Via Paul Birch on Twitter today, a project he’s set up with other founding partners came my way. It’s called Help Me Write – and looks to be a fascinating combination of brainstorming anteroom, blogging front-end/signposter and – potentially – a return of that much maligned figure the content-aggregator (though edited perhaps exclusively by humans).
Will a web/Internet democracy become even less representative?
There is a perception that representative democracy now bats on behalf of the direct interests of the few. If such a democracy is to use the web to function – from daily interaction with government agencies to voting – it will depend on infrastructures which the few already own and will benefit financially from in the future. What does this mean for democracy itself – in particular its ability to act in a neutral way when its “means of production” are not?
The thoughts that have led up to this proposal are as follows. Firstly, this study which shows us how political parties no longer represent the direct interests of more than the top six percent of the population:
Present social movements, as “Occupy Wall Street” or the Spanish “Indignados”, claim that politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies. In this paper we show through econometric analysis that these movements are accurate: politicians in OECD countries maximize the happiness of the economic elite. In 2009 center-right parties maximized the happiness of the 100th-98th richest percentile and center-left parties the 100th-95th richest percentile. The situation has evolved from the seventies when politicians represented, approximately, the median voter.
Secondly, the move towards an utterly connected “Internet of Things” – note the language used: things not people – as per this post of mine on an introduction to the subject from the European Commission:
[...] If you thought mixing the real and virtual worlds was already getting messy, you’ve seen absolutely nothing yet. I reproduce their preamble below (the bold is mine):
The Internet of today offers access to content and information through connectivity to web pages and to multiple terminals (e.g., mobiles, TV). The next evolution will make it possible to access information related to our physical environment, through a generalised connectivity of everyday objects. A car may be able to report the status of its various subsystems using communicating embedded sensors for remote diagnosis and maintenance; home information about the status of the doors, shutters, and content of the fridge may be delivered to distant smart phones; personal devices may deliver to a central location the latest status of healthcare information of remotely cared patients; environmental data may be collected and processed globally for real time decision making.
Access to information relating to our surrounding environment is made possible through communicating objects able to interact with that environment and react to events. This makes possible new classes of applications such as smart homes with automated systems to monitor many aspects of daily living, smart grids and intelligent energy management, smart mobility with better control of traffic, or smart logistics with the integrated control of all processes in the entire distribution chain. There are endless examples of this evolution of networked devices, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.
This is, then, why I wonder if on an Internet of Things any kind of a democracy of people will be at all possible. Not just because the “means of production” will be owned by those who own us anyway. No. After all, this has been generally the case throughout our often sad and unhappy histories – and, even so, the human spirit has still managed to break free.
No. If truth be told, it’s much more because any society which chooses to define the future in terms of what it can do with objects is giving up on all the options it could have had to define the future in terms of what those objects could do for people.
Just imagine if we’d been sensible enough to call it an Internet of People instead of an Internet of Things. Yes. I know what you’re going to say. An Internet of Things is simply a tool at the beck and call of humans. But remember the definition of modern corporate capitalism – it’s a warning if there ever was one of a future far more trying than this present.
As John Naughton reminds us, and Larry Elliott before him, the dominant mode of business is a business not of people but of things. It’s hardly surprising that someone should have defined the next wave of connectedness thus. What’s most worrying about it, however, is not the way such organisations repeat their behaviours. What’s most worrying about it is that democracy itself – currently beholden only to ballot boxes, paper-based procedures and other remnants of quite ancient times – will shortly migrate to this still undefined Internet of Things; will shortly be defined from top-to-tail by corporate capitalism.
And then where will people be able to find even a niche? Then where will people even exist?