Social Impact of the Web

Matthew TaylorAs I said I’d be going to the RSA conference on the way that we use the web to shape our society I thought I should.

Saw a few people there that I knew already and got to meet David Wilcox (thanks for the cup of tea and slice of cake) which was fantastic.

Robin has a good account of what the speakers were saying (at least until his battery died).

For myself I found bits interesting; Cass Sunstein warning about the down side of the long tail by reminding us that if we only read the people who think the same thing as we do about a given subject we’ll become more extreme on that issue; a short discussion about the tension between the citizen using things like YouTube to disrupt the controlled environment of political electioneering and the growth of “gotcha” politics; Tom Stienberg’s wry “there are no winners on Comment is Free, only losers“.

There was also some talk about whether we were just talking to ourselves – i.e. had the phenomenon of political blogging (by which we’re talking opinion rather than politicians blogging about doing politics) grown the audience for political engagement.

There were problems with the conference too. I felt that there was an assumption on the part of many of the speakers that politicians couldn’t be a force for good and that a kind of Power Inquiry agenda would improve our political decision making. I thought there were too many talking heads and not enough engagement or time for networking. And I found it difficult to see how the theoretical would apply to what I and other civic minded users of the tools that are out there are interested in trying to achieve.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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3 Responses to Social Impact of the Web

  1. M Macpherson says:

    “Power Inquiry agenda would improve our political decision making”.
    It almost certainly would. They e.g. recommended a debate about whether to introduce citizens’ initiative and referendum. ICT has improved communication and people’s ability to inform themselves. In addition (in order to improve how we run our public affairs) we need to improve our *system” of democracy. If we fail to improve the ground rules and procedures of governance in the real world then we may get government by “big brother shows” or push-button e-democracy.

  2. andrewkbrown says:

    Well M, I can see why Power is attractive to those who don’t believe in poltical parties as a way of running politics, but for myself I thought that Paul Skidmore’s critique of the Inquiry’s recommendations was compelling.

    He points out that it is difficult to see how they can “solve the problems of British democracy when they have not done so in the countries in which they have already been adopted.”

    Skidmore identifies two specific failings; the lack of a “credible account of where the energies for change are likely to come from” and “any discussion of the relationship between representative politics and more participatory forms of democracy”.

    Like you I don’t think that push-button participative democracy is an adequate substitute to the current position, and I’m not complacent about where we are at the moment. But I’m not yet convinced that citizen referendums are the way to go.

  3. Pingback: boogdesign posts - The Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet

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