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The People Vs Tech

How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)

By Jamie Bartlett
16-minute read
Audio available
The People Vs Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it) by Jamie Bartlett

The People Vs Tech (2018) examines the rise of digital technology. It argues this process is undermining six of the key pillars of democracy: active citizenship, a shared democratic culture, free elections, free association, equality and governmental authority. Looking to the future and observing how it is already unfolding in the present, it paints a chilling picture of the possible dystopian world to come. However, it also shows the paths that are leading us to that world and suggests that these paths can be redirected, pointing the way to a better future.

  • Citizens concerned about how the internet is impacting society
  • Workers who fear their jobs may be replaced by AI
  • Fans of dystopian science fiction literature, movies and television series

Jamie Bartlett is the Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos – a UK-based think tank that focuses on developing evidence-based solutions to inform social policy. Writing on technology as a regular contributor to publications such as the Spectator and the Telegraph, Bartlett is also the bestselling author of The Dark Net and Radicals Chasing Utopia: Inside the Rogue Movements Trying Change the World.

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The People Vs Tech

How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)

By Jamie Bartlett
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
The People Vs Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it) by Jamie Bartlett
Synopsis

The People Vs Tech (2018) examines the rise of digital technology. It argues this process is undermining six of the key pillars of democracy: active citizenship, a shared democratic culture, free elections, free association, equality and governmental authority. Looking to the future and observing how it is already unfolding in the present, it paints a chilling picture of the possible dystopian world to come. However, it also shows the paths that are leading us to that world and suggests that these paths can be redirected, pointing the way to a better future.

Key idea 1 of 10

Democracy requires active, amicable, equal and free participation from its citizens.

What would happen if a democracy held a national election and no one bothered to debate the issues, inform themselves about policy proposals or even vote on the candidates? It would be as if you threw a party and no one showed up: hardly a party – or, in this case, a democracy – at all.

Like a party, democracy requires people’s active participation – and the more active the participation, the more robust the result. With democracy, active participation entails sifting through claims, weighing facts and making decisions on who or what is the best candidate or course of action. Active citizenship is the first of the six pillars on which democracy rests.

Now, let’s say people show up to your party and are actively participating. So far, so good – but what happens if they start getting rowdy? Well, eventually, the party might turn into a riot.

The same goes for democracy. For it to work, citizens must not only actively participate, but actively participate in certain ways – two of which are to engage in rational debate and compromise, which allow them to amicably work through their differences and move forward together. This shared democratic culture is the second pillar.

Now, let’s say you throw a party and a couple of loudmouthed attendees dominate all of the conversations, undermining other people’s abilities to participate in the process. That won’t work either – everyone needs to be able to participate more or less equally and freely. The same goes for democracy. For it to work, citizens must stand on more or less equal footing, talk to each other and vote on issues and candidates without interference. These are the third, fourth, and fifth pillars: equality, free association and free elections.

Finally, returning to the party analogy one last time, who’s going to look after the gathering to steer people in the right direction – encouraging them to participate actively, amicably, equally and freely? Well, you – the host. Similarly, the government’s job is to ensure that citizens participate in democracy. And to do this job, the government needs power. That’s the sixth pillar: governmental authority.

Unfortunately, modern technology poses a threat to all six of these pillars of democracy. In the following blinks, we’ll see how it’s doing that. Then, we’ll look at what might happen if they collapse and how this can be avoided.

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