Children of the 1980s were presented with two possible futures for government in the book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play. The first scenario is a nightmarish dystopia where governments track their citizens' every move and computers are curtailing freedoms across the globe. The second possible future is a utopia nearly achieving some form of direct democracy, brought on by the home computer and videophones, which enable citizens to become highly engaged in the political process.
It would appear that those of us living in "the future" wound up with a bit of both. Governments all over the world are certainly using technology to spy on their citizens — though I would wager that Visa, Apple and Google know more about me than the U.S. government. But the evolution of tools like Twitter and YouTube has also provided your average citizen with easier ways to politically organize and educate.
Whatever your feelings on technology's role in government, I think we can all agree on one political truism... I'm right and those other guys are idiots.
Some people fear that computers will rule our lives in the future. They believe that information on everyone will be stored in computers, and that government officials will be able to find out anything about anyone at any time. It is possible that this will happen, and that some governments will use computers to limit people's freedom. However, it is just as possible that computers will make governments more open in the future, and allow people more say in the ways they are governed.
In a future where every home has a videophone computer system, everyone could take part in government. People could talk and air their views to others on special communication channels linking every home. These people would most likely be representatives of some kind — of a political party, a union, an industry and so on. But when the time comes to make a decision on any issue, everyone would be able to vote by instructing their computer. A central computer would instantly announce the result.
This kind of government by the people is a possibility that the computer will bring. It could take place on any scale — from village councils up to world government. In fact, it is more likely to happen in small communitites, as it would be difficult to reach effective national and international decisions, if millions of people always had to be asked to approve everything. Nevertheless, the computer will enable really important decisions to be put before the people and not decided by groups or politicians.
The computer could also affect the ways in which politicians will work. They could discuss the issues that affect the people they represent over public communication networks that would replace governemtn assemblies. In this way representatives could live among their electors and get to know them and their views much better.
This post originally appeared at Paleofuture.com.