Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Doug Fox asks some great questions about Emergent Democracy.

I'll try to respond to some of them.

Doug Fox
Question 1: A New Form of Democracy?

What are some illustrations of what your “emerging democracy” will look like? In other words, how specifically will it “rectify the imbalance and inequalities” of the world without jeopardizing the many benefits of our existing representative democratic institutions?

I think that initially emergent democracy should be looked at as something that will be an addition to the current system. I think the initial impact will be in more activity by the people and a clearer more intelligent voice of the people. It seems to me speed has increased with global TV journalism, but that now politics and discourse tends to revolve around short soundbytes. I am over-simplying here, but if you can imaging what scaling of deliberative polling might look like. Add a self-organizing element to this. If there was a clear "opinion of the people" on every key issue, this could help guide politicians and force/help mass media to be less reactive. Eventually, if this "opinion of the people" really worked and became intelligent enough, (This will take some time, I believe) maybe people could play a greater and greater role in governance. Again, I think this is an experiment which will take time, and I am not pushing to replace anything right away. I believe that creating a new voice through blogs is a great way to get started.
Question 2: The Face-to-Face Universe

The Internet does not exist independently from other forms of citizen engagement. From your article, I have the impression that the Internet is a panacea from which will eventually emerge new types of democratic systems and institutions that will solve the ills of society. You do discuss deliberative democracy, but what other types of transformations have to take place in the way citizens engage in face-to-face dialogues and deliberations in order to contribute to the improvement of our political, economic and social structures? And how will these new types of face-to-face encounters work in tandem with your discussion on emerging democracy in the digital sphere?

I also think that face-to-face is very important. I think that the Internet lowers the cost of interaction greatly, increasing the ease of organizing and the value of face-to-face meetings. The Internet is no replacement for face-to-face. In fact, I think the number of face-to-face contacts should INCREASE as emergent democracy puts people in touch with more and more people who they want to meet.
Question 3: Hijacking Self-Organizers

You write, “It is possible that there is a method for citizens to self-organize to deliberate on and address complex issues as necessary and enhance our democracy without any one citizen being required to know and understand the whole… If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed self-organization and emergent understanding, it is possible that a form of emergent democracy could address many of the complexity and scalability issues facing representative governments today.”

Could you elaborate on this idea? It’s intriguing. What would be a possible illustration on the national level? And if such self-organizing initiatives could be created with the help of information technology, what mechanisms would be in place so that these participative endeavors were not hijacked by individuals or groups with their own political motives and agendas?

I think this is an interesting question. I think about this a lot. I think that the key is that when everyone is active and engaged, it's much harder to "pull a fast one" on them. In a representative democracy, most people don't really know what is going on behind closed doors or what "deals are cut." In an emergent democracy, everyone is watching and the process is quite transparent. This ties into the question about co-opting bloggers, but I think that such attempts would be quickly found out and discarded and that mechanism for detection could easily be put in place.
My question is do you see the co-opting of the bloggers who benefit from the Power Law as a major obstacle to your theory of Emergent Democracy?
No, because I do believe that this is the strength of blogs and other very active feedback networks. It's actually VERY easy for people to join the dialog. For instance, you posted a comment on my blog, and now you are an active part of my conversation. In fact, just linking to me guarantees that I will read what you said, if it is picked up by technorati, a simple process. On the other hand, deliberate attempts to co-opt the community, such as the Raging Cow thing by Dr. Pepper, is a good example of how sensitive the community is to co-option. I think that the more popular your blog is, the more people are watching and checking to make sure integrity and honesty is maintained.
Can the weblog community really come close to replicating the levels of trust engendered by people within communities who have spent life times together engaged in the discussion and implantation of political, social and economic issues?
No. The problem is, many people have only these "strong tie" community trust networks to work with. How else are you going to get to know someone in Iraq, or Afghanistan? The idea of the strength of weak ties is that you need to reach beyond your local network. Also, in an exceedingly open and complex world, you are made to interact with more and more people from more and more places which reach beyond your community. A trust network that spans communities could be built which could enhance your ability to communicate with, interact with and build trust in such a world. Like, face-to-face, I don't think that this new trust network necessarily displaces strong tie trust networks in tight communities, but enhances it by allowing weak ties to be more easily created and managed.

I think you raised some great questions and issues that we need to think about when trying to design the tools for ED. I don't think I answered your questions completely, but wanted to get some thoughts off in a timely way. Thanks for reading the paper and sharing your thoughts.