Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 12 Political Change

Questions

Politics and the Internet

How have the technologies impacted on the political sphere and in particular to democracy?      READ :The Shape of Politics and Democracy in the 'age of the internet' 

 

International Law and Differences in Cultures

 

Involving artists’ ownership rights to their artistic creations vs free down-loading on the Internet; or web sites that are ethically accepted in one culture and ethically offensive to other cultures (Whose values should be upheld on the Internet?); or the question of whether there exists a set of “core values” shared by all societies – values that could become the foundation for a “global ethics” that could or should reign supreme on the Internet.

Consider the cartoons concerning Mohammad and terrorism published in Denmark-READ : about it a wikipedia 

 

Digital Divide
Consider the issue of Access of those with disabilities.  Consider this case READ :Access for the disabled and the ADA   Does the law go far enough?  What is the moral basis for the claim of a right to access on the part of those with disabilities?

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The following are remarks, reflections and responses to issues and questions related to this matters in this chapter.  Each offering is proceeded by the authors name and institutional affiliation.

 

Jack Friedman, CUNY, SPS, 2007

a Global Ethic was an achievable goal

In "A UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF A GLOBAL ETHIC" Leonard Swidler offers that “We are convinced that a just global order can be built only upon a global ethic which clearly states universally-recognized norms and principles, and that such an ethic presumes a readiness and intention on the part of people to act justly--that is, a movement of the heart. Secondly, a global ethic requires a thoughtful presentation of principles that are held up to open investigation and critique--a movement of the head.

We propose the Golden Rule, which for thousands of years has been affirmed in many religious and ethical traditions, as a fundamental principle upon which to base a global ethic: "What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others," or in positive terms, "What you wish done to yourself, do to others." This rule should be valid not only for one's own family, friends, community and nation, but also for all other individuals, families, communities, nations, the entire world, the cosmos.” http://astro.temple.edu/~dialogue/Center/declarel.htm

This idea of acting towards others as you wish they would act towards you may not be appropriate here. I would argue that if you were going to use the Golden Rule as an argument, it should be expanded to Kant’s Categorical Imperative that people should treat people the way they want all other people treated. Any attempt of creating an ethical standard for technology has to be viewed by how it effects all people and not just an individual. Swindler also ignores relativistic perspectives that would argue that a Global Ethic might be impossible since different cultures have different views on what is or is not moral.

In an excerpt from, Technology and Ethics: A European Quest for Responsible Engineering  By P. Goujon, Bertrand Hériard Dubreuil:                                                      “When we talk of a global ethic we can mean, descriptively, that there in fact exist common moral norms throughout the world. But we can also claim, normatively, that moral norms are universal. This position then denies the relativity of normative ethics. The argument outlined here does not deny that there exist differences in moral norms in different parts of the world, but insists that there are some universal norms behind these differences, at a more fundamental level of moral thinking.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=IZUlsz_aEKMC&pg=PA434&lpg=PA434&dq=global+ethic+%26+technology&source=web&ots=PWbqs-YOv_&sig=Cnte3S0zilpY2R9gH4IwJ9nzxl4

Here, the authors also claim some possibilities of a global ethic and use a persuasive Dialectical Process in their argument. I must admit, that despite their arguments and some other points of view from various Global Ethic organizations, I am not convinced that such a universal ethical code could ever be realized. I do believe there is some validity in relativism that would prevent people from different cultures from agreeing on a moral standard. I also think that the net allows for Egoists to hide behind a veil of anonymity and even if a code could be written, it would not be obeyed. 

But the main question ishow technology was affecting the democratic process. So, to start with, I watched a lecture, Information and the American Democracy (CITS, 2003) Bruce Bimber (Center for information technology & Society)

Professor Bimber talked about technology's affects on social interactions. He than wanted to find out who participates in politics and why, the issues around which they are engaged and what kind of collectivity is formed. He first determined that social interactions and  political behaviors are linked. He found that despite early studies done by Kraut, Carnegie Mellon and Nie & Ebrling that found that the internet fosters isolation that later studies dismissed that idea as being false. In fact, Kraut withdrew his original finding. He also challenged the notion that the internet is a domain of social isolance, finding instead that the more social people are, the more they use the internet. He also found that rather than the internet being a domain of anonymous interaction, the more people use it, the more they more engagement they have with people they know. 

