Technology and democracy

“I do not believe in democracy’s ability to bless the people, at least the kind of democracy that is the case here. Quite soon it will probably lead to mass violence.”

The quotation is from the Swedish Government voting rights debate in 1918 where the former Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarsköld and several others expressed their disbelief for the future democratization. The Swedish contemporary historian Lars Ilshammar means that it has always been problematic to increase democracy, because in every time there are some policy makers who jealously guard their prerogatives and feel threatened by the crowd.

Opposition to democracy in the early 1900’s was not only directed against the idea of universal suffrage, but also to contemporary media, which contributed to democratization. Ilshammar writes that democracy grows interactive with the new technology. Camera, car, electricity, telegraph, telephone, and eventually radio and television was new, effective tool for citizens’ involvement in political parties and popular movements. Progress of industrialization in the 1800’s formed the basis for the growth of democracy. The history of democracy is intimately interwoven with technology, according to Ilshammar.

Today the IT community meets a similar resistance. Internet’s rapid development has provided new ideas for a more transparent, interactive and direct form of democracy. Our time has many bearings on the early 1900’s when the new technological innovations were at the heart of man’s hopes and fears. This time it is the Internet which threatens society’s power structures. IT means increased access to knowledge and information, which makes democratization of political power possible. Many studies show that people concern about their declining ability to influence political decisions. When the gap between technical possibilities and political influence increases, so the discontent grows.

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