Barber, Benjamin, R. “Electronic Democracy: Which Technology for Which Democracy? Which Democracy for Which Technology?” International Journal of Communications Law and Policy. Issue 6, Winter, 2000/2001. Link Accessed: 2003-07-10.

Keywords: democracy, ITC, society


Benjamin Barber is a popular political theorist, a champion of civil society, and strong democracy. I included this entry because of its unique, philosophical perspective and blunt rhetoric about information and communication technologies (ICT) and the consequences these new technologies will have on society. This work was actually a closing keynote delivered to the joint ITM/ZIF conference “Electronic Democracy – Civic Exchange in Cyberspace.” Held in Bielefeld/Germany, October, 23-24, 2000.

Barber says that, “Technology has always been, from the beginning of time, a tool of human interest and human objectives, which, tends to mirror the society which invents it.” He warns that new technologies reflect the commercial character of our time citing that “the actual uses to date reflect a privatized, commercialized, profit-obsessed world.” Barber reminds us too that the underlying telecommunications infrastructure, the supporting electronics, hardware, software and content “are owned and controlled by the same super corporations that dominate the rest of the economy.”

For all these reasons, Barber warns that it is “wishful thinking,” even “dangerous and delusional” to believe that just because we perceive good will come to society from the use and availability of ICTs does not mean that the actual use of ICTs within a commercialized, monopolistic world will be necessarily good for society.

Since new technology tends to reflect society, Barber suggests the characteristics of new technologies imply different political possibilities. Barber discusses the potential impact of ITC’s on various forms of democracy. In the end he concludes, it will not be new technology that solves society’s problems, the solutions “are not technological but political” and will depend on the character of the citizen as well as the quality of the political institutions involved.