Technology, oh you siren of sirens!

It has been a while since I posted a few lines to uncondition, and your guess is as good as mine as to what the reason might be, although I do have plenty of excuses, and some are far better than others.

In an unexpected turn of events last September I found myself once more decorating the halls of academia with a mandate that I have found much too good to turn down, and that on occasions has also made me question my ability for rational decisions. The thing is that I have been looking into various aspects of technology, in particular those that have to do with international trade. It is all fun, and I do like working within a legal framework and be involved in policy at various levels. Political and legal philosophy remain some of my best bedtime readings, but not only. My own involvement in parliamentary procedures has given me a good taste for the workings, functions and movements in politics, and it remains an experience that I would not have wanted to miss.

I have often been asked about this whole thing of e-democracy and using the Internet as a democratic tool and what not. Although the answers seem to lurk unappealingly and simplistically uninspired, the whole issue is quite fascinating. First, there are issues of democracy. What is democracy?

My very own opinion is that humankind is not ready for democracy, but like with any ideal, and democracy is an ideal, humankind is fascinated by it and keeps on trying it out, exploring, experimenting and just about wrestling with it in all its modalities. Democracy and capitalism – pros and cons – do dominate the social discourse of these days, credit crunch and all providing just the right kind of illustrative examples for anybody to make their point one way or the other. Building arguments these days is like building houses, however some architects are better than others, and some materials are more solid than others. I like sand castles.

Some call me a nihilist, others want to label my fiction more on the absurdist side, and I can only hope that my scientific and academic work lacks any of those labels and goes more towards the critical reasoning side of thought. By choice and birth, I am clearly not an existentialist and that may indeed constitute one of my biggest blind-spots or prejudices. That said, I still like Nietzsche and Kafka, but usually not on an empty stomach.

In my feed reading today, an article about Proposition 8 caught my attention. It did catch my attention perhaps because over lunch time I was discussing with a graduate student peace building processes and how to address the issues of their failure. It is the kind of discussion that leaves me inspired, but then also gets me very distracted and away from work that is perhaps a bit less fascinating. Peace building is to me a very sexy item on the intellectual agenda. Somehow I see here a bridge that needs to be built between peace building and our understanding of self-governance. Democracy is just one of the paths that we are currently exploring in self-governance: sometimes it works, often it doesn’t and to boot, there is not much of a shared understanding of what it is.

In this IHT article about Proposition 8, what is striking to me is the one sentence “ is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values the regulations were to promote. ” Clearly, the regulation mechanism failed, and technology was there to enable the failure. We have here an issue of privacy, or privacy versus transparency.

On this issue, it may be wise to get one’s head around Timothy Macklem’s Independence of Mind and give chapter 2 a good read, in particular the section that deals with privacy and liberty where we are kindly reminded of Pierre Trudeau’s words that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”.

With that thought in mind, do recall that the Internet is just a communications logistic tool that is easily accessible to a minority of the world’s population. Eighty percent of the world’s population has no idea or access to the Internet.


2 thoughts on “Technology, oh you siren of sirens!”

  1. Hi Dannie,Nice to see you on the web! Are you not coming to LIFT 09? I’ll miss you!!! This time, I’m organising a Workshop on “Cyber Volunteers”. It will be my great pleasure if you, such a thoughtful person, could join us and share your thoughts. Yoshiko

  2. Thanks Yoshiko! At this late date, I still can’t make a commitment about my presence at Lift09.

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