Can Technology Support Democracy?

Essay by Douglas Schuler: “The utopian optimism about democracy and the internet has given way to disillusionment. At the same time, given the complexity of today’s wicked problems, the need for democracy is critical. Unfortunately democracy is under attack around the world, and there are ominous signs of its retreat.

How does democracy fare when digital technology is added to the picture? Weaving technology and democracy together is risky, and technologists who begin any digital project with the conviction that technology can and will solve “problems” of democracy are likely to be disappointed. Technology can be a boon to democracy if it is informed technology.

The goal in writing this essay was to encourage people to help develop and cultivate a rich democratic sphere. Democracy has great potential that it rarely achieves. It is radical, critical, complex, and fragile. It takes different forms in different contexts. These forms are complex and the solutionism promoted by the computer industry and others is not appropriate in the case of democracies. The primary aim of technology in the service of democracy is not merely to make it easier or more convenient but to improve society’s civic intelligence, its ability to address the problems it faces effectively and equitably….(More)”.