For sometime now I have wondered about how the internet will affect our governmental structures and procedures. In the pre-internet structure, the strength of the links between individual citizens and the policy makers that reallocate public resources is relatively weak. There are simply too many people and too many voices for a single leader to address minuscule requests with traditional communication in a representative democracy. As a result It seems like ordinary folks spend a good deal of time feeling alienated from the decision making process at every level of government.
The internet is beginning to bridge the gap between specific local needs and expedient government. Steven Johnson wrote an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on September 21, 2012 (http://tinyurl.com/9a9lcw8) that discusses examples of how the internet is facilitating the formation of peer groups. The old structure kept people separate because there was less of a way of knowing who else in the community shared common complaints and concerns. Through the new developments, it is much easier to operate as a powerful collective and make unified and clear petitions to all forms of government. In one example, citizens are able to collaborate and directly highlight on a map urban issues like potholes, housing blight or abandoned cars. In another, the internet is used to collectively rank the importance of budget issues by all citizens. One of the most promising aspects of the article is the discussion of governments that are using the new networking tools to actually change their tactics and make government budget decisions reflect public concerns more directly. This is an example of how links between the public and the government can strengthen as a result of a reinforcement of the links within the public group.
What might be some other ways in which ordinary citizens might use the internet to show their concerns directly to other citizens? If anyone is familiar with reddit, I’m sure that their system of anonymous upvotes and downvotes could prove effective in assigning a peer-group generated ranking of important issues.