Democracy seems to be challenged on many fronts. The aftermath of the Arab Spring has only seen an increase in the hardship for many who fought for their democratic rights. Large-scale protests and popular movements seem to be rising in every region of the world.
One of the biggest challenges to democracy is around determining the shape of democracy and our political system in the future. Technology has always had an impact and the potential for to disrupt democracy and its institutions over the next period is massive. Therefore, how do we conceive democracy in the future being shaped? Are the “liberal pillars” of democracy still relevant and integral to the survival of democracy or are we seeing the emergence of a more polarised and radical democracy with an increased role for nationalism and religion?
What is causing these drivers to emerge? Why are we seeing an increased role of religion and ethnocentric nationalism in our political system? Are there any positives that we can draw from this or are they evidence of a regressive trend?
Next week I’ll be travelling to the UK to discuss these issues with people from around the world as well as looking at the challenges democracy faces, I’m looking forward discussing the role that technology has to play in response to these challenges.
We’ve seen technology flourish, develop and disrupt all aspects of our life… all aspects except for that which underpins the society many of us are lucky enough to live in: democracy. Technology has changed the way we get from place to place, change the way we manage relationships, changed the way buy and sell goods and even changed the way we date! There are apps for cabs, apps for hotels, apps that make it easier to buy coffee, apps that airbrush your face with the press of a button and apps that make apps. New technologies have changed the way we interact with almost every aspect of our life and every part of our day. Except that is, for one noticeable exception… the way we interact with our government and the way we take part in democracy.
No doubt we have seen technological advancement in the way we interact with bureaucracy, the day-to-day of government — we can file tax returns online and such — but these are efficiency tools that disregard the disruptive nature and potential of technology. They are an update of existing protocols, not a fundamental evolution like we have seen in other areas.
What are the limits though? Should democracy return us to a type of direct democracy (can it possibly even achieve this?), or does its role lie in ensuring more informed debate and more accountable representatives? Advancements in technology have always played in a role in shaping the development of our political system, in shaping our expectations and perception of what democracy is. The potential for citizens to engage in policy formulation has never been greater and the opportunity for government to co-create rather than sell policy is certainly an enticing prospect to all parties.
Does democracy face an existential crisis? I think not, but it is important that we recognize the need to redefine Democracy for the 21st Century to achieve more positive outcomes. Democracy is challenged on many fronts but the greatest is how its ephemeral idealism into a meaningful and useful concept that people can connect with in a realer sense.