Digital commons
Does new technology add up to a new public sphere?
Saturday 27 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Lecture Theatre 1 Battle for New Technologies

New technology has become so closely associated with public engagement, both culturally and politically, that it has been heralded as a new democracy in and of itself. Undoubtedly we are in an era in which people have the freedom to access and create public information like never before, challenging traditional expertise and deference to authority: citizen journalists break stories, bands shoot to No 1 without A&R men from major labels, and presidential candidates connect with their electorate via YouTube.

But how revolutionary is new technology really? Often it is respected off-line institutions that seem to dominate the digital commons, even setting-up shop in Second Life. Add to that 10 Downing Street e-petitions, MPs’ blogs and the mainstream media flocking online, and is the internet not just coming to reflect the existing power structures of real life? Are multinational corporations and political parties simply using new technology for their own traditional ends?

Or are we truly witnessing the birth of the coffee shop of the 21st century – a new space for trading ideas and participating in public life? 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. Witness the instant mobilisation generated by Live8’s use of text-messaging, or Chinese activists’ ability to communicate beneath the radar of the authorities. But do the masses-on-the-mouse match up to the hyperbole about a UGC-led transformation of politics and culture? Are cultural theorists and political e-warriors correct in arguing that the web is indeed bringing about a new renaissance – even revolution? Or is the parallel universe of the web just that: a space which – despite all the ‘passionate users’ creating and communicating – has little impact on democracy, creativity or participation?


Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays
Mike Carr
chief science officer, BT
Chris Meade
co-director, Institute for the Future of the Book
Paul Evans
programme manager,; co-founder, Poptel Technology; specialist in promoting web technologies to the labour movement
Alexander Cockburn
journalist; editor, CounterPunch; co-author, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate?
Patrick Hayes
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

 Produced by

Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
Alex Hochuli communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo
Patrick Hayes director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
Sarah Snider PhD student in sociology
 Recommended readings

The political power of the network
We have to hope that new technologies will lead to changes in the distribution of power and not merely superficial changes to political practice
Bill Thompson, BBC, 22 February 2007

The Social SoftWar
Conflicts on the net, as elsewhere, need not have recourse to a labour theory of rights to be political struggles
Angela Mitropoulos, Mute Magazine, 31 December 2006

Big Question: Does the internet liberate or undermine democracy?
For real democracy to function, somebody has to make, and enforce the rules. The internet is no exception
Andy McSmith, Independent, 22 February 2007

Wide Open: Open source methods and their future potential
Open source methodology has the potential to give people forms of power that they have either lost or never had
Geoff Mulgan, Omar Salem and Tom Steinberg, Demos, 19 April 2005

Going to the blogs?
The idea that blogging might be the salvation of politics seems not just to overstate the impact of the Internet, but to understate the problem of public disenchantment with politics
Kenan Malik, BBC, 30 March 2005

The blogosphere risks putting off everyone but point-scoring males
The internet is too often like a stuffy meeting room on a bad night
Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 10 April 2007

E-Democracy and Consultation
Watch Claire Fox News look at E-democracy and consultation. MPs, webcams and the changing face of politics. Is the internet changing opposition politics and political activism?
Claire Fox News, 18 Doughty Street TV, 2 April 2007

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