Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

As I struggle to prepare my thoughts for the Davos Blueprint for Japan 2020 panel, I keep ending up at the conclusion that Japan is not a functioning democracy. Although it is a loop, the lack of transparency, the lack of an open function market, the lack of a free and independent media, the lack of a functioning judiciary... All of these things point to the fact that we don't have a democracy. I'm not blaming anyone for this and I think that many people are sincerely trying to reform Japan, but I do believe that it is much deeper than just some stimulation packages and lip service to transparency.

Larry talks about the "Framers" in "The Future of Ideas" and what he says about them sounds pretty good. It sounds like the "Framers" really tried very hard to structure a democracy that is robust against corruption and able to self-correct. So, I decided to ask Professor Lessig about democracy. (It sure is nice having a comparative constitutional law professor in the neighborhood. ;-) )

Professor Lessig gave me some great things to think about which I thought I would share. (This may not be very new to people who don't live in a totalitarian state... if there is such a think these days...)

The first thing he said that made a lot of sense is that a democracy requires multiple points of authority to criticize and check power. This may seem obvious and is the spirit behind the separation of the three branches of government, but it goes beyond that. It's giving power to the states. (In Japan's case, the governors.) It's a free media. It's a bunch of different points of authority which structurally allow a competition of ideas and well-regulated criticism. For this, authorities with a strong sense of the ethics of independence are necessary.

Professor Lessig defined democracy as a competition of ideas. I think he is right on.

So this is where blogging comes in. We both agreed that there is a sense of well-regulated critical discussion about politics and other important topics on blogs. Blogging has been around for awhile now, but is still in its infancy. If we can develop the Internet into a method that enables a competition of ideas and a well-regulated critical dialog, we may be able enable one of the key factors missing from many non-democracies. A public dialog which engages the people. (By the way, the "press" when the Framers were writing the Constitution were individuals with printing presses, not the massive media companies.)

Sorry about this sloppy entry. I just wanted to get this out before I forgot. I'll post more over the holidays as I prepare my presentation, but the key lesson of today's lunch was: Focus on the "competition of ideas" and MAYBE everything will follow. Maybe it's a blog-enabled public and a league of powerful governors that will lead Japan into the next stage...


Joi, I'm glad to hear you'll be speaking at Davos on the future of Japan. And I'm very glad to hear that you're planning to talk about the role of IT in democracy. During my time at the White House and the FCC, I got to see first-hand how the Web and the Internet could make government more open and accessible. However, e-democracy is still in its infancy. We need more effective ways for governments to get input from citizens. (There is no way the FCC or any other Federal agency can sort through the thousands of e-mail messages they might get on a given proposal.) We need ways for citizens to brainstorm and form coalitions on-line to lobby for their causes. There are some very interesting experiments using the Internet for campaigns. Attached is a very interesting article on Internet campaigning in Korea.
But the most important thing you need for a vibrant, robust, self-adapting democracy is some competition. The genius of the American Founding Fathers was that they provided for a very decentralized system where the White House competes with the Congress, the House competes with the Senate, the Federal government competes with the states, the Republicans compete with the Democrats, and there are many, many structural safeguards to prevent any one faction from getting too much power. The Net should increase the diffusion of power, by giving each institution new ways to reach citizens and to gather the information and allies they need to reach their goals.

I hope you'll be as provocative as possible in Davos. Keep in touch.
Mike Nelson
Director, Internet Technology and Strategy
IBM Corporation

In South Korea, it's the mouse that roars New breed of politician taps the country's love affair with high tech, GEOFFREY YORK writes

SEOUL -- The winning candidate in last week's South Korean presidential
election had little need for mass rallies or traditional campaign tactics.

When Roh Moo-hyun's organizers wanted supporters to vote on election day,
they simply pressed a few computer keys. Text messages flashed to the
cellphones of almost 800,000 people, urging them to go to the polls.

During his campaign, millions of voters absorbed Mr. Roh's message from
Internet sites that featured video clips of the candidate and audio
broadcasts by disc jockeys and rock stars. Half a million visitors logged
on to his main Web site every day to donate money or obtain campaign
updates. More than 7,000 voters a day sent him e-mails with policy ideas.
Internet chat groups buzzed with debate on the election.

