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December 10, 2008

Broadband and the Future of Democracy: The View of an Elder Statesman

Sixty years ago today Eleanor Roosevelt introduced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the the United Nations. The defense of human rights, freedom of religion, and communication has been the bedrock of defenders of democracy since 1948. The former Mayor of Lisbon and former President of Portugal celebrated that legacy at today's Public Sector Innovation Summit and opined that the future of universal human rights may well be connected to the emergent broadband revolution underway this past 20 years.

Jorge Sampaio has spent a lifetime defending as one of the most articulate spokesperson on human rights as both a lawyer, politician, and now elder statesman.

Democracy, according Sampaio, is about how to live together in our globalizing world is which a problem anywhere is a problem everywhere. This is both the challenge and opportunity of the Internet and the broadband revolution. The broadband forces that enable democratic tendencies can be used (and have been used) by those who would exploit and deny human rights.

The challenge of democracy is to bind its citizenship to a sense of belonging and engagement. The lack of trust and confidence in many of our forms of political life has bred cynicism and alienation from a generation of citizens who are significantly disconnected from and lack empathy for the institutions of governance and the public sector as a whole. This is a theme that Lawrence Lessig addressed in his keynote later in the day.

According to Sampaio, however, broadband internet connectivity, especially as demonstrated by the American Presidential campaign and election provides a last great hope in the 21st century to re-integrate the public, re-invent the nature and meaning of public service, and revitalize democracy itself.

There has long been a view among technologists and many civic leaders that digital networks can provide a positive contribution to economic and social development. For the first time in the relatively young life of the connected republic's history, it is possible to argue that democratization and connectivity are linked together. Not only has the American election made it clear that future campaigns all over the world will be waged over the Internet. More importantly, the web 2.0 world of mixing, and read-write, has enabled the once consuming, television electorate to now actively participate (rather than simply consume) in the political process and through that engagement help to strengthen democracy on both a national and local scene.

In his more optimistic view of the future, Sampaio, opined that the new phase of the connected republic makes possible an enabling platform to encourage the population to create its own authentic and meaningful sense of belonging and engagement rather than just being consumers.

The rise of collective intelligence through active engagement of a well informed and curious population that develops empathy for others, and a sense of common purpose, is at heart of the democratic vision of the 21st century. It's a big and exciting vision. The challenge of execution and propagation across the signatures of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems to be a significantly worthy 21st century aspiration. The challenge, as always, is to build consensus in driving thought leadership and execute confidence building measures that are meaningful to the man or women on the streets of Cleveland or any other city (or rural community) in the world.

Lev Gonick
Stockholm, Sweden
December 10, 2008


Posted by lsg8 at December 10, 2008 08:31 AM

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