A digital democracy
America is turning into an electronic republic,
a democratic system that is vastly increasing
the people's day-to-day influence on the
decisions of state.
K. grossman lawrence
American citizens are, once again, facing a fundamental decision about how to exercise their civil responsibility to vote in a representative democracy. The way voting is done has long been the subject of debate; however, the arrival of the Interne has already reenergized interest in this issue. And the events following the national election in the
in 2000 made it a white hot topic of concern to millions of Americans. Technological innovations in security, user identification, convenience, and so forth are the most recent long-term stimuli for the debate, although as these words are being written (July 2001) not a day goes by without national newspapers and magazines discussing this topic. However, it was the growing access and use of vast supplies of various types of information over the last halt eentury that conditioned the American public for a more intense discussion of the relationship between information and technology on the one hand, and the dual influence of these on political practices. Ultimately, public officials at the local, state, and national level will have to pave the way for a resolution of the debate because democratic practices are already changing. U.S.
The quote at the beginning of this chapter, from Lawrence K. (Jrossman, the former president of the Public Broadcasting Service and of NIK] News, does not come from a public official; rather, these arc the words of someone who is deeply immersed in the supply of electronic information to the American public. He symbolizes the other major participants in the formulation of any changes that are occurring in American democratic institutions, information suppliers like the press.
Why should we care? Why have a whole chapter in what is already a long book? Simply put, the themes discussed here are the most important in the book because the ability of Americans to have access to all manner of information, and to have the right and opportunity to use it for personal advantage and pleasure, is a direct result of their having a form of gov
ernment that makes it possible to be info-junkies. Put another way, governments can restrict and influence the flow of infor mation, and, consequently, how it is used. Have a political system that constrains the easy flow of information and its use,; as we see with authoritarian regimes, and you find less information and very different economic and social practices. European and East Asian political leaders recognize this reality.
ernment that makes it possible to be info-junkies. Put another way, governments can restrict and influence the flow of infor mation, and, consequently, how it is used. Have a political system that constrains the easy flow of information and its use,; as we see with authoritarian regimes, and you find less information and very different economic and social practices. European and East Asian political leaders recognize this reality.
Thus, today they are wrestling with such issues as how to deal i with the Internet and with what information to allow to flow through paper and other electronic media. Their initiatives are undertaken in an attempt to make their economics competitive on a global basis while satisfying the demands of a growing middle class that is literate, educated, and sufficiently; affluent to do many of the things described in the earlier chapters in this book.
We should care because the fundamental political premises of a society, as reflected in its national myths, constitutions,and laws, affect the activities of government. Federal and state regulators, for example, derive their authority and marching orders directly from laws passed by legislatures and approved by presidents and governors. Over the course of the past two hundred years, government officials have normally proven very reluctant to establish public policy without some basis in law. Even the court systems, which have a history of creating new law through their interpretation of existing laws, also root their decisions and opinions in the ideology and legal expressions of the past. That is why, for example, the U.S. Constitution is so terribly relevant to almost any discussion about American society, culture, economy, and politics. It is why my discussion about the role of information in American society has repeatedly included comments about the Constitution.
The relevance of the topic at hand became profoundly intense and current when, in the days following the national election in the
U.S. in November 2000, it was unclear who won the vote for the presidency in the state of . However, whoever won in that state would, because of the closeness of the national election, garner enough electoral votes to be declared the national winner. What complicated the problem of accurate counting of votes was the fact that the punched card systems used in Florida did not always record clearly the intentions of the voter, leaving open the possibility of inaccurate interpretation of results. The consequence was evident to the entire world, which followed the story over the next two months. We do not need to go over what has now become very familiar ground to all Americans and to hundreds of millions of people around the world. What is relevant here, however, are the issues on which corrections to the mistakes and problems faced in Florida and in other parts of the nation are made because they demonstrate how Americans respond to the use of technology. Florida
Essentially, there were three issues. First,
and many other states allow local election officials to interpret the results of voting, using local criteria rather than some set of state or national standards. Americans in general found that practice problematic and potentially susceptible to corrupt practices, as some civil rights groups charged after this election. Second, Americans wanted to know the results of the election quickly—that is to say, on the evening of the elections or soon after, Counting paper ballots by liand for days proved unaeeeptable to the Ameriean public and became a source ot national embarrassment as stories of more efficient counting practices in other countries (such as Brazil) were publicized. Third, the thought of using such old technology as punched cards seemed so backward to a nation that in its business operations and government agencies had discarded such data input methods decades earlier. Florida
1'ublic officials all over the
reacted in two ways. First, they defended the use of older technologies because of the high cost of using newer approaches such as online voting using screens or even the Internet. Second, dozens of governors immediately launched commissions to establish statewide standards for counting votes. A great deal of the debate outside of government eorridors, however, centered on why Florida or any other state would still use such an ancient technology, given the fact that other states used optical scanning methods (such as children use in taking standardized tests) and touch-screen technologies (as some communities in (California were beginning to use and some other countries were already using). While the history of this election will be the subject of books for decades to come, what the historians will not be able to avoid is the extent of the discussion about using information technology to provide a quick fix to the problem of slow and inaccurate vote counting. Almost every recommendation made after the election on how to reform included the use of IT. In the months following the election, hundreds of bills were submitted to the Congress and state legislatures calling for reforms that included the use of more modern technologies. By early March, 2001, some 40'' proposals had been submitted. Hundreds of counties hac' contacted IT companies and vendors of voting software to request information or proposals. This response is such a typical American story. United States
We need to understand exactly the extent of use of technology for voting prior to the election fiasco because the nature of its use and the extent of its deployment says a great deal about how public officials use information technology. The current added attention to the topic of electronic voting caused bv the events of the national
the broader patterns of adoption driven by considerations of function, ease of use, cost, and reliability—the same kinds of issues that go into decisions on how to use information technology in such other areas of life as work, leisure, and religious practices.
