sphere whence ideas, concerns and topics arise, issues which citizens believe need to be addressed by government. The notion of diversity of ideas is critical to an understanding of deliberation, because varying and conflicting views ought to be made available for public consideration. Intersubjective agreement is not determined solely by the number of ideas that can be vocalised, broadcast or net cast. Whilst the internet may be a potent medium for self-expression, it remains to be seen how effective it will be for collective action. Indeed, the public often becomes awash in words in the absence of editing, filtering and facilitation, not to mention the virtues of listening to and co-operating with others so as to articulate issues to officeholders .
In a democratic society, opinion formation and decision making are thought to be legitimating when they represent the will of the people, typically defined as the considered judgement not of a clique or elite group but of all the people who are affected by a policy.
In short, democracy means inclusiveness, ensuring that everybody has the opportunity to deliberate on policy issues. In the realm of telecommunications policy, this notion of inclusiveness is captured by the principle of universal service. As Pool suggests, 'from its earliest days, the Bell System's goal and expectation was that telephone service should ultimately be available to everyone in the nation' .
By many accounts, widespread access to advanced telecommunications services, such as electronic mail, will lead to a reinvigoration of democracy. This causal story of ubiquitous access to technology leading to an expanded interest in political matters on the part of the public is accepted, almost with blind faith, although there is scant empirical evidence to support such a lofty claim. Whether it be popular accounts of teledemocracyor more academic works , a body of thought is emerging on this matter that mistakes the effect for the cause. Rather than seeing advanced teletechnologies as the amplification of the voices of the socio-economically advantaged and the resource rich , these writers tend to view technology as the great equaliser, possessing magical powers that can wake up a somnambulistic democracy. This view runs counter to virtually all of the scientific research in the area of political participation, which reveals that the differential availability of resources, including time, skills and money, largely explains who engages in civic and political life .
The fourth general feature of the public sphere is the design or architecture that is developed in order to facilitate discussion. As Guthrie and Duttonsuggest, the design of a network entails a prior policy commitment to the sorts of interactions decision makers want to take place. The design modes arrived at via market and social forces regarding bandwidth issues , cost structure , user interface concerns, technology architecture and 'rules of order' , all told, affect the extent to which content can be delivered, end users can be information producers and less inhibited yet orderly speech can predominate online. On the issue of architecture, for example, Burgelmanargues that many new distribution media enable consultation but do not allow conversation whereby one can exchange individually stored information, such as e-mail. For example, cable and satellite television as currently arranged may allow the user to request movie selections or see different angles of the baseball field, but they are not interactive in allowing users to be producers of content and to exchange e-mail messages. The design of these teletechnologies seems to be more amenable to plebiscitary democracy, where the individual need only register her preferences, than to a mode of democracy in which conversation, deliberation and critical-rational reflection are integral components.
Finally, deliberation entails subjecting one's opinions to the light of day for validation, in other words, to debate, discussion and persuasion. Private thoughts or isolated activities do not meet the threshold of publicness because they are not exposed to the scrutiny of others. This conception of testing one's ideas in public cuts against the grain of the body of literature in which the public interest is obtained by aggregating individual preferences . To repeat, whether it be the early QUBE experiments or the latest beta tests for interactive services, customer choices are limited to registering preferences on a keypad, a process that falls short of democratic deliberation in which participants validate their ideas against those of their peers in the public square .
Clearly, the five features of the political public sphere enumerated in this section are inextricably linked. Network design is obviously critical to interactivity as well as to the regulation of speech, and both of these features are requisite to deliberation. Universal accessibility to forums is also necessary to provide a diversity of viewpoints and to ensure that the voices of the subaltern are acknowledged, whilst this does not guarantee a substantive discussion, as has been pointed out. Understanding the new to topography of cyberspace is important in determining how time and space as traditional components of a political discussionare subverted within Taylor and Saarinen's'mediatrix', a place-event in which anonymity, isolation and asynchronism become familiar landmarks of political life. Finally, online content is an important issue that overlaps with deliberation, since restrictions on and regulation of internet content may have lasting effects on political speech .
Information Polity and Governance
Our preferred approach to analyze the information polity is one which gives primacy to the notion that systems of governance can be conceived as networks of relationships that are sustained by, and reflected in, complex sets of information flows. In turn, these flows depend upon the information and communications capabilities which have become embedded in these systems. It follows that the 'information polity' is a heuristic device for analyzing the ways in which the institutions of governance are shaping, and are shaped by, new information flows and new modes of communication which are commonly associated with information age technologies. We focused on three key sets of relationships which lie at the heart of the polity. These are: relationships within and around the machinery of government, concerned with the production of policies and services ; relationships between governmental organizations and theconsumers of their services ; relationships between governmental organizations, political leaders andcitizens of the state. We would argue, too, that an information polity perspective draws attention to the significance of two further sets of relationships which are mediating these relationships . The first of these is the increasingly important set of relationships between government agencies and the suppliers of information and communications technology infrastructure, equipment and services. The second exists at the analytical rather than the empirical level, but is no less important for that. This is the relationship of existing and emerging technical infrastructures, information systems and communications networks to the polity's 'appreciative system' .
To N generation and young citizens, information polity’s readiness as an institutional order to attach their values and to modify their patterns of behavior.
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