by Elizabeth Filippouli
We have entered an era of electronically extended bodies living at the intersecting points of the physical and virtual worlds of occupation and interaction through virtual as well as physical presence. However, modern communications technology, by itself, will be neither democracy’s saviour nor its terminator. Grossman (Grossman, 1995) believes that, “unquestionably it will continue to have enormous influence, both for better and for worse, on the nature and character of democratic political systems”.
This electronic world is not a homogeneous, tightly-knit virtual community. Instead, it is a form of a globalized village and it is quite a quarrelsome, heterogeneous, tribal society with clashing ethnic, political and economic interests and highly diverse ideological factions.
Since information has become society’s main transforming resource, the public’s ability to receive, absorb and understand information no longer can be left to happenstance.
In the era of the “global electronic republic” citizens at large gain more and more power of self-governance or –at least- the ability to make their voice heard worldwide. They are able to define what they consume (goods, information, ideas), why, how and when they consume it. Thus, it is essential that democratic governments devise new methods and systems to educate and enable ordinary citizens to reach responsible and informed judgements.
Does this new reality bring us closer to a democratic world? Unfortunately, information diffusion and knowledge-sharing are not enough to guarantee the privileges of a truly democratic society. Democracy is not something specific, neither a concrete and indisputable framework of policies and regulations; for the mere reason that a number of so-called democracies are in practice run by autocratic rulers. Democracy is a combination of processes and actions, which are in place to preserve liberty, freedom of choice, human rights, communication, and access to markets and enable citizens to freely define their own life according to these; but with respect towards society and diversity. No doubt that the Internet and New Technologies can promote democratic values through the creation of a virtual democracy, which is already in place and expanding.
Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan has argued that all history has been shaped by the dominant communications media of each era;
“(…)Oral communication was the mark of closely know, myth loving, superstitious, resistant to change tribal societies. Writing/Printing introduced reason and linear thinking and made science and democracy possible. Electronic communication, an extension of our senses, is in the process of transforming our society into a ‘global village’ that shrinks geographical boundaries and transforms diverse people through shared experiences and the instantaneous passage of news”
Not to forget, that the chaotic nature of the Web constantly generates new complex issues and an imminent need to find ways to control and harness the dangers as well as to reap the fruit of a new virtual, universal democracy, which is digitally blooming.