Approximately 32 percent of all polling places across the nation still used punch-card ballots. Another 27 percent used optical scanners, while 18 percent relied on lever machines. Only *) percent had already deployed electronic touch screens. Other methods (for example, paper ballots) accounted for the remaining percentages while use of the Internet was the subject of discussion but not yet of implementation. So we can conclude from this evidence that local communities still maintained authority over the decisions of what methods to use, and that there was a broad array of approaches, even within states. The problem for many communities, since along with authority comes the burden of funding elections, was cost. To modernize all the polls across the nation, at a cost of about £3000 per workstation, posed a potential expense of somewhere between S3.5 and S9 billion.1 In addition, only 22 states have any guidelines dealing with the use of electronics in voting practices. So, in addition to technical and cost issues, there arc policy considerations, which is why the topics discussed in this chapter so suddenly took on a greater urgency.
Americans do not routinely get up in the morning and begin thinking about their constitution or the special role played by their local, state, or national governments in the use of information by citizens. There are, however, moments when the nation's attention is brought to bear on the topic of democracy. Typically, it is at election time, when political campaigns draw the interest of Americans to issues of national concern, by way of media coverage of these issues, and finally through voting, the ultimate act of citizenship in a democracy. On occasion, the fundamental role of democracy intrudes into the lives of Americans in other ways, for example, when arguing with officials about some business or tax ruling, or when attempting to resolve a community zoning issue. Political scientists and economists, along with many other information workers, of course, deal continuously with the role of govern nient as part of their work and often comment about democracy in print or over the airwaves.
In short, the nature of government affects iiow a nation responds to information. This chapter is, therefore, devoted to the subject of democracy and the implications of information technology. For two centuries, paper-based information sources worked their influences on government, and many of these I discussed in earlier chapters. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing to the present, electronic forms of information handling began to change the role and influence of information on political activities. We need to understand tho.se changes. The availability of the Internet itself with its huge volume of information, and the convergence of voice (e.g., the old radio) and image (e.g., the old TV) with the Internet, are the next turn of the serew. These various technologies are beginning to have substantial yet differing effects on how we practice democracy. This is a new intensification of the role of information, one that is beginning to be felt, and that will grow in importance in the years to come.
How will e-democracy evolve?
The issue boils down to two ways to exercise decision making in government: representative and direct democracy. With representative democracy voters elect representatives who make decisions on their behalf. The thinking is that such individuals would, as part of carrying out their responsibilities, become more intimately familiar with the issues surrounding a decision than the average citizen and supposedly would have more time to devote to becoming familiar with those question The argument goes, "who has time to read a proposed 1 \>()() page tax code, let alone understand its ramifications?" Certainly not the average voter. In practice, elected public officials are more familiar with the subtleties of an issue. A second advantage of representative government, often argued, is that lawmakers will not always immediately and directly be swayed by public opinion, by the "passions of the moment," but would, instead, take a calmer, more informed approach to the resolution of an issue. A third argument for such an approach is that people considered highly qualified (those knowledgeable and smart, who demonstrate good judgment and understand tlie aspirations of tlieir eonstitutneies) are normally the best to have sort through options and make decisions. This type of democracy is what the Founding leathers chose for the
. They were familiar with direct forms of government, had consciously thought about the pros and cons, and deliberately chose representative democracy. United States
The alternative approach is for some form of direct democracy, the type we seem to be slowly evolving toward today. In this scenario, key national decisions are decided directly by the voter, not by representatives, and the tool of choice is the referendum, which binds legislators and other public officials to implement wishes of the electorate. All those refercnuums that citizens in
vote on are examples of direct democracy. The advantages touted for this approach arc equally as compelling as those for representative democracy. This form of government is said to be pure democracy, in which people directly express their wishes and command the government to execute them, unpolluted by such intermediaries as an electoral college or legislators who are subject to the influences of special interest groups and personal gain. It is argued that with this approach you cut out bribes or the financial influence of lobbyists, special interest groups, or wealthy contributors to reelection funds. Another argument goes that such a form of government forces citizens to play a more active roie in the affairs of tiie nation than they might otherwise. California
In the 17th century, when the number of colonists was small and lived mostly in tiny urban centers, residents in
North America had a small taste of direct democracy, before a class of political elites and strong colonial administration emerged. All heads of households could fit into one room, such as in a meeting house, discuss an issue, and make a decision. Buy-in for results was high, and things got done. But by the mid-lSth century, it had also become obvious that one could make decisions that were, to put it bluntly, stupid. To be more formal, decisions could be made and actions taken that at some future date would be seen to have been ill advised or simply uninformed. Sound judgment, it was feared, would give way to the
passions of the moment.
