Barber, Benjamin, R. “Three scenarios for the future of technology and strong democracy.” Political Science Quarterly. Winter 1998 v113 i4 p573(1).

Keywords: democracy


Benjamin Barber examines the relationship between democracy and technology. Barber claims that we have become a society in which power and status are dependent on information and communication. He warns that whether new technology supports or corrupts freedom will depend on the character of our political and social institutions. The author imagines three future scenarios for the relationship of information and communications technologies with democracy, he calls them; the Pangloss scenario, the Pandora scenario and the Jeffersonian scenario.

The invisible hand of the “free” market governs the Pangloss scenario. Rooted in compliancy, the danger of the Pangloss scenario lays in technology’s ability to serve corporate agendas. Barber warns that at best, “the market will do nothing for uses of new technology that do not have obvious commercial, entertainment or corporate payoffs and at worse will enhance uses that undermine equality and freedom.”

Under the Pandora scenario Barber imagines what would happen if government utilized new technologies for the purposes of control and repression. The author warns that new technologies can facilitate the development of “invisible and benign tyranny,” with its ability to encroach on privacy, restrict freedoms and information flows. Under this scenario political and social equalities are threatened.

Barber says “a free society is free only to the degree that its citizens are informed and that communication among them is open and informed. The Jeffersonian scenario imagines a future in which governments and citizens utilize and adapt new technologies to promote and facilitate participation in democratic society. According to Barber this scenario has the least potential of developing, yet is the most technologically feasible and possibility the most powerful aid for nurturing democracy.