I have written before about how an abundance of information can overload a government's ability to cope. I took the technologists to task on the meaning of the information. As statistics or other information is by itself useless, the actions taken in reaction to the information is what is of primary importance. A democratic government grows from the relations among all of its peers and not just from those who are popular.
Now I know the technologists are not thinking about governance when they posit theories on how best to deal with overload; however, I feel that these ideas should be addressed for what they are, and what they say about online behavior and how that might hobble a model of Open Sourced Government.
I have trouble accepting the strictly "historical" approach to information overload as explained by Clay Shirky, this views our information glut as just another development, and we just need to beef up our information filters. He goes on at length how we have always been overloaded with a glut of information.
Shirky is right to a degree, however his argument doesn't seem to fully come up to speed with the retweet. Cory Doctorow's view takes this "retweet" factor into account.
As Cory explains it, popularity is the measure of all, he says as much in his article, Information overload? Time to relax then. How does he deal with the information crunch? Doctorow won't even bother to look at it unless the information has been pushed up in popularity. In essence we all do this, when we engage in online browsing. The web filters information though both algorithmic searches and manual selections. Now I think this is all well and good within the context of a culture of overabundant media. However, if we were to apply this logic to governance the outcome can become quite chilling.
To put it simply, a Congressman can be held accountable for his actions, software cannot not. In the current idea of democracy a congressman or a MP is the one who the complaint is addressed to and it is up to that person to address that grievance as he or she sees fit. If they don't do well addressing the complaint then they can be voted out as soon their term is up.
It all comes down to meaning. The congressman weighs the grievance based upon the available information and the progress of the government. The representative is then the one that makes a decision as to what if any action is taken. If action is both warranted and workable then they will act. If they do not then they can be held accountable for their non-action. My point is that we have person in charge and not a set of algorithms.
This is why I feel any idea of open source government will not progress beyond theory. Any modification of democratic government that makes extensive use of technology risks the loss of personal accountability. Technology is a two way street, and any filtering method based on popularity will disenfranchise a certain number of grievances. This can lead to the hijacking of the process by a vocal minority. After all, we have that nagging question as to just how secure modern technology really is. So how would we know that all the "popular" grievances are legitimate? We should not rely on popularity alone as a tool of governance.
Don't get me wrong, popularity has its place in politics. But popularity isn't the sole function of a government. My last post addressed some other issues with open source governance models. Through these times of rapid technological change, we must ask ourselves, do we really want to be governed by the tweet? Do we want to "open source" our government to the point that there is no recognizable government? Proponents of open source governance must ask themselves this question. Who or what should we place our public trust in? Technology or a fellow human?
Open source governance proponents may wrap their theories in the rhetoric of mass populism, yet they ignore the fundamental popularity or "retweet" filter as explained by Cory Doctorow. This ignorance and blind faith is troubling in and of itself; yet, there is even more at stake. The internet is a powerful bull of a tool, and it shouldn't be pranced about willy-nilly, as a cure all, in the china shop of our democracy.