Salem witeh trials, the experience of politieal and soeial upheavals in Europe, and other events in North America led those members of the political elite crafting the new American government to conclude that indirect decision making by the citizenry was a better approach.
Throughout the history of the
, however, Americans have exercised both forms of democracy. State and federal legislators, governors, and presidents were elected to represent the interests of the electorate. On the other hand, communities have often opted for use of referendums to resolve questions of local concern, ranging from bond issues to fund construction of new schools to such policy decisions as caps on taxes, the role of English in schools, green spaces around towns, annexations, and so forth. On the whole, the mixture of the two has worked well. United States
Over the past half century, another form of direct participation emerged, use of polls by politicians. As the science of taking-polls improved to the point where it was both cost-efficient and results collected scientifically believable, politicians came to rely on these to inform their opinions about what actions to take. Polls, because so many are published, make Americans aware of what others are thinking too, making it possible to hold an official accountable should that politician deviate from the 'will of the people" and conversely to affect public opinion. Polls are not officially binding on a government otticial, but we have reached the point where taking an action contrary to what polls suggest is considered politically risky. At the national level, presidents have increasingly relied on this source of input. While we could debate whether one president or another relied too much or not enough on these, what is clear is that by the end of the century, they all were profoundly influenced by polls.
The general increase in the availability of information that we have seen in such other aspects of American life as work, leisure, and religious practices, is no less true in public affairs. Beginning in the 1920s with radio, politicians could talk directly to voters, and reporters could bring the results of political actions to the public in an immediate fashion. With the arrival of television, and particularly highly centralized TV coverage through the three national networks in the 1950s and 1960s, new influences came into play. These ranged from how the news was presented to real-time coverage of political conventions, elections, and debates among candidates and other knowledgeable parties, and call-in talk shows both on radio and TV.
In addition to these electronic sources of information and influence, there were traditional paper-based ones that never went away: newspapers, pamphlets, flyers, books, articles, and posters. As new information infrastructures were implemented, interest groups could leverage them in a coordinated manner to get their points of view in front of both the electorate and public officials. Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) arc examples of tbis process at work. Both arc very effective information handlers. Both have published articles, advertisements, and books defending their interests and perspectives. Both have simultaneously leveraged radio and television with publications and local meetings during periods when the nation discussed specific issues of concern to them, as, for example, gun control at the end of the 1990s after a series of shootings in schools. They can create events thai the electronic media will cover. They can also take polls to demonstrate the public's approval of their perspectives, and they can lobby legislators and contribute vast sums of money to their reelection campaigns. Today they also have Web sites, which make it possible to deliver to the American public ever larger quantities of information quickly and cheaply.
But, the public can communicate too. E-mail to congress has sky-rocketed. In 2000, members of Congress received 880 million electronic messages. These came in waves every time a major issue was before the Congress. For example, during debates on the nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general, Congress received hundreds of thousands of e-mails. In»1998, the House of Representatives received 20 million e-mails, 48 million in 2000.
The use of electronic technology has also created new circumstances in the 20th century, most notably the decline of geography. Put in economic terms such as I might have used in discussing the changing nature of work in Chapter 5, niche information markets were created. Instead of people identity-ing primarily with a particular state or locale, as was the case in the 19th century, one could begin to align with others who thought the same across the nation. Liberals, the religious right, pro-life and pro-choice, gays, conservatives, libertarians, senior citizens, boomers, and so forth, could form national constituencies that communicated effectively and frequently, and thus could quickly come together for effective political actions. The rapid formation of an American opposition group to the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999 illustrated the power of information and the ability of the information infrastructure to bring so many people together so quickly in Seattle, Washington. They essentially broke up the meeting of the WTO, despite the wishes of the American government.
