Reflections on Technology from Davenport

This post comes via the Gov 2.0 Watch blog, which is a project of our partners at the Davenport Institute. You can read the post below or find the original here. We think a lot about using technology to enhance democracy here at NCDD, and we wanted to share this post that reminds that technology can be used for good and for ill. It’s a tool, not a panacea.


Technology and Democracy

While technology offers many interesting possibilities for strengthening democracy, it is important not to get so caught up in the promise that we forget technology is a tool rather than a solution. Comparing and contrasting surveillance practices in China and the U.S., Kentaro Toyama argues in The Atlantic that technology only reinforces “underlying political forces” already present in a society, which may or may not be democratic:

What both Chinese censorship and American surveillance show is that there is nothing inherently democratizing about digital networks, at least not in the political sense. Far-reaching communication tools only make it easier to impose constraints on the freedom of expression or the right to privacy. Never before have Chinese censors had it so easy in identifying subversive voices, and never before has the NSA been able to eavesdrop on the private communications of so many people.

Toyama raises interesting questions about the relationship between communications technology, democracy, and political freedoms:

Many of us take advantage of online government services, and electronic voting machines can streamline elections. So, the digital can support democracy. But, the reason why the Internet seems “democratizing” in America is exactly because America is a democracy. We have free speech online because we have free speech offline, not the other way around…What does this mean for anyone working to spread or strengthen democracy? It means that focusing on new technological tools is far less important than focusing on the underlying politics.

You can read the full article here.

Two years ago, Toyama wrote about technology’s role in widespread social changes, with reference to uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen that sparked what came to be known as the Arab Spring. You can read this earlier article here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15

Original post

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