Cavanaugh, John W. "E-Democracy: Thinking About the Impacts of Technology on Civic Life." National Civic Review, Fall 2000 v89 i3 p229

Keywords: democrary, government, public


Fifteen years ago in 1988 scholars asked the question; how will new means of communications affect our democracy. This was well before the Internet was publicly available, but even then new methods of mass communications were impacting elections, governance and civic life. A revolutionary proposal was put forth to radically reshape American democracy by establishing a more direct democracy utilizing these new forms of communications. The article warns that it is easy to point to new technology, specifically the Internet, as a way of repairing the division between government and the public. The challenge is to invent ways that the Internet can improve relations between the public and government to produce productive sustained discourse.

Another important question addressed in this article is; does the Internet strengthen community? Critics are skeptical of the ability of the Internet to communicate public voice without face-to-face interactions. Optimists’ say that the Internet provides citizens at all levels a way to communicate and thus offers the potential to improve the quality of civic life. The author reminds us that until technology is equally available to all there are digital divide issues to consider. Also, we are warned that not all users of the Internet are out to improve the quality of civic life. There are those who “pollute” the Internet with questionable content. The author concludes by saying that technology will probably have only a minimal impact on the quality of civic life and democratic governance. However, with careful attention we can shape telecommunications in ways that can enhance democracy?