South Koreans call it "digital democracy" and "e-politics," and they have
become the world's leaders in cyberspace campaigning. Their high-tech boom
has unleashed a new form of grassroots participation by millions of
"Netizens" who exploit the latest information technology to bypass the
once-dominant party machines of the old system.

With the world's highest penetration of high-speed and mobile Internet
services, South Korea is at the cutting edge of technology that is
transforming the political system, making it more open and democratic. It
could be a preview of the shape of Western democracy.

"It's a revolutionary change, and the catalyst of this change is the
Internet," said Huh Houunna, director of Internet campaigning for Mr. Roh,
56, a once-obscure human-rights lawyer who emerged as the unexpected
winner of last week's presidential election.

Almost half of South Korean voters are below the age of 40 -- a prime
demographic for users of the Internet and cellphones. Until this year,
many were apathetic politically, put off by the country's traditional
political machinery. But Mr. Roh reached out to voters with one of the
world's most sophisticated Internet campaigns, and the vast majority of
the younger population voted for him.

Until a year ago, Mr. Roh was best known for his repeated failures to be
elected to parliament. Self-educated, he came from a poor family and had
been jailed for helping dissidents fight the military regimes of the past.
But young voters admired the lawyer for his integrity and his image as an
independent outsider, and they formed an Internet fan club to promote his

The fan club, with 70,000 members, helped launch what has been called
"the Roh typhoon." Its energetic activism was crucial to Mr. Roh's triumph
in last spring's primaries, when he shocked most observers by capturing
the presidential nomination of the ruling party. And it was a crucial
factor in his narrow victory last week.

"It was like a fan club for a movie star," said Sonn Hochul, a political
scientist at Sogang University in Seoul. "The Roh phenomenon was based on
the Internet. It's a new form of political participation, and it has
educated young people about politics. This was an Internet election."

The Internet allowed Mr. Roh to liberate himself from "black money" --
corporate donations that are South Korea's traditional form of campaign
financing. Largely through Internet-based campaign groups, Mr. Roh raised
the equivalent of about $1-billion from more than 180,000 individual

Although Mr. Roh mastered the Internet, other major political parties
used it and other forms of mass communication, too. The parties held an
average of only three rallies a day, compared with 49 a day during the
1997 campaign. Campaigning with loudspeakers on the streets is much less

The political element is part of a decade-long technological revolution
in South Korea, where more than half of all homes are plugged into
high-speed broadband Internet connections -- the highest rate in the
world. (In most Western countries, less than 10 per cent of households
have broadband connections.)

About 25 million of South Korea's 48 million people are regular Internet
surfers. All across Seoul, high-rise towers and corporate headquarters are
emblazoned with their Web-site addresses in huge letters or neon signs.
About 30 million South Koreans have cellphones, and 10 million of these
cellphones have Internet connections -- again, a world-leading number.

The broadband revolution began with teenagers. The most popular video
games here are on-line, played simultaneously with hundreds or thousands
of gamers. These require broadband connections -- and companies soon
responded to the demand.

Since most South Koreans live in densely populated urban high-rises, it
was relatively easy to do the wiring.

The Internet has become the most popular way of organizing street
rallies, political and otherwise -- including that of the estimated seven
million South Koreans who swarmed into the streets after the stunning
success of their national soccer team in last summer's World Cup.

More recently, Internet activists mobilized massive anti-American
protests across the country after two girls were accidentally killed by
U.S. troops.

Not all South Koreans are happy about the dramatic rise of the Internet.
Critics say that the on-line games create "zombie" teenagers who do not
know how to interact with the real world.

An estimated 5 per cent to 15 per cent of Internet users are addicted to
the Internet.

In one notorious case, a 24-year-old man died in an Internet cafe after
playing computer games nonstop for 86 hours.

During the election campaign, regulators shut down some Internet sites
for spreading false rumours, conducting illegal polls, or other violations
of election rules.

