Challenge The Opportunity of Digital Technology and Social Media for Western Democracy
The potential of the leveraging of digital technology to enhance democracy is inspired by Aaron Swartz, a pioneer in pushing for using digital technology for the common good. Swartz observed that,
"Change doesn’t come from thousands of people, all going their separate ways. Change requires bringing people together to work on a common goal. That’s hard for technologists to do by themselves. But if they do take that as their goal, they can apply all their talent and ingenuity to the problem. They can measure their success by the number of lives that have been improved by the changes they fought for, rather than the number of people who have visited their website. They can learn which technologies actually make a difference and which ones are merely indulgences. And they can iterate, improve, and scale."
We are experiencing a political environment where passions have become the main driver of political discourse. Politicians and interest groups with access to sophisticated digital tools leverage a deep understanding of psychological drives to channel political action by addressing and personalizing messages that promote emotional response and individual action. Information and facts are replaced by opinions and self-serving statistics. The media are fragmented and driven by the need to appeal to factions and interest groups rather than a desire to provide the accountability envisioned by our founding fathers. Rapidly evolving developments in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning weaponize digital technology and make seeking a different approach essential. A different framework for digital conversation is needed, a structure that starts with consensus on how to talk about complex issues. As the Brandeis Brief and the business plan refocused discourse in their fields, The Medical Case Presentation, and the Citizen Brief are uniquely positioned to put the citizen back into "We the People".
In the next months we will be initiating an experiment to explore the role of a coordinated citizen-oriented effort to address major social-political- economic challenges confronting the US. The effort, the Pain Opioid Pandemic Case and the COVID-19 Pandemic Project, utilizes digital technology through blogs, surveys, newsletters and crowdsourcing to provide wide access for many individuals. The democratization of information with real world facts rather than partisan or biased rhetoric will serve as a potent platform to build on the ideas and energy of many, to make the process as useful and productive as it can be. The various sections of the Opioid Case Presentation as well as the COVID 19 Citizen Commission, will be presented over a period of weeks and ongoing discussion will be encouraged. Short and long term goals and plans will be developed and monitored.
The Gutenberg Press, one of the most revolutionary inventions in human history, rapidly promoted the publication of religious texts—and pornography. The technology itself did not determine the future of the printing press, however, it was the people using it who unleashed its power. One of its most important offspring was the scientific journal, a venue for reliable, peer-reviewed sharing of information that launched the scientific revolution and ushered in the age of technology. Later, this ability to disseminate ideas and information across great distances made possible the reshaping of government by the collective efforts of ordinary people. This led to one of the most remarkable experiments in human ambition; the U.S. Constitution. The Federalist Papers and the works known as the Anti-Federalist papers, published in the New York press during the ratification process, offer striking examples of the importance for citizen engagement in the political process.
Similarly, establishing common frameworks for discussion have enriched various other sectors of society. In the legal profession, The Brandeis Brief refocused legal argument by establishing a framework for the presentation of facts and discussion. In the corporate world the business plan and the annual report provide readily recognizable formats for evaluating commerce. In the medical context, the medical case presentation, adopted after the Flexner Report, provides a well proven framework to address complex, multi-factorial issues in the face of life and death consequences. As we enter the second decade of the digital revolution, we are likely to see developments that will eclipse the Gutenberg Press in terms of its influence in human civilization. We need to harness these new developments in digital technology to create a framework for citizen dialog and communication and use it to benefit mankind and help maintain the promise of democracy.
We now live in an era of remarkable advances in digital technology. The immediate consequences for democracy and world stability are mind blowing. In the past year we have witnessed the impact of “fake news,” a savage new form of populism, a tendency for people to declare themselves experts based on a few Google searches, and the globalization of movements. These new technologies have created challenges to the legitimacy of electoral democracy. Rising economic inequality have further threatened the democratic order. Technology companies mining clicks of users are developing increasingly sophisticated algorithms that exploit individual biases for political or economic gain.
Current technology allows us to rewire the body politic through digital technology. These tools allow unprecedented opportunity to: get access to information, mobilize, challenge misinformation and provide for a more deliberative dialogue. Digital technology can enhance the effectiveness of government services, and provide a way for citizens to be more actively engaged, and connected to their political ecosystem. A standardized template based on the medical case presentation, offers a way forward for enhanced citizen engagement. The Citizenism Project, our approach to reclaim the role of the citizen in the body politic, builds on this framework and includes a citizen’s toolbox to more fully actualize their citizen role. The Medical Case Presentation represents a framework that summons our fellow citizens to address the challenges confronting us as individuals, as communities and as a nation.