Just done reading the Hansard Society study on parliamentary democracy and the need improve political participation; David Wilcox on his views of a report on democracy; a review of political blogs; and all seem to point to the fact that people get involved in politics when it means something personal to them. So why you might use blogs to spread the democratic word, if the form of politics is still based on an impersonal model then it only going to have a limited impact. Maybe this cultural feature of politics is just more obvious in the reserved, deferential English society? Or to put one’s social scientist cap on for a brief moment – people’s collective silence is correlated with stupidity, when it is first and foremost an adaptive response to an environment where people perceive they do not have a voice.
For me it’s also interesting to think of the parallels with the world of technology, which is struggling with what a people-led Web 2.0 might mean in practice. Yet most people as with their politics think and act in very personal ways. The excitement of social software is that it can tap into this underlying reality and unleash the power of it, what empowerment really means I guess. But lets fact it this is profoundly scary stuff for a lot of people. The dominant model is to articulate the need for this while fundamentally holding onto the tried and trusted ways of doing things. And why not, that’s what power is? And as Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said said, no one gives up power willingly (..and that you don’t learn to swim in a library).
In the meantime people will get on with their lives, will engage in formal politics when it really matters to them, and technology will continue to place systems before people. Social software approaches are taking steps towards opening up design for the users, which is very inspiring. What is needed now is a real public step forward using the technology in radically human-centred terms which dramatically demonstrate what is possible because it makes a radical difference. Perhaps the demands of that low-tech profession, nursing, in relation to NHS IT requirements will be that breakthrough? Perhaps counter-intuitively more likely it will be a corporate case where the use of collaborative technologies, where sharing knowledge will have a pointed effect on the productivity of an enterprise to effect a ‘tipping point’, or enable access to a new market.
While little is certain, if the reality of people’s untapped potential needs and the potential of social software to deliver that can really connect, then you ain’t seen nothing yet!