Democratizing the digital

BOOK REVIEW

The Egyptians: A Radical History of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution, Author: Jack Shenker.
Hope in the Dark, Author: Rebecca Solnit.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Author: Cathy O’Neil.

By Jack Shenker – Digital technologies are changing politics as we know it, but not because of some inherent or immutable characteristic that stands apart from the world in which they were created. Instead, these technologies have helped an underlying condition, namely growing discontent at marketization – the privatizing of ever more goods, services and social interactions, and the ideologies that justify that process – to find meaningful expression in the formal political arena. The result has been successive electoral shockwaves that have shattered long-held certainties and splintered the political spectrum.

Ironically, digital technologies are capable of playing this role precisely because in reality their own development and logic owes so much to market forces. Behind the advertising copy, Apple, Amazon and the other tech giants share far more with the Enclosure Acts of the Tudor period than they do with the common land those acts so violently eroded. Facebook, Twitter and co are simultaneously creatures of a neoliberal orthodoxy and engines of its crisis.

But contained within this irony is a kernel of hope: not only that such technologies are not necessarily antithetical to the sort of politics we should be fighting for – a sort that places the ideals of Tahrir above those of the Egypt it stood against – but also that they could yet play a vital role in rejuvenating them.

Our struggle must be to find new ways to harness digital technologies to a stronger, more robust and inclusionary democracy: one that relies neither on thin forms of representation nor the false comforts of rule-by-plebiscite. more>

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