A new technological democracy?

Tuesday 23 November, 6.00pm until 7.30pm, Landmark, Apex Plaza, Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai, India

Venue: Landmark, Apex Plaza, Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai, India

Tickets: Free, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more information.

India is not only the world’s largest democracy, but also one of the most high-tech, having pioneered electronic voting machines. Technology has not only modernised the physical act of voting, however, but arguably transformed the practice of democracy more generally. Politics now pervades the internet, with politicians and activists taking advantage of everything from email to blogs, video-sharing and social networking sites. Laptops and mobile phones have become increasingly affordable and highly-effective political tools. People have the freedom to access public information like never before, and to publish their own opinions, challenging traditional sources of authority: ‘citizen journalists’ break stories and electoral candidates connect with their electorates via YouTube. But how revolutionary is new technology really? Does it really lead to a redistribution of political power? Or are political parties and multinational corporations simply using new technology for their own traditional ends?

New technology has certainly opened the door for the majority, rather than the minority, to create and have their say and engage in political activism. Chinese dissident activists can communicate beneath the radar of the authorities, while in democracies like India, individuals have the potential to communicate across great distances and regardless of social boundaries. But does the reality live up to the hype? Or do people prefer to use the new technology for more mundane purposes like entertainment and chatting to friends? Does the cost of technology unfairly exclude some of those who most need a political voice? As some fear with electronic voting machines, might technical flaws or ‘gremlins’ actually undermine democracy? And even when everything works perfectly, might the informality and anonymity of the web itself undermine democracy by encouraging incivility and offence, or allowing people to communicate only with others who share their own opinions? Can citizens and politicians alike harness the potential of the internet to develop new and more open forms of democratic engagement, or should politics come back down to Earth?

The discussion will be introduced by Claire Fox, director, Academy of Ideas

Sarath Babu
founder and CEO, Foodking; independent candidate, Lok Sabha Elections 2009, Chennai

Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Kris Dev
e-Governance consultant and social activist, Life Line to Business (LL2B), Chennai

Sanjay Pinto
executive editor, NDTV Hindu; host, Chennai Speaks Out; former National Debating Champion

Kevin Toolis
director and co-founder, manyriversfilm; director, Emmy-nominated Cult of the Suicide Bomber

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)
Recommended readings
A new technological democracy?

It is tempting to see technology as a solution to problems that are really political. In the West, this has led to over-excited speculation about how Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can re-engage the electorate with politics and revitalise democracy.

Dolan Cummings, Independent, 10 November 2010

President Obama Attends Expo On Democracy And Open Government In India

India’s dynamism in the technology sector is well known, as is Gandhi’s legacy in India of civic action and bottom-up change. But today’s expo highlighted something very fresh: Indian civil society’s harnessing of innovation and technology to strengthen India’s democracy by fighting corruption, holding government officials accountable, and empowering citizens to be the change they seek.

Samantha Power, GovMonitor, 8 November 2010

Globalisation vs Localisation

Jeremy Hunt's full speech at the Royal Television Society

Jeremy Hunt, Royal Television Society, 29 September 2010

Beware The Internet As Liberation Theology

It is time to stop thinking about the Internet as a kind of liberation theology (expressed at its most ethically naive through Wikileaks’ belief that the path to a just society is absolute transparency); the key issue facing everyone in the next decade is figuring out how to use the Internet and how to discern its societal benefits from its over-hyped Utopian promises.

Trevor Butterworth, Forbes, 8 September 2010

Social Media and the Internet are Rejuvenating Politics

Does politicians’ use of social media offer a positive way to engage an apathetic public, or is it a distraction from developing a more coherent and inspiring political vision?

David Bowden, Debating Matters, 22 January 2010

Social media and the internet do not spread democracy

A common techno-utopianism certainly played a role in this year’s demoralising political summer and Yevgeny Morozov is correct to call for a new realism about the impact of social media on authoritarian societies. Ironically, his digital brand of realpolitik may ultimately be the most effective strategy for making the world a more democratic place

Andrew Keen, Daily Telegraph, 18 August 2009

Connecting India: Why Elections Need The Web

With over 700 million voters, India is the world’s largest democracy. Naturally, electoral fraud is a frequent problem. But social media may be changing that bleak picture. Guarav Mishra, a current Yahoo! Fellow and co-founder of Vote Report India, has been working to ensure fair (or fairer) elections, not by relying on international observers, but by appealing to the strength of India’s “digital” civil society.

Chris Van Buren, Internet & Democracy Blog, 18 April 2009

How Internet and Mobile Technologies are Transforming Election Campaigning in India

Even as politicians are trying to use new media tools effectively, agencies specializing in digital political campaigns have sprung up in response to the opportunity, and are even offering money back guarantees .

Gaurav Mishra, Gauravonomics Blog, 22 March 2009

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