TED Talk: How the Internet will (one day) transform government


1. Shirky discusses the applicability of tools (specifically distributed version control) used by open-source programmers to the political domain.

2. He concludes that the tools are, in fact, useful for achieving more fully the ends of democracy, and thus their use in this regard ought to be supported by the people.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “No democracy anywhere in the world offers this feature (providing the public with knowledge of the differences between subsequent versions of the law) to its citizens for either legislation or for budgets, even though those are the things done with our consent and with our money.” At first glance, this does not appear to be a terribly important service to provide to the people. However, closer examination reveals the utility in such an enterprise: if the government is to be run as a democracy, the people are to play a role in the legislation, and thus ought to have the maximum access possible to changes in law.
  • “… being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.” This makes clear the difference knowledge of the goings-on of one’s government and actively participating therein; a government which claims to be a democracy and yet merely informs its citizens of its decisions forfeits that claim.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “More media always means more arguing.” If this is taken to mean that there are quantitatively more arguments when there are more media, this statement seems quite obviously true. However, if is he claiming that there are comparatively more arguments when there are more media, this is less plausible. Which is it?
  • “And this brings up the question, what made [the goverment] think they could get away with [censoring a nine-year-old]. And the answer is, all of human history prior to now.” What does he mean by “now” here? He proceeds to cite similar changes to media in society dating back to the printing press in the 15th century, and so the trend is easily hundreds of years old. Is the change which resulted from the advent of the Internet simply that drastic?

5. Related article: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/intl-call-for-democracy-in-digital-age/ This article considers the negative rather than the positive effects technology can have on social and political issues: they expedite government surveillance. Clearly, they consider this development bad.


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