The newly elected Mr. Roh, however, is promising to use the Internet to
make the government more open and transparent.

["All material Copyright (c) Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. and its
licensors. All rights reserved."]

Although i'm no expert on Japanese govt or society, i think the cause fo Japan's lack of a true, vibrant democracy rests in the Japanese culture itself.

Like Russia, Japan doesn't seem to have a strong tradition of the individual, and it's from there that notions of democracy eminate.

Here in my backwater home of New England in North America we have a strong tradition of the individual, largely from our Puritan foundations (which later immigrant populations to this region adopted as their ethos well). Without such a strong world view centred around the individual, i doubt even here democracy would have taken off, and stuck so well as it has.

For Japan, or any people, to develop a strong, true participatory democracy, the idea of "me as one" is required.


We certainly live in amazing times! :)

I wholeheartedly agree with all the above comments. I just hope that it doesn't take _too_ long for broadband access to near ubiquity the U.S. and other western democracies... It will be important for increasing the 'competition of ideas' to the next level, as it seems to have done in Korea.

I do think Japan has to rethink some of its cherished cultural qualities, especially lack of individualism. This, some may not know, was not a feature of early Japanese culture, but imposed later through the feudal system, and again later by the entrenched bureaucracies. This is discussed at length in "The Enigma of Japanese Power," a book many of you are already familiar with...

Not only New England Puritan but also most of other immigrants from all over the world moved to the new free world because they looked for individual freedom and wanted to escape from old, closed, oppressing, and restrictive society. I took a risk and decided to move from Japan to the US with my family more than 30 years ago. One important motivation was that I wanted to move out from a society where the interests of groups including the nation, company, and family are generally greater than individual rights.
Individual freedom is the most precious basic human right for American people. They are willing to risk their lives for the freedom. Freedom is much more than "something, which is beneficial", or "an environment for allowing us to do something".

Thanks for the comments. I agree. I don't think the Japanese are genetically or deeply non-individualistic. I think that the media, education and some of the recent ethics do stunt individualism, but under the surface, there is a growing activism and dissatisfaction that may lead to more people becoming AWARE. I think that the Internet might help make people more aware of their abilities and create a desire to be more free. I don't think you can have a true democracy until the people WANT it. IE You can't argue you way to a democracy. Most countries in the 18th century had bloody wars to fight for their freedom. In the 21st century, we probably need to look for other models. Maybe Gorbachev's method might be the best one for Japan. (Larry gave me this idea.)

The other idea that might work is the idea of Positive Deviance or PD. Richard Pascale turned me on to this idea at the GLT meeting. PD is a method of looking for anomolies in the culture that break the tradition for some reason and trying to find ways of spreading or amplifying it. This often works where a frontal attack won't. I think that Lessig and I agreed that a traditional "revolution" would be difficult in Japan, but that there MUST be some way to trigger change...

Having said all of that about Japan... you American's have to be careful too. Things are chipping away at the fabric of your democracy in the name of big media companies, telephone companies, big software companies and national security. Make sure you're still a democracy when we finally get ours going in Japan. ;-)

Posted with permission...

Doug Schuler
Joichi et al,

I can't resist sending a bit from the chapter (4) on "Strong Democracy" in
my "New Cmmunity Networks" book ( I'm amazed at how
LITTLE discussion there has been about democracy on the Internet. The
section below is based on Robert Dahl's *minimal* criteria for democracy.
Following that section I discuss Benjamin Barber's work on *strong*

(I also have written a chapter "Reports of the Close Relationship Between
Democracy and the Internet May Have Been Exaggerated: Challenges and
Opportunities for Rapprochement" []
that will be out in an MIT Press book later this year.)

HOpe this sounds reasonable!

-- Doug

Criteria for Democratic Process

Democracy, like mom and apple pie, has few public critics. Even dictators
of the most brutal regime claim that they support democracy or that they
intend to move towards democracy. But what constitutes a democracy: How do
we know when a government is a democracy and when it isn't? If we can
identify the ingredients of a democracy, then we can improve our ability
to evaluate how democratic a particular process is. Moreover, identifying
democratic criteria will help us in our development of democratic
technology. Robert Dahl, writing in Democracy and Its Critics (1989),
presents five basic criteria for a democratic process that community
network developers should keep in mind while developing services that
support democratic participation.

