Friday, January 23, 2004

Lauren Gelman, Assistant Director of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, writing for Findlaw, believes that despite the laudable efforts of the Howard Dean campaign, we have yet to see a real Internet election.

She has it absolutely right on the potential of the net to revolutionise elections through decentralization. Sharing the pessimistic outlook of her colleague at Stanford, Larry Lessig, however, I wonder at the collective ability of liberal democratic electorates to raise ourselves above the usual level of cynical apathy, to the extent that would energise the many to many participative real democractic process she describes.

I think she is also a little optimistic about the best ideas/debates/creative inputs automatically rising to the top. As Tim O'Reilly has so wisely said in the past, with billions of conversations or creative works, we can't read them all - we still need aggregators, who can put the producers in contact with those interested in the products of their creative endeavours. So even with a sufficiently participative electoral process along the lines the Net could facilitate, I predict that there would be an evolution to a kind of halfway house (between total central control and decentralization) of electoral process information supernodes. The centralizing urges of politicians and media moguls would be likely to attempt to converge on a kind of Clear Channel Communications model of control of these supernodes. But on the positive side, I'm a believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history and don't see a future of total control - there will always be leakage and the power of networks of people (note I didn't say the Internet) to nurture that leakage is very strong.

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