ePower to the People: Is representative democracy dead?

As world governments deliver more and better services online in their bid to reduce costs and improve ‘customer’ satisfaction, are the days of representative democracy numbered? Will democracy in its purest sense emerge as the true champion of the Electronic Age?

I can well remember having a heated discussion with a certain Secretary of State under the Blair Government (whom I know well) who was trumpeting the post Cool Britannia of electronic public policy. “Britain”, she said, in a voice which reflected the drones of Dear Leader “will be the best place to do e-commerce by 2005″. She continued, “electronic voting will also empower the people to make the decisions that matter to their local communities. That’s what the government wants to do and we will stop at nothing to achieve it.”

10 years on and we haven’t achieved either. The e-commerce bit I get because businesses back then (as now) needed both inspiration and aspiration to compete across a growing and opportunistic global online economy… and markets do go up and down. Actually, and despite the recession, the UK ain’t doing so bad when it comes to competing with other countries on digital products and services. But my derisory retort to the Secretary of State that electronic voting would do away with the need for representative democracy (1) because we could all vote on issues for ourselves, (2) we would therefore no longer need the services of elected politicians, or (3) Parliament, fell on deaf ears. Not quite epower to the people then!

We seem to be reaching watershed moments in how technology, particularly social media is influencing our lives, impacting upon how we’ve done things in the past, and changing the rules of the game. People can’t hide behind technology anymore – look at the recent high-profile cases being brought against Twitter trolls – businesses can easily damage their online reputations through mismanagement (see today’s Thomson case) and political parties are under increased scrutiny from a disenfranchised electorate.

But whilst technology is revolutionising our lives, do people want change in the way that technology might allow them to have change? Whilst we might use social media to make our views known online, would we want important government decisions to be influenced on a whim by an easy-to-use electronic voting system that didn’t provide balance and continuity.

We’re all becoming more information aware and have a better understanding of what’s going on in the world due to social media and the Internet. But we still need systems and processes in place that allow us to live in a relatively free world

For all the faults of a modern democracy – and there are many – I want to put my trust in an elected representative who can make those considered decisions on my behalf (I may not necessarily agree with them) without unfair influence from third parties. This is true representative democracy which technology can help make more accountable to the person that matters – me.

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