Ironically, at the same time as information increased in quantity and Americans were using ever more of it, the national government was downsizing many of its programs, shifting responsibilities for many domestic initiatives back to state governments. Beginning with the Reagan administration and continuing to the present, across both Republican and Democratic administrations, the national government has been shrinking. Why and how are issues outside the scope of this book; it is more important just to recognize the fundamental pattern. Innovations in public policies toward such issues as welfare reform, public/private education, changes in the use of taxes for economic development, and so forth, emerged increasingly out of the states and some local governments during the 1990s. These governments became more informed on issues, and reached out to their citizens through the use of a variety of information infrastructures: local TV and radio talk shows with mayors, for example, creation of Web sites, and electronic processing of tax and license fees. Ironically, this process of localization is exactly what the Founding Fathers hoped for at the same time that they were constructing a national representative democracy. The swing back to localism was profoundly aided by both the availability of information (some would argue propaganda, but with many perspectives)
and an information infrastructure to support its effective flow through society.
The internet has demonstrated in a very short period of time that the trends just discussed are intensifying. As the American public gains increasing amounts of access to the Internet and uses it more frequently to inform and conduct their civic responsibilities, the influence of information technology and its content will inevitably ri:;e. It is why we must start thinking about the role of the Internet as a new and special influence on American democracy. What we see is much that is familiar and historically consistent with the past, and yet, as with other aspects of American life, many tilings that are nesv.
the special role of the internet
The reason for going through a brief course on civics and the role of information is because the Internet could very well tip the scales in favor of more, rather than less, direct participation in government decision making. The logic runs something like this. Now that nearly 98 percent of all households are equipped with telephone lines and television sets, we can expect that the Internet will become just as prevalent in the very near future. In the first half dozen years of its wide public availability, nearly 40 percent of American homes obtained access to the Internet, and within another half do/en years, that number \vould climb to more than two-thirds. At the same time, the percentage of Americans \\ith access to the Internet at work, in public libraries, and in other government buildings essentially makes this technology as universally available as today's polling centers.2
With that high degree of access, we could then increase voter participation simply by making it easier for Americans to vote. Rather than take time off from work, or get up earlier on election day, or fill out absentee ballots and look around for a stamp in order to mail it in after, of course, either writing away for the form or stopping by an office to pick it up, well, you see what is coming. One could turn his or her chair around to a , terminal or WebTV-enabled television set, go to a voting Web site, type in a password, have one's identity verified electron!-
eally hy the browser, .md then vote by selecting options. Technology is sufficiently effective to verify if a voter is indeed who she says she is. During the summer ot 2000, President Olinton signed into law a bill conferring legal validity of electronic signatures, yet additional legal recognition that technology is available to provide the level ot security we had with Papier Age voter registration processes. Voter registration and voting could take a mere few minutes in an electronic world. As people became more comfortable with e-voting, the argument goes, Americans could vote more frequently, and all during the course of the year, on a variety of issues and elections for pub-lie office. Many commentators have argued that voters could even be asked to vote for or against legislation, directly bypassing legislatures for proposed laws on which a legislature would prefer the public to vote. James Madison would jump out of his grave in
, if that happened, but the scenario is not sci-fi, it is plausible. Orange, Virginia
Because votes are data, and exist in electronic form, results could be tabulated in real time. When e-polls close, results could be announced almost immediately. To a large extent that is done now with elections, thanks to the wide use of computerized voting tabulation systems (not the actual voting devices themselves) across the
. In fact, near-instant electronic tabulations would be so easy that one could expect two consequences. First, a higher percentage of Americans might be inclined to vote, erasing today's concern that during the last two decades of the 20th century the percent of voters declined. Second, because of the case of use of this technology, politicians could put the monkey on the backs of voters to make an increasing number of decisions, particularly highly controversial ones, through e-referendunis. The argument goes that such an approach would take a great deal of political risk out of the lives of policymakers. So far, elected and appointed officials have been reluctant to pay the price that such direct citizen involvement calls for, relinquishing personal authority and influence. Infrastructure options exist from Netscape-like providers all the way to an e-post office, which is rapidly embracing Internet technology as a continuation of its historic mission of being in the information infrastructure business. United States
The implications are enormous. Those who clo not favor direct voter involvement can point to the success of the American political system over the past two centuries, a very strong argument in favor of indirect decision making. They can also cite decisions made by Americans that turned out to he of questionable wisdom, such as California's Proposition 13 which, while it reduced taxes, nearly crippled what had been one of the nation's best public education systems. Experienced state government officials objected to it at the time of its passage. Even public opinion has been suspect as, for example, in the case of the Spanish-American War during which President William McKinley and Congress were led to believe, against the better judgment of many experienced officials, that the nation wanted to go to war with Spain.1
