Let’s welcome the publication of ‘Parliamentary representation in the Internet Age’. It is a much needed ‘cold shower’ on the evangelism that has pervaded the eDemocracy debate for too long.
The ESRC-sponsored research demonstrates that the internet is not the heaven-sent panacea to faltering political engagement that it is too often made out to be. However, the authors are careful to impress that this does not mean that new technology should be written off as pointless.
This has long been the view at the Hansard Society. New technologies are exciting and inspiring but they are still very much in their embryonic stages. Confidence in using new technology is low amongst both the public and their elected representatives, though this research shows that enthusiasm is high. Advocates of eDemocracy must be careful not to throwaway all the goodwill and foundation work that has taken place. Curbing the hard sales patter and ‘wonkery’ is crucial in this respect, particularly where elected representatives are concerned.
The Hansard Society is also concerned that the provision of eDemocracy is coming too much from the ‘top down’. Too much energy is spent building up eDemocracy awareness and skills with large institutions with too little effort being expended on supporting the public in their take-up of technology. This can ultimately lead to barren, soulless but useful webspaces. It is also vital that we clearly define the contribution that technology can make to the quality of political deliberation and the policy-making process.
We are glad to see the arrival of good data to reinforce the anecdotal evidence that we have been gathering. I personally hope that it heralds the beginning of a more balanced debate on technologically-enabled political engagement, the effect of which will ensure that the contribution of the internet to democracy is a positive one.
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