Of Facebook, Democracy and a tyranny by technology

Truth be told we usually don’t live democracy or the democratic system, not as envisaged originally by the city-states of early philosophers, though even them complained, at the time, what they were living was not true democracy. The impracticality of getting the opinions of the majority at times required (gathering the whole town), or the difficulties of agreeing on certain topics made democracy almost utopic. From them to a government that name itself democratic, or tried to be, again we waited some 1500 years.

So, we are living democracy now, or are we really? I would say we are living something else that is dressed with the name but operates in a different way. What is the real political system we live and breathe the most everyday? I would say for many of us that system is a tyranny, not very different from the one in the middle ages, roman (when not in democracy) or militaristic dictatorships. We want to think, we are ruled in a democratic way, but the closest we are to a political system (for some us) is very far away from it. So where do we experience our democratic character? We can’t say so in most of our places of work, and I would tend to extend that to the organization at homes with our families. In defense of our ways, some can say democracy works better in complex systems than in smaller organizations. Also that for some ends, a democratic driven organization can be quite inconvenient to achieve objectives.

But, beyond the practical arguments, how is the democratic man prepared to exercise and assure the democratic character of the system if it hasn’t experienced it ever? How can it assure their community it will represent fairly and in a democratic way the interest of the majority (a member of parliament?), when there is no practical experience of living under such a system? The reality is that the majority of men and women with some real role of participation in the democratic system have been educated, and their thinking molded, by experiences in Corporations, Parties, Unions, and other similar where the democratic character is subjugated to the adhesion to a higher command or leader. The organization is the end, the militant, employee, union member or the like is just a means to get to it. Almost opposed to the democratic character, where the state and government is just a means to a very different end around individual freedom, and well-being of the whole as a community.

So where is democracy closest to be exercised nowadays? Is Facebook or the equivalent social networks reaching the utopia? Anywhere, anytime participation of everybody, intelligently aggregated across the whole, and where taxes for the use are in the form of sponsored posts? Is that where democracy finally will become possible? I guess some people will recoil in horror, when reading that passage, but for many kids when first introduced to the subject of democracy, Facebook is an easy way to understand the concept. Actually, for them democracy (in such a digital form) is enhanced. You can not only vote, you can even deposit your opinion in a permanent digital presence and with the help of sound, video and graphics…, but technology can make it look closer to a democratic driven environment, however it doesn’t take away the reality of being far from it.

For a start, is gamefied system, real life is not but a game if you know that the only possibilities are the six faces of the dice. In a game, the rules are clear, although randomness plays a part, the universe of possibilities is known and you just play it. In real life (or you can say in nature), the possibilities are not set a priori, you don’t know what you are going to get “literally”. Probabilities in this sense are very different than in a Casino. Is in the “real life” kind of complexity where democracy tries to rule, so difficult a task that a very simple rule of thumb “let the majority decide” works better than many tried historical alternatives.

Coming back to Facebook, and in general a lot of the environments in the digital arena. They are gamefied, they are made easy so you have the feeling of control, and don’t need to think about time when in them. To the kids introduced for the first time to a democratic concept I would say: is categorically not a democracy when the power to architect the decisions is never put to the users, (some can argue actually belongs to the machine, or the algorithm) or in another sense, if the system doesn’t allow to change the rules of how is operated by a majority is not democratic. This applies to a lot of digital properties where the user is a means to an end (increase the share price?) rather than allowing the user to take control in general (for a minimal contribution).

I guess even more worrying that our reality (as parents) of limited democratic experience in the everyday and unfortunately for most of our lives, is the development where our children might not even experience our current version of tyranny, but a worse one instead. To live more like in a global game, and even without the minimum participation, where the only interaction of a political kind will be mostly with a machine.

Is then, that real challenge becomes finding a true new participatory democratic way, properly using the means of communication and data aggregation technology. You can count efforts like Wikipedia, the open source software projects (which the internet itself is the biggest representative), and even companies tinkering with a different way of organizing internally, as developments on that side. Most of them are balancing the need of contribution of the individual with the needs of the organization itself. Not yet completely developed in a new way of political organization, but still a more human development than a life through the lens of a game.

I find something true in the statement that the best technology humanizes or re-humanize, by replacing old technology that demands surrendering our humanity for the sake of its use.

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