The Internet can also affect the pool of voters and their degree of representation in Congress and state legislatures. The national census could eventually be done electronically, using, for example, the USPS or commercial Internet service providers to count every nose as Congress wants. That approach would eliminate the need for alternative strategies, such as the statistical sampling approach proposed by the
administration for the 2000 census, which legislators and jurists soundly rejected for both constitutional and political reasons. Voter registration could become a simple matter of matching names to zip codes to create voter lists, which in turn could be used to verify the legitimacy of a vote. Will that happen? The technology to do the job is already here today and we are very close to having access to the Internet for every American adult. The decision to use this technology is ours to make. If historical experience is any indicator of things to come, Americans will vote electronically. It may not happen on a massive scale in the immediate future because political leaders have to sort out the implications of such an approach to their careers and prospects for their parties, not to mention legal issues and affovdability. But it will happen; it is so easy that it must. Yet, it will probably also happen slowly because such a transformation poses a risk to existing political factions. Clinton
The risk to existing political parties is that their natural constituencies could change. For example, financially well off senior citizens comprise a group with one of the highest voting rates in the nation. They are the natural constituency of the Republican party. They are conservative and well organized and, so far, are only just beginning to use the Internet. The least likely to vote today are young adults, but they are the ones most comfortable with the Internet. If e-voting becomes the norm, will they become the largest voter segment? If so, does that mean national priorities and policies will move away from the more traditional and toward the new voting groups? What does that do for the major political parties? Some politicians would go out of business; others would enhance their careers and power. If we moved to more frequent balloting (because of the convenience of the Internet) will policies and practices shift quickly and frequently as the winds of opinion blow back and forth? We know that with polling people do not hesitate to express opinions regardless of whether or not they have any factual basis for their positions. Would that also become the case in an e-democracy?"1
Regardless of what decision is made about voting, watch groups are already on the Net, getting people involved in writing to their legislators, and in quickly distributing information on controversial issues. All politicians have their Web sites and are linking them to others sites so that an increasing number of Americans are being exposed to various political perspectives.
Critics of direct democracy range from one of
's greatest journalists, Walter Lippmann, to the founding fathers of the Republic. Decades ago, Lippmann stated his position in blunt language: "A mass cannot govern."-"1 The political leaders who created the U.S. Constitution, and later its first set of amendments, opted for a balance between direct involvement and representation on behalf of the public. They created a structure in which political leaders and government authorities had to maintain a balance between what the public wanted and what their own judgment suggested was the right course. Over time, individual decisions by public officials swayed back and forth on various issues influenced more or less by public opin- America
ion than by private judgment. Vet, at other times, the reverse occurred. MeKinley bowed to publie opinion while
de-tended the rights of gay citizens to serve in the armed services. Clinton 1). Franklin Roosevelt got ready to participate in what clearly would !>e a second world war while the nation overwhelmingly objected to involvement in any international crisis. Governors in turned over to the voters almost every major policy decision in the 1980s and 1990s. California
Ciiven the penchant of Americans to exploit technology, and what we have already seen in the political arena using the Internet, one can safely conclude that at the moment the advocates of direct democracy are in ascendancy.'" In fact, as constituents increased their use of e-mail to Congress, voters were, in effect influencing voting decisions by their Congressmen. How the issue will be resolved is still an open one, and it is quite possible that it will never be definitively closed because American voters have always been very reluctant to tinker with the basic building blocks of their democracy. There is a profound, almost universal reverence and awe for what the Founding Fathers accomplished when they created the government. That awe has existed pretty much intact over the past two centuries, and was reinforced in November-December 2000, as the national election problems were resoh'ed as stipulated by our 18th century constitution. Minor changes here and there have taken place as a consequence of circumstances or prior experiences. Memories of failed changes were influential—for example, the 19th Amendment (1919). This amendment outlawed alcoholic beverages, but turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Positive experiences were effective influences too, such as the 25th Amendment (1967) which modified the chain of succession in the event a president vacates his or her office for whatever reason. By and large, however, all experiences have made this nation's voters and public officials wary of changing the constitution and its fundamental political underpinnings.
Political scientists and historians who have looked at the process by which governments transform understand that change occurs only if a nation's leaders want it. They are the individuals in a society with the most power to launch a trans-
formation. The masses do not; however, people must be ready tor proposed changes.'
Widely shared handed-down values profoundly affect decisions made by politicians in a democracy and the levels of preparation for change that voters receive. American handed-down values involve a combination of thoughts and beliefs that influence their thinking. These include preservation of individual rights, access to information, reluctance to alter the fundamentals of the political system, yet a penchant to want a greater voice in deciding the course of the nation. Americans simultaneously prefer smaller government (read this to mean less governmental interference in their lives), and also one that handles many of the details of administering the nation, from road building and public education, to fighting the "war" on crime and drugs, to handling foreign policy, defense matters, welfare, administration of parks, and cleaning up the environment."
