How Technology Can Restore Our Trust in Democracy

Cenk Sidar in Foreign Policy: “The travails of the Arab Spring, the rise of the Islamic State, and the upsurge of right-wing populism throughout the countries of West all demonstrate a rising frustration with the liberal democratic order in the years since the 2008 financial crisis. There is a growing intellectual consensus that the world is sailing into uncharted territory: a realm marked by authoritarianism, shallow populism, and extremism.

One way to overcome this global resentment is to use the best tools we have to build a more inclusive and direct democracy. Could new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), data analytics, crowdsourcing, and Blockchain help to restore meaningful dialogue and win back people’s hearts and minds?

Underpinning our unsettling current environment is an irony: Thanks to modern communication technology, the world is more connected than ever — but average people feel more disconnected. In the United States, polls show that trust in government is at a 50-year low. Frustrated Trump supporters and the Britons who voted for Brexit both have a sense of having “lost out” as the global elite consolidates its power and becomes less responsive to the rest of society. This is not an irrational belief: Branko Milanovic, a leading inequality scholar, has found that people in the lower and middle parts of rich countries’ income distributions have been the losers of the last 15 years of globalization.

The same 15 years have also brought astounding advances in technology, from the rise of the Internet to the growing ubiquity of smartphones. And Western society has, to some extent, struggled to find its bearings amid this transition. Militant groups seduce young people through social media. The Internet enables consumers to choose only the news that matches their preconceived beliefs, offering a bottomless well of partisan fury and conspiracy theories. Cable news airing 24/7 keeps viewers in a state of agitation. In short, communication technologies that are meant to bring us together end up dividing us instead (and not least because our politicians have chosen to game these tools for their own advantage).

It is time to make technology part of the solution. More urgently than ever, leaders, innovators, and activists need to open up the political marketplace to allow technology to realize its potential for enabling direct citizen participation. This is an ideal way to restore trust in the democratic process.

As the London School of Economics’ Mary Kaldor put it recently: “The task of global governance has to be reconceptualized to make it possible for citizens to influence the decisions that affect their lives — to reclaim substantive democracy.” One notable exception to the technological disconnect has been fundraising, as candidates have tapped into the Internet to enable millions of average voters to donate small sums. With the right vision, however, technological innovation in politics could go well beyond asking people for money….(More)”