A while ago, I wrote about the effect of technology on our social interactions and relationships. And now I return with more, sparked with a random thought that entered my head. That thought was that I kind of take for granted the knowledge I have about how all of this crap works. I mean, I’m not good enough at it that I can do anything useful, but I know enough to know that it’s not the result of some sorcelations. And then, at the risk of sounding elitist, what logically follows is the scary thought that most people have no idea how computers or the interwebs work.
This is a problem. It causes an unrealistic expectation of what this thing we have built can and cannot do. This becomes more of a problem now that our society is fairly integrated with it. Ten years ago, people were kind of crawling around and exploring this new-fangled thing. Today, people are participating in it. It has defined our society. We now have this thing sitting around that can reach everyone in the nation that everyone can be a part of.
You may remember that I am a fan of Barack Obama. I have mentioned in passing that one of the reasons why I support him is because of his promise to make government data online in universally accessible formats, which is one of the many things he has included in his technology platform. The thing is, though, this will not be a huge thing to anyone who doesn’t understand how computers work. Most people don’t see why this will help “create a transparent and connected democracy”.
Of course, this ties into the other issue of open formats. People don’t understand why keeping documents as Microsoft Word files is a bad idea. People don’t understand why digital rights management is unnecessary. People don’t question service providers on things like bandwidth caps or network neutrality.
I am a fairly large proponent for using technology to improve our democracy. It stems largely from the same basic argument that I laid out in my last post about social relationships and technology. We’re still not taking technology seriously and using it properly. Again, the same basic problem is the people. Technology is not magic. It doesn’t automatically solve all our problems.
How does our government become corrupt? We let it become corrupt by being uninformed and apathetic. Technology solves one of those problems. Obama’s technology platform gives people the tools to be informed. Making government data available, making live feeds of government proceedings available, web tools to track government finances, and using wikis and blogs for public communication are all ways to give people information and let them do something with it.
It’s these sorts of things that convince me of Obama’s trustworthiness. And the wonderful thing is that he’s proven this power. He’s already crafted legislation that created USAspending.gov, he’s centralized his supporters on his website by giving them forums and blogs, and he’s managed to outraise every other candidate using his website and refusing lobbyist money at the same time. It’s also these sorts of things that have convinced me of the power of technology to shape an open and accountable government.
And this is why we need to understand how all of this works. I’m sure you can see how easy it would be for someone to do just the opposite of all of this and actually take away our rights and freedoms using technology, simply because we don’t understand it. It’s already started with digital rights management and the DMCA in the US. This is why technology occupies a large weight in terms of my political considerations. It’s definitely the reason why I’m an NDP supporter, what with their support of network neutrality and real copyright reform (as opposed to the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ capitulation to American interests).
Again, technology is something that we shouldn’t and can’t be afraid of if we want to harness it for good. If we don’t, we’re just letting it sit around as an easy way to catch up on TV shows when it can be so much more. And the danger is that if we don’t use it, someone else will.