Throughout this book I have generalized about American attitudes toward information, and the role of information technology. It is my contention that how they apply the Internet to their political behavior will be profoundly influenced by collective handed-down values. American scholars have been reluctant to speak about national characteristics as a result of the world':; experience with Adolph Hitler and Nazi policies, which were based on many assumptions about national characteristics. However, evidence is mounting that one can look to handed-down values for insight on what a nation might be expected to do. A distinguished political scientist, Alex Inke-les, posed the issue as a question:
Are the societies which have a long history of democracy peopled by a majority of individuals who possess a personality conducive to democracy? Alternatively, are societies which have experienced recurrent or prolonged authoritarian, dictatorial, or totalitarian government inhabited by a proportionately large number of individuals with the personality traits we have seen to be associated with extremism? In other words, can we move from the individual and group level, to generalize about the relations of personality and political system at the societal level?9
He answered his o\vn question: "Almost all the modern students of national character are convinced that the answer to this question is in the affirmative.1'10 Others have reached similar conclusions." The continued relevance of some of cle Tocqueville's comments from the 1830s about Americans is evidence that these can be made, and that they do influence the policies and practices of citizens and their officials, it will be to those traditions that Americans will consciously or subconsciously turn when defining the role of the digital in their democracy.
What is most remarkable about governmental policies is the relative consistency of values demonstrated by public officials over the past two centuries. To be sure, how they reflected these values varied over time in degree, implementation, and effectiveness. But on the whole, from one generation to the next, policymakers focused on building infrastructures that made possible the flow of information, free expression, and access for the greatest number of residents. Rooted in the values and protections spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, policymakers enjoyed the benefit of having a set of legally mandated expectations that could guide them over time. While there were tensions over such issues as privacy, access to information relevant to national security, and to material considered offensive or indecent, on the whole federal and state agencies proved reluctant to constrain their free flow. Can we fill a book with exceptions to this statement? Absolutely; we have only to icmember our postmaster in
in the 1830s. Charleston
A second feature of policy-making is how technology influenced the specific regulations and actions taken by officials. While they generally took a hands-off approach to paper-based expressions, they could not do so with electronically-based information technologies because these did not have unlimited capacity. So the question was always How can we best parcel out the capacity so that the maximum number of people could share these and the greatest variety of opinions and information? The answers varied by technology. In the case of the telegraph, the issue was laying lines between communities and facilitating affordability through economic incentives. In the cases of radio, television, and satellites, policies emerged in response to the realities of limited handwidths and the compelling need for standards so that one device conk! communicate with another. Physics and technology dictated that polieymakers would have to play a far more proactive role in the Digital Age than they had in the Paper Age. The nature of technology continued to influence polieymakers with regard to the Internet as well.
A third feature of policymaking, and one that proved extraordinarily effective, particularly in the 20th century, has been the commitment of government officials to the development of information infrastructures. From roads, canals, and the postal systems of the l°th century to the massive investments in the creation of computers, microelectronics, satellites, and the Internet, we have generations of polieymakers willing to formulate policies that led to the creation of information highways and byways. The nation was blessed by a relatively healthy, usually vibrant economy that generated the demand for information, its prerequisite information highways, and the taxes needed to fund critical research and development initiatives, most specifically after the 1930s.
Looking at the breadth of the role of federal, state, and local governments in the creation and distribution of information and infrastructures, one has to conclude that I have only just touched the surface in this chapter. What about military uses, the role of information in the work of government, in education at all levels, and in science? Government polieymakers are active in each of these areas. The current generation of government leaders grew up in a world filled with computers, telephones, TVs, and so forth, making them the best prepared of any to deal with the policy issues they face. I intended this to be a very positive statement. If a policymakcr today constrains the flow of information, he or she does it knowing perfectly well how to do it, but knows also it flies in the face of what the public would normally tolerate. On the other hand, if polieymakers work to expand usage of information and its technological infrastructure, they also know more than earlier generations what is called for, and how the public will generally react to such initiatives. The
administration received few complaints about its desire to make the Internet available to larger percentages of the American public. Critics Clinton
were focused less on the intent than on thv effectiveness of the steps taken to get the job clone.
Since we are being told by scientists and engineers that over the course of the next ten years we will see as many innovations in the variety and capacity of information handling technologies as emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, the level of work of polieymakers will remain high. They will be sorting through what regulations and incentives they will want to implement or modify in response to new circumstances. This process is a continuation of what occurred in the last four decades of the 20th century. New technologies, and the convergence of those with existing ones, complicate the situation. But if we are to believe the lessons of history, the motives will be all too familiar. Access, availability of cheap information, and existence of multiple types of information highways should remain pillars of American policies and programs. With no sign of the departure of the U.S. Constitution, we can also expect that policies will continue to reflect the legal heritage of the nation, along with its handed-down values concerning the importance of information to the national well-being.