Effective Participation

The criterion of effective participation--often lacking or poorly
exercised in practice--states that all citizens that may participate in
the democratic process do so on an equal footing. This simple criterion
has many important and far-reaching implications, which we'll explore
further in the next section. Poverty, as we shall see, presents a
formidable barrier to effective participation. "If cost is a permanent
barrier to democratic expression," Greider maintains, "then democracy
becomes a contest merely for organized economic interests, not for
citizens." To help ensure effective participation, we need to examine (and
change if necessary) the location, method, and timing through which
political participation occurs.

Voting Equality at Decision Stage

This one criterion--voting--is often mistaken for the democratic process
as a whole. If one were to take this one criterion to extremes, one might
sanction occasional voting on issues of little importance, say, in
establishing an official song or motto, as evidence of a democratic
society. Voting is a necessary, but far from sufficient, aspect of a
democratic society.

The criterion of voting is, however, crucial, as it states that all
decisions are ultimately in the hands of the citizens. Note that in many
workplace settings where "Total Quality Management" or other similar
approaches are being used that purport to empower the worker, the other
criteria for a democratic process are often achieved, while this one alone
is denied to workers. Worker participation (or any type of citizen
participation) without voting equality at the decision stage is not a
democratic process.

Enlightened Understanding

Dahl's third criterion, enlightened understanding, is, by his own
admission, described by "words that are rich in meaning and
correspondingly ambiguous." Meeting this criterion is both difficult to
assess and difficult to attain. The intent is clear, nevertheless:
Citizens who are aware of the facts, players, precedents, related
situations, history, and any other relevant information of a given
political matter are in a better position to contribute to the democratic
deliberation and decision-making in the matter. While enlightened
understanding can't guarantee better laws or policies, most people would
agree that it helps remove arbitrariness from participation. When people
can't achieve "substantive consensus," it is still important to achieve
"procedural consensus." In other words, people will still disagree, but
they're more likely to agree on where they disagree.

The main implication of this criterion is, of course, in the realm of
education. Groups like the League of Women Voters focus on this approach.
People need understanding of facts, history, patterns of reasoning, and
the political process to effectively participate in the process. A strong
general education is certainly important, but civic education is also
necessary. This criterion can be used in two ways-- (1) proactively in
improving quality and equity of education, and (2) defensively, in holding
the line against cutbacks in educational funding.

Control of the Agenda

Citizens, in Dahl's words, "must have exclusive opportunity to decide how
matters are to be placed on the agenda of matters that are to be decided
by means of democratic process." This criterion--control of the
agenda--gives citizens the power to establish and to modify their own
decision-making process. This criterion, for example, allows citizens to
establish a representative democracy if they want. They could also later
replace it with something else. As Dahl makes clear: Any decision
regarding "control of the agenda" must be "revocable" in the future. So
citizens cannot permanently sign away--even voluntarily--fundamental
democratic rights.


This criterion states that "all adult members of the association except
transients and those mentally deficient must have all the rights of
citizenship." This criterion is based on the experience that "any group of
adults excluded . . . will be lethally weakened in defending its own
interests." Thus this criterion is one of inclusion, although Dahl feels
that the process should deny access to children, transients, and the
"mentally defective." Although the trend is towards increased
inclusiveness, children and teenagers under 18 cannot vote. Lowering the
minimum age still further would help provide useful civic training while
helping younger citizens to increase their political clout in an era where
their well-being is declining.


Beyond Minimal Democracy

Although Dahl's five criteria do, in fact, perform the important job of
sketching the outlines of a more equitable and active democracy than we
currently have, they still represent the minimum--almost
mechanical--requirements for a democracy. How do we build on these
requirements to conceptualize an enriched democracy, a strong democracy, a
democracy that not only performs its perfunctory chores but inspires,
enlightens, and empowers?