For one of my courses, I am to write a paper on critical issues raised by a book of my choice. The book I chose is the one mentioned in the title of this post. I’m not sure if the book is as critical as it’s supposed to be for the paper, but it’s at least interesting.
A lot of what the book focuses on is taking away some of the blind optimism provided by proponents of the Internet as a means to fostering greater political activity and debate (cyberdemocracy in general). The author, Wilhelm, does so by providing reasonable reasons (go figure) as to why things may not be as perfect as proposed, as well as providing empirical data to correspond with his own account.
That isn’t to say that Wilhelm is opposed to cyberdemocracy; rather, Wilhelm argues that it’s important to be aware of potential downfalls in order to deal with them properly so that the effort to use the Internet as a means for enhanced political discourse does not fail from short-sightedness or result in harmful consequences.
Anyways, at some point in reading this book, I believe he mentioned that the Internet supposedly increases decentralized activity and diverse viewpoints. I would like to point out that the Internet can also be used to promote greater centralization as well. Because the Internet effectively forms connections between everyone who is connected to it, although these individual connections are most definitely decentralized, the end result is a network to which everyone belongs – that is in effect a centralized structure. If the Internet can be considered a monolithic structure/organization to which many computers/people are associated to, then it is by definition centralized (because all gather in the same place). The internal structure of that organization may be decentralized, but the organization itself is centralized. It’s like putting a bunch of lawyers/firms into a single building. The building acts as a outwardly centralizing structure, but it will have many different firms and lawyers with differing specialties and values thus providing a decentralized internal structure.
Okay, that’s probably repetitive. In short, my point is that the Internet has the potential to act in a centralized manner by bringing those decentralized nodes (people, computers, etc.) together to form a single network.
My final analogy is this: the Government of Canada is centralized in Ottawa. However, the Members of Parliament who form the House of Commons (in addition to Senators in the Upper Chamber) each represent different parts of the country. It is possible that they could form a House of Commons without having to physically go to Ottawa; instead, they could log-in to a secure network each day to perform their duties. Perhaps that’s unreasonable at this point in time, but I believe it could be possible if attempted whole-heartedly. The worst consequence might be the loss of traditional government and formalities, but that shouldn’t be sufficient to oppose innovation outright.