Traditional methods of delivering information to the public wiM also continue to be used. The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) is still the world's largest publisher of printed material. Even politicians are increasing their use of older information technologies. For example, politicians who aspired to election as president of the United States in 2000 kept ghostwriters busy writing books under their names explaining their proposed programs.12 They did this even though they all also had Web sites, some of which were significant in their ability to raise campaign funds (e.g., for John McCain).
So what are we to Do?
Given all those realities, are Americans immune from any innovations in national information policies? Will the relentless march of technological innovations simply go on without being influenced, or disturbed, by polieymakers or the will of the elcctonitcV In other words, do we have choices? Are there issues to he resolved that would make it possible for Americans to leverage information technology even more than they do today or. at ,i minimum, more effectively? The answer to these questions is generally yes, there is more to do and we do have choices. There arc significant issues of national importance to resolve, and they go tar beyond merely responding to the appearance of the Internet. Since I have argued that the basic building rock, the facilitator of
's use of information, has been the combination of its national political beliefs and the form of government that exists to implement these, from a practical perspective we must turn to those political instruments of society needed to implement changes to address many fundamental issues related to information. America
Experts in the supply and use of information have been thinking about this issue for some time, commenting both on patterns of use and what should be done next. Lawrence K. Grossman, for example, wrote a whole book on the subject, Tlw Electronic Rejniblic. lie too recognizes that citizens will play a greater, more direct, role in the activities of the American democracy than in the past, caused by two long-term trends. The inclusion of more people eligible to vote (e.g., women and African Americans in the 2()th century) and, of course, the emergence of information technologies that have informed and involved people represent the pervasive influences at work. He sees many recent trends that are byproducts of these developments: the extension of ballot initiatives, opening of the courts, rise of public discontent, expanding force of public opinion, and the extended influence of the media with all its biases and mixed, often contradictory messages. People become more involved, television gives many political activities an entertaining quality, and traditional parties give way to single issue alliances formed across the nation rather than representing some geographic space.
Grossman worries about several developments. First, the concentration of the media in the hands of a few large corporations makes him uncomfortable because of the potential for bias in presentation of information. He is also nervous about the protessionalization of politicians, which may make them
less responsive to the public will, ile is concerned with the "dumbing down" of the quality of information made available to the American public, because there are certain levels of quality that must be maintained if a citizen is to be sufficiently informed before making a political decision. 1'ublie polls show Americans find television, in particular, guilty of sensationalizing crime, for instanee, or of turning a dangerous crisis, such as the Gulf War, into entertainment." His solution is the same proposed by Thomas Jefferson, "that urgent steps be taken to improve the quality of citizen deliberation in the public sphere."14
Grossman calls on Americans to safeguard free speech by applying the First Amendment to all media equally, and to put no constraint on any of it no matter what, or on who can publish. The government should continue to encourage the greatest diversity of media ownership and control possible. He subscribes to the notion that there ought to be universal access to.all electronic forms of information, even arguing that it should be free if necessary.1? To ensure accurate reporting, he recommends that libel laws be reformed to permit public officials to sue the media for inaccurate coverage. Reduce the diet of sound bites and increase the volume of substantive reporting to improve the quality of information presented to Americans, such as is done by CNN and G-SPAN. Have more presidential debates, discourage negative advertising, and restore civics education to all grades in school. Grossman accepts as almost inevitable that voters will have more opportunities in the future to vote on referendums. They like the idea, and politicians have increasingly accepted the inevitable. However, he urges that ground rules and practices be developed to improve the quality of' u°h voting.
A team of professors of communications has also advocated reforms of the political system and how information about national matters flows through society. \V. Russell Neuman, Lee McKnight, and Richard Jay Solomon echo many of the same concerns expressed by Grossman. However, they see the creation and use of a national network available to all as the central issue. "We recommend a proactive national policy to make the provision of communications and information vices competitive," which they believe then means that "content and ownership regulations in broadcasting and common-carriage rate regulations in telecommunications will no longer be necessary."16 They call for a technical open architecture, which means anybody's form of technology can plug into a network, open, universal, and with flexible access for all. In short, they advocate that government officials play their historic role of fosteiing creation of information infrastructures that all Americans can tan into. "Our belief is that public policy will play a role in the evolution of the social and economic electronic infrastructure for the next century."1' So go beyond the roles defined for the FCC in 1934, and as redefined in the 1W6 Communications Act.
This suggestion of having an open architecture, while it is consistent with national values and practice, and does address the problem of federal regulators regulating each type of telecommunications technology almost independently of each other at a time when digital technological developments are causing all forms of communications to converge, makes sense, but is too narrow. Grossman's ideas address a much larger set of issues, those related to the overall role of all media and politicians in society. But his approach pays perhaps too little attention to the plumbing of the information infrastructure. Both sets of suggestions, however, begin to lead us to a set of goals and actions that can be taken to solve what 1 see as the central issue of today's public policy toward information: the effective integration of digital technologies into the fabric of
's political life in ways that are consistent with the desires of the nation. The nation's history and political beliefs suggest open architectures, universal access, an aspiration for detailed and accurate information when they \v..,it it, but also "lite" versions of the same data (e.g., as provided by sound bites and headlines). America
Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian, two highly influential economists who are experts on the Internet, have quietly made a number of recommendations to federal policymakers about how to respond to the larger issue of
government information policy. They recognize that the American government has always had information policies. We saw that reality demonstrated with the creation of the constitution, postal system, the way the government regulated the telephone, later radio and TV, and how it faces the Internet and its various converging technologies, from telephone to wireless, from TV to voice. Shapiro and Varian have argued that there are three basic roles government has and should play: as creators and disseminators of information, as regulators and users of information, and as creators and implcmentors of institutional and legal infrastructures (e.g., creating privacy rules and enforcing antitrust policies). Relying on economic analysis, they have demonstrated that government creation of knowledge is best when it funds basic research, as it did with the creation of the computer and later the Internet. So they want more of that. They think it is just fine for government to recover costs for information it creates through user fees, but also only "provide information for which it is the most cost-effective producer." Regarding universal access they argue the case for matching grants to various institutions in society to develop information infrastructures, so that the private sector has "skin in the game" and values what is being built and used. They cite the view of Andrew Carnegie, who funded the construction of many public libraries in the U.S. in the late 19th century. lie funded construction, not operation, of libraries, arguing that if users did not value the services provided by a library they did not deserve them. In short, resist temptations to fund universal sen-ices United States
Shapiro and Varian do sec a major role for government in protecting copyrights, patents, and trademarks, although they arc not always happy with the quality of work performed by public authorities in these areas. Maintaining flexible property rights for intellectual property and privacy is an economically worthwhile role for the L-e! -nil government to play.
In the area of competition, they strongly endorse federal initiatives to foster competition because that forces the private sector to deliver new, more effective, and cost-efficient goods and services. This means they arc nervous about the government's ability to regulate information industries. They see the problems that have affected the FCC, for example, in the areas of telephone and cable regulation. They propose that "government regulation should focus on
controlling genuine monopoly power where it exists."ls ( >p another economic matter, the question or'promoting trade, they recommend that the government promote international trade in information technologies, especially since the
has so many to sell. Here again, however, they focus on the issue of competitiveness. Just as they get nervous about the concentration of market power, which is why they recommend continuance of antitrust policies, they also want an open international market where the United States can compete with its information products and services. United States
I have gone through the thoughts of six experts on the role of the Internet and government policy to suggest where some of the thinking is today. \Vhat they all have in common is a concern about the role of national government in promoting the flow of information through the nation. This is a common theme echoed throughout the history of the
. It is also an issue that has had many detractors arguing for constraints and controls, as we are seeing today over the issue of access to pornography over the Internet. But all these experts have come down on the side of historical practice, access in one form or another. When combined, these reasons suggest that no one perspective dominates, but rather two: political beliefs about the nature of democracy and concern for economic success, which we can translate into the effective functioning of capitalism. United States
With respect to the Internet, the convergence of technologies docs pose some immediate problems from the point of view of national politics and policies. The reality is that digital technology is making it possible to converge various forms of digitally-based information platforms that cannot be stopped by any one government because tlrs turn! is occurring around the world. Unlike in earlier decades, where the majority of innovation may have occurred in one country, today technological developments are coming from various countries, for example, Europe with wireless or information appliances from
East Asia. Yet politicians and regulators essentially still work with technologies in slices—telephone, cable television, Internet, satellites, and so forth—at a time when they must move rapidly to a more comprehensive view of these technologies, treating them as variations of one major set of innovations: digital eomnumications. This is really the point made by Neuman, McKnight, and Solomon. A careful reading of the Communications Act of 1996 reveals that, while it did much good, it also has the look and feel of a stcwpot of regulations. Certainly a visit to the FCC Web site will make that patently clear, since its content is cataloged into chunks by type of technology, (let the policy right and access increases where it makes sense. Technological innovations continue in ways that make American companies selling such technologies competitive in the world. Invest public funds on those things that are essential to the economic and military welfare of the nation. Investing in as yet unknown or economically risky technologies is good for the nation's future, as we saw with the early funding of the computer and related applications.
Underlying the use of information in any era has been etlu cation and literacy, particularly the latter. Literacy makes it possible to read, and although we have much data in the
that is in the form of sound and images, most of what we use in informing our work, play, