In his latest book The Assault on Reason, Al Gore argues that democracy has been sabotaged by one-way communication of critical information, typified by television, which requires a large amount of money to use. Psychological manipulation, pioneered in the marketing of products, is now used by politicians and their rich (typically corporate) backers to short-circuit people’s use of reason in deciding who to vote for and what policies to support.
Gore sees use of the Internet as one way to re-energize the practice of debate and unfiltered sharing of knowledge and ideas that the founders of our country relied on for keeping the republic healthy. I would agree, except for the fact that it still requires money and resources for access, and has too much potential for abuse by the powerful (not that I’m willing to stop using it).
One alternative, which has worked quite well since the founding the nation, is local debate and personal connection of people forming a network of discussion groups that can pass information and ideas. This “low tech Internet” has the advantage of helping to recreate communities, getting people to know their neighbors and become involved in their communities on a personal level. Media such as newspapers, books, and the Internet can be used for external communication of the views of these groups, but they are not necessary. Because they are decentralized and do not depend on resources that can be controlled by the powerful, the groups are virtually incorruptible. What’s more, politicians can easily connect with the groups (and vice-versa), without having to spend a lot of money – all it takes is a phone line or a visit.