Emergent democracy

From Academic Kids

Emergent democracy refers to the Internet phenomenon of web-based communications platforms to change the geopolitical landscape to increasingly reflect more democratic principles. It is used in the context of defining a political rift in the current world order between the interests of corporate-run business and the public, and to describe the new abilities of the public to organize with a newfound realistic capability of trancending the preexisting and established order.

Increasingly, corporate culture is seen as trancending national boundaries to reflect an elite class of powerful internationalist individuals, largely invested in keeping political and economic power under elite control. Whereas before the internet age, 'big-business' and their interests maintained an overwhelming power to control the messages presented in mass media, 'emergent democracy' defines the ability for the public to represent itself in union—such as to permanently alter the nature of political and economic institutions to better reflect the common interests of a public unified on a worldwide scale.

In the United States, William Randolph Hearst's infamous use of his newspapers to ignite the Spanish-American War, signalled the shift in the balance of power from politicians to businessmen. Business interests, and their employees in the political world have since placed enormous energies toward manipulating the public to reflect their goals and interests. This control has militaristic overtones—in the words of activist Arundhati Roy, this U.S.-controlled culture employs both "the checkbook and the cruise missile" toward the singular task of 'opening markets' to its subsidiaries, allies, and agents. To this day business-controlled media routinely tends toward exploiting and exacerbating existing divides; internationally between cultures, and nationally between political sides.

Forward thinkers like Jello Biafra, Joi Ito and others saw early on in the blog platform the potential for political movements to emerge. Given the interactive nature of the Internet, weblog conversations and communities were bound to emerge—the blog platform turned out to be sufficiently synergetic to have substantial effects upon the political landscape. What began as a form of personal publishing to the web, began to form, as well as tools for adding comments to weblog items, and for linking items about the same subjects.

Meta tools such as Technorati appeared for analysis of subjects addressed by weblogs, and these tools showed the potential for blog community interactions to have political force and real impact. The classic case was the significant response by bloggers when Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist campaign for the presidency, though conventional journalists had ignored the comment. The story escalated to influential bloggers and there was a real impact at the political level, leading to Lott's resignation as majority leader. There was no directed movement to respond to Lott's comments; the response was emergent.

Ito organized a group effort to discuss and document the emergent democracy concept. He announced meetings on his weblog, inviting any of his readers to attend a conference call that was augmented by IRC chat for posting realtime visual cues and backchannel conversation, and a wiki for gathering notes from the call. This "multimodal" approach was called a "happening" [1] (http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/02/13/a_happening_on_emergent_democracy.html). The conversation resulted in an Emergent Democracy paper [2] (http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/EmergentDemocracyPaper) that generated many discussions about the potential for weblogs and other social software tools to have an impact on participation in governance. Adina Levin expressed [3] (http://alevin.com/weblog/archives/000957.html) a more cautious, if not contrary, view:

"I'm a lot more wary about approaches that assume that political action will somehow "emerge naturally" from distributed groups of individual actors, in the same way that flocks of birds emerge naturally from simple behaviors to follow at a given distance and preserve line of sight, and termite mounds emerge naturally from termites dropping the next grain of sand near where they stumbled onto a grain of sand on the ground.
"Human governing behaviors at the level of complexity required to implement systems like coalitions and policies and constitutions don't happen automatically. People make them happen.
"Networking tools and technologies can lower the activation threshold for starting groups, taking action, and combining into larger groups of influence.
"Emergent Democracy won't happen unless we—the nodes in the network—take deliberate steps to organize and make it happen."

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