Bimber’s studies found that people look for information on topics they are interested in, look for sources that are compatible with their political beliefs. He even found that when they are confronted with information from other sources they believe it to be untrue, and when exposed to sites claiming to be neutral, if those views were different from their own they sensed those sites as being biased. He attributed this to the facts that on the internet, interaction is selective, not unbiased. Because there is so much information, the greater the need to be selective, the greater the diversity of sources, the greater people can be selective and the more control people have over media, the more frequent are there opportunities for being selective. 

From this he claims that the internet as a medium re-enforces any pre-dispositions we come in with, rather than re-directing our ideas. He also feels that the internet does not make the unengaged, engaged or the uninterested, interested. If we are to believe this, we must determine that the internet does not have much effect on individuals roles in a democratic society or on the democratic society itself. 

However, Bimber also studied how the internet effects organizations. For this Bimber studied theories of collective action. He first determined that organizations will take on different structures. Also, some aspects of collective action doesn’t necessarily require resources on the internet as they would in a non-technological society. He used the organization, Environmental Defense as an example. Before the advance of technology, they would solicit dues, hire lawyers, and do battle in courts over various environmental issues. As with many organizations, their membership started dwindling and they became internet based. Their new mission is local & regional grassroots advocacy, their followers were non-dues paying, but rather cared about a single issue.  While completely unintentional, they now coordinated collective actions on regional issues. A similar example was the Libertarian Party. They are a small party of approximately 40, 000 members nationwide. They were protesting some FDIC rule changes. Because of internet technology they presented 170,000 messages in protest using very little resources. This made the Libertarian party look big and far more important than they might have. Finally, he spoke about 2 guys from Colorado who presented a half million messages protesting the Clinton Impeachment. These cases proved that collective action, using technology causes new kinds of structures that are novel and flexible and  that can influence who wins and loses in politics. So, different from how our democratic process is hardly affected by individuals, organizations and collective action have a much more meaningful impact. He closed by saying, “Is democracy getting better or worse? The answer is yes” http://blip.tv/file/107857/ 

I am also attaching this review of Professor Bimber’s book, Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power (Cambridge University Press, 2003),  “An engaged citizenry is crucial to the success of a democratic society. And throughout history, revolutions in communications technology, such as development of the penny press, radio, and television, have been accompanied by predictions that they would take American democracy to new heights of inclusion and informed decision-making."

Similar claims have been made about the Internet as it takes its place as the latest advance in communication. But has the Internet, in fact, had any effect on American politics?

Yes, says Bruce Bimber, associate professor of political science and director of UCSB's Center for Information Technology and Society. But, as has been the case with other technological revolutions, the results are mixed.

In "Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power" (Cambridge University Press, 2003), Bimber compares development of the Internet to other information revolutions in American history. And he uses the lessons learned from those other events to add context and perspective for understanding the political influences of the Internet in the 21st century.

"Americans have long had a faith that technology is good for democracy," Bimber said. "This book is an argument that the faith is somewhat misplaced. New technologies–such as the Internet–don't necessarily improve democracy; they just make it different. They make it better in some ways, worse in others, and make no difference in still others."

How does the Internet work for democracy?

"It's making it easier for people to organize political advocacy groups around issues that concern them," Bimber said. "It makes it easier for people who are like-minded to find one another. Great changes are underway in the world of interest groups and civic associations."

The Internet works against democracy in the same way it serves it, Bimber said. "The technology is intensifying personalized, narrow-interest politics," he said. "While it makes it easier for like-minded people to find each other it also makes it easier for them to avoid people and information they don't agree with.

"The Internet makes it really easy for people to confine their experience of the world. That's not a good thing."

Such special-interest consumption of news and information is in contrast to news presented by newspapers and, to a lesser extent, television news, Bimber said.

"Like it or not, newspapers perform a great service by agenda-setting, by saying here is what we think are the 40 most important things happening in the world today," he said. "So somebody confronting a newspaper in the morning is being surprised, seeing some issues they care about and maybe other issues they weren't even thinking about. Above all, they have a common, shared way of beginning to make sense of an overwhelming amount of information."

One of the key findings of Bimber's study was that the Internet has no effect on political engagement.

"It doesn't generate interest in politics," he said. "It only satisfies an interest in politics. Those who are disinterested and disengaged aren't going out and poking around."

Americans have always been optimistic about the effects of new technology on their lives and country, Bimber said. "We believe that technological developments are hooked up to social progress."

In some cases, notably the growth of penny press newspapers, that optimism proved correct. In other cases, the use of the technology fell short of predictions.

"People argued that radio was going to improve culture and make citizens better educated because they believed radio would be dominated by educational programming and culture content like opera," Bimber said. "The idea of entertainment-oriented mass popular radio was beyond them. They made the same mistaken prediction for television."

The Internet may not improve American democracy, Bimber says, but it certainly will affect the way we practice it.” http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/93106/2003/September22/book.html 

Again, I agree with Bimber’s claims that our democracy may see some changes in how we practice our political ways, but it will not have any detrimental effects on it. Bimber did not talk about the digital divide however, so I found this by Cass R. Sunstein is Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, law school and department of political science. 

“Within the United States, the digital divide will become a smaller problem every year. All the trends are in the right direction. With respect to telephones and televisions, there is no serious "divide," though of course poor people are more likely to have to do without. In the next twenty years, the overwhelming majority of Americans will have good access to the Internet. The serious digital divide is now, and will continue to be, international in nature: People in poor countries do and will lack access, and this is indeed a serious problem. A current domestic priority should be to ensure that all schools are wired, so that poor children, not less than wealthy ones, have access to the information contained on the Internet. A current international priority should be to make it easier for citizens, wherever they live, to have a degree of access”.  

Professor Sundstein believes that the digital divide is a short term problem. Already overcome in the United States and the world has an obligation to fix it. Sunstein obviously views the justice of enabling technology to all people, especially the poor and those who lack acess is fair, the maxi min principle. 

Sunstein also tackles the effects of technology on democracy and also civility, tolerance, and diversity.                                                                                                                               “With respect to civility, tolerance, and diversity, the picture is complex. Certainly the Internet increases diversity, simply because there are more outlets and more opportunities for more voices to be heard. And to some extent, the Internet is increasing civility and tolerance -- if only because many people can, and do, encounter and learn from points of view that they do not share. But there is a countervailing effect: The Internet makes it far easier for us to restrict ourselves, much of the same, to groups of like-minded people -- to live in echo chambers of our own devising. In this way, the Internet is creating an increase, in many places, of social fragmentation, and hence an increase in both tolerance and incivility, as people end up seeing their fellow citizens as stupid, or malicious, or despicable. This problem is increased by the fact that much of the Internet is intolerant and far from civil. The culture of (some) television -- with liberals simply attacking conservatives, and vice-versa -- isn't healthy for democracy or tolerance, because it encourages people to choose teams, rather than to think issues through. For many people the Internet is aggravating this problem. We don't have enough evidence to know whether, on balance, the Internet is a friend to tolerance and civility, or instead an enemy. My belief, lacking clear evidence, is that it's a friend on balance. But there is certainly a risk in the other direction. (The risk is discussed in detail in my book, Republic.com) .” http://www.e-thepeople.org/a-national/comment/18771/1/view 

Again, Sundstein isn’t sure what the effects will be, but guesses the interactions are more likely to be positive. The more I looked, the more I found agreement. Howard Rheingold, Rusty Foster, founder of collaborative news and discussion site, kuro5hin.org and Peter Shane, director of the Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) at Carnegie Mellon University all offer a similar opinion, 

“The place of online media and other communication and information technologies in democratic governance involves two connected but distinct spheres -- organizing and executing actions in the physical world, from elections to monstrations, and education and discourse. I'd like to concentrate on the part that takes place almost exclusively in the cybersphere -- education and discourse. 

A certain amount of magical thinking has been projecting upon the Internet as a tool for democratic governance -- the proliferation of email petitions, for example. Any discussion of the use of online communication media to improve or at least maintain the health of democratic governance must start with the recognition that we've had enough years of email, websites, chat rooms, and message boards to realize that these media have not in themselves magically transformed the political process. That is not to say that politics remains the same -- the number of sources of information, both good information and either inaccurate or deliberately misleading information, has multiplied enormously, and this can be an important counter to the increasing consolidation of ownership of news media. But the armies of blogistan have yet to prove themselves to be effective counters to the legions of lobbyists. Beyond admitting the limitations of the medium, it is necessary to understand that the way in which people use the technology is the most important critical uncertainty – if we want to improve democracy, we must do more than talk about it. If all we do is improve the way we discuss issues, I believe intelligent use of online media can have a significant impact on the health of democracy; however, without effective action in the realm of electoral politics and influencing legislation, discourse itself will not be sufficient to counter corruption and disinfotainment. 

However, we have to start with talking about it. The public sphere is where the population become citizens, by discussing the issues that concern them, and which they must debate rationally if they are to govern themselves. In that regard, I'd give social cyberspace as we now know it mixed reviews. Certainly, the world of online newsgroups, mailing lists, chats, message boards, blogs, websites is an exceedingly rich one. The Internet, whatever else it is, is not a site of political apathy. However, the quality of discourse could be improved. And here is an area in which best practices are not unknown. I propose that one action that is relatively inexpensive to undertake, and which has potentially high payoff, is to identify, discuss, analyze, formulate, and disseminate useful, simple, easy to understand knowledge about how to find and validate information about political issues, how to conduct useful online discussions, and how to communicate and organize effectively around issues of politics and governance using online media.” -- www.rheingold.com  http://www.e-thepeople.org/a-national/comment/18772/1/view 

“I don't think that people can have an unlimited number of "meaningful connections," so the only real answer to this has to be "both." That is, I know from experience that the internet, and participation in online community, can form meaningful connections between people. Given that, and the fact that people do not have infinite "bandwidth," it seems likely that some connections online will inevitably displace other connections formed offline.  

This isn't a bad thing though. There's a tendency for people to draw a division between online community and so-called "real world" community, which I think is a false distinction. I live in the real world, even when I'm online. Online communities I'm part of do not usually share geographical space, but we share many other common threads, and all the participants are also real people living in the world like me. If we reframed the question to ask whether greater participation in your city government was likely to displace participation in a neighborhood group, the answer would seem to be fairly obvious. It probably would, but it's unlikely anyone would be much interested in debating whether this was "bad" or "good." 

I think the discomfort some people feel about the growth of online community is that it can, and often does, lead to less active participation in local, geographic community. But throughout history, humanity has advanced most rapidly when different cultures met and shared ideas and perspectives. The cultures that walled themselves off from the world have stagnated. What I see online is a meeting of cultures on a scale the world has never seen before. It's inevitable that there will be massive change as a result of this, but the long view says that it will almost certainly be good for us all. 

How important a barrier is the "digital divide" to making the Internet an effective medium for civic participation? 

The previous answer leads, of course, directly to this one. The net is, in reality, not global at all. It connects people of relative wealth and privilege. While it can be a powerful force for democracy and free expression, the net can also serve to even more deeply entrench the existing divide between the haves and the have nots. We are, in a sense, building a global mind which is exclusively available to the "haves". 

Like early American democracy, where voting was open to all (provided you were a white male landowner) the net, as it stands now, is a force for a democracy that excludes vast numbers of people. A democracy that is only open to some is, in a way, no democracy at all. This should be a much greater source of shame than it is, but people prefer to focus on the good (and there is much good) rather than what needs fixing.  

What impact do you see the Internet having on the diversity, tolerance and civility of public debate? 

I'm running out of words, so briefly, I think the effect can only be good. Over my years online I've watched people become exposed regularly to viewpoints and perspectives which are alien to their own. At first this can be difficult and rather confrontational, but people eventually always learn how to think from more perspectives then the one favored in their geographical location. Diversity, tolerance, and civility are all products of education and knowledge, and if nothing else, the net is a profound force for education. http://www.e-thepeople.org/a-national/comment/18777/1/view  

“Talking about whether the Internet will encourage "meaningful connections between people," requires some notion of "meaningful." I propose, that connections are "meaningful" if they lead people to (1) define public problems, (2) identify plausible policy responses, (3) deliberate regarding the choice of policies and their implementation, and (4) translate their deliberations into action. Given the technical capacities of the Internet, some increase in such connections is inevitable. What is less clear is whether such connections will be of sufficient quantity and quality to result in a serious revitalization of democracy.  

The reason for this uncertainty is straightforward: the overall democratic impacts of the Internet will depend less on its technical capacities than on the economic, social, political and cultural contexts within which the Internet evolves, and on the qualities and capacities of human beings who use the Internet. After all, from a technical standpoint, electronic networks are as potentially significant as technologies of control as of freedom. Moreover, the economic costs of democracy that the Internet helps reduce -- costs associated with networking, information access, and idea-sharing in real space -- are not the only, or even the most important impediments to democratic vitality in our time. 

The Community Connections project conducted a survey last fall, designed largely by my colleague Peter Muhlberger, to help determine how Pittsburghers feel about talking politics generally -- that is, not only in cyberspace. (Read our report on the survey.) What we discovered is that people's reluctance to talk politics had nothing to do with how busy they think they are. Far more important were people's expectations for the utility of such discussions - that is, their beliefs about the capacity of people to conduct rational political discussion and the possibility that such discussion can affect actual policy making.

It is a hopeful sign that at least some governments are now suggesting a willingness to take on-line consultations seriously into account as part of the policy making process. (e.g., see the UK Government's recent consultation paper on electronic democracy). One wonders, however, why any government previously unresponsive to citizen input would suddenly deepen its democratic commitments just because comments are transmitted on-line. Something in the dynamics of government-citizen interaction must change if people now unpersuaded of the utility of civic engagement are to become energetic democratic citizens. 

In the same way, it will require conscious efforts at design and implementation to produce on-line environments supportive of political discussion that participants regard as constructive. For reasons familiar to anyone who has joined an electronic forum on anything, this is no small challenge. 

For these reasons, I strongly suspect that realizing the full democratic potential of the Internet will be dependent on new institutions. These institutions will have missions to (1) design and implement on-line spaces that appear broadly inviting to people as places to share their views, (2) assure that those views are effectively distilled and conveyed to relevant policy makers, and (3) keep track of how relevant policy makers have responded. Whether these ought be government agencies, NGOs, or private entities, I do not know. I do not imagine they would displace other on-line public forums through which people can speak their minds, and which will remain innumerable. What I do imagine, however, is that, without some institutional presence widely recognized as legitimate and accountable, the Internet's contributions to democratic discourse will be more marginal and episodic than enthusiasts now envision.”  http://www.e-thepeople.org/a-national/comment/18779/1/view  

 

A contrasting picture was painted in News Technology, Democracy, and the Future

By ABI Staff, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

By Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003). Here, I found a feminist point of view. This was a view I rarely look at, but found Dr. Borg’s concerns most interesting. Her strong opinions on the role of women, technology and our democratic process were different from most of the other articles I found.

“The spread and use of information technology at breakneck pace has presented the world’s population with some of the most significant challenges, and changes, of our age. Information technology (IT) has and will continue to impact every aspect of our world-economic, political, social, and personal-in most corners of the world. In fact, that technology may wind up having as much or more impact on our lives than do our governments.

The extraordinary future impact of IT can be positive or negative. Imagine a world in which IT was used to its highest potential, being an engine for an efficient, ecological economy and providing new opportunities for more people based on more available knowledge. Imagine a political system based on open access to information, better education, more communication, and equal participation. Imagine connecting people around the world in the spirit of positive internationalism, where social goals such as universal literacy, basic education, and health care are achieved. Imagine using IT to enhance the family and community in ways that each desires and needs.

Now imagine winding up with a very different world, where IT magnifies extreme monopolism and economic stratification, supports mass propaganda, promotes ideological isolation, and enables personal surveillance.

These scenarios illustrate why our understanding of and participation in technology is critical. In the last centuries, we developed systems of citizen participation in government that tried to protect us from all sorts of abuses, and now that technology has become such a huge force, we have to participate in it, too. We have to protect ourselves from negative impacts and insist on positive, fair ones. More women must pursue technical careers, and more non-technical women must express their opinions about our technical future.

Women’s involvement in IT is critical if its impacts are to be positive. Increasing women’s impact on IT is not only an issue of equity within a technical field. It is an issue of quality of life for women around the world. Women computer scientists and engineers have made many extraordinary contributions, but our impact has not yet been significant enough to assure that women’s needs are regularly taken into account, that women’s genius is seen as essential to the field, and that inspiration for new technologies regularly comes from women’s situations as well as men’s. This must change.

Women today must fight for technology “citizenship” the way the suffragettes fought for the right to vote. Democracy in technology is important, and we don’t have it now. The participation in and influence on technology today is by white, affluent males, not women, minorities, or the poor. Yes, numbers of women and minorities using the Web are increasing, but Web use is not power. In a knowledge economy, people with technical knowledge will impact the future of the world, and people without it will simply be impacted.

A positive future depends on what technology is developed, who designs it, who builds it, who controls it, who uses it, and how it’s used. How can women help ensure and shape a positive future? By learning, knowing, and communicating about technology.

Each of us must begin to pay attention to all the ways in which technology is affecting our lives. We must educate ourselves about current policy debates on matters such as Web access and privacy issues. We must learn about the technology being debated, express our opinions to our political representatives, and make sure our female representatives pay attention to the technical issues on the table.

Different countries are on different paces in their technological development and the ways in which women participate in technology. But at any level there are things to pay attention to and speak up about. And in every country, every citizen should have the right to say what kind of technology she wants impacting her world.

We can also empower organizations like IWT, which is partnering with the corporate, academic, government, and nonprofit worlds as a catalyst for research, development, and deployment of technology projects that fully involve women. IWT is building a worldwide network of communities, workshops, development efforts, research projects, and outreach mechanisms to achieve our mission of increasing women’s impact on technology.

In this century, we have the responsibility to learn, be involved in, and have an opinion about technology, and to ensure that women and girls are actively involved in creating the future. We hope to catalyze the active participation of women throughout the world in the new technical democracy. We will cast our votes by deciding what we want, by becoming technically literate, and by applying our genius to build the technology for a positive future.”

This article was first published in the Spring 2001, Issue 8 of the Spiral Newsletter of the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT was later renamed the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology) http://abiwt-dev.org/news/archive/democracy/ 

Andrew Feenberg speaks of the importance of taking the time to insure that the development of a true online community take place. He emphasizes that the future of our democratic and political process depends on it.

Myth and Reality

Critics of online community are right to dampen naive enthusiasm for computer networking. They are right to deconstruct the rhetoric of the Information Highway, including its easy praise of online togetherness, and oblivion to the commercialization of the Internet. The idea of virtual community is indeed a "powerful myth" playing on people's genuine desire to control their lives and to be a part of a larger social totality that provides emotional and intellectual support (see Mosco, 1998). But in the realm of technology, myth is not always opposed to reality, but sometimes guides development toward real possibilities. Here, in our evaluation of the significance of myth, our constructivist view of technology contrasts most sharply with the determinist assumption that technology is an independent social variable. We argue for a discriminating approach to the possible realization of the myth of community in the evolving technology of computer networking.

The "consumption model" of the Internet is a plausible version of its future given the structural realities of the world in which we live. The alternative “community model” would take much more conceptual work, design efforts, and political mobilization. Yet, as we have tried to show, there are technical formats that could potentially pave the way to a more community-friendly Internet. It is the human actors involved, putting their competencies and resources to work, fighting for their values and desires, who will determine which of the emergent formats and structures prevail. From this perspective, demanding the dedication of resources to the development and proliferation of online community is not a naive or futile effort. A political process oriented toward this goal can be seen as a logical extension of the human right to free assembly. The demand for actual opportunities for free assembly in the online world is a vital moment of its democratization. The struggle for online community thus places technical democratization in the service of democracy itself. http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/VirtCom.htm 

The most negative article of the impact of technology on democracy comes from Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power and Freedom 

“Is democratic rationalization in this sense socialist? There is certainly room for discussion of the connection between this new technological agenda and the old idea of socialism. I believe there is significant continuity. In socialist theory, workers' lives and dignity stood for the larger contexts modern technology ignores. The destruction of their minds and bodies on the workplace was viewed as a contingent consequence of capitalist technical design. The implication that socialist societies might design a very different technology under a different cultural horizon was perhaps given only lip service, but at least it was formulated as a goal.  

We can make a similar argument today over a wider range of contexts in a broader variety of institutional settings with considerably more urgency. I am inclined to call such a position socialist and to hope that in time it can replace the image of socialism projected by the failed communist experiment.  

More important than this terminological question is the substantive point I have been trying to make. Why has democracy not been extended to technically mediated domains of social life despite a century of struggles? Is it because technology excludes democracy, or because it has been used to suppress it? The weight of the argument supports the second conclusion. Technology can support more than one type of technological civilization, and may someday be incorporated into a more democratic society than ours.” http://dogma.free.fr/txt/AF_democratic-rationalization.htm 

Here the author makes a bold claim that the intent of the internet and technology is to suppress democracy. This conspiracy theory is one I do not believe in. I can choose various arguments to make my case. I believe that for the most part, technology will change the way our process is conducted but will not change democratic process itself. People will continue to use Utility to find out what works best and the internet will only enhance their ability to do that. I believe that most people who create and use technology will be pragmatic. They will watch the growth and want to ensure that its effects will cause success. Finally, I feel that Relativism will not harm our already Democratic societies, but will also probably not allow for changes in societies and cultures that are not presently democratic. 

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. ppecorino@qcc.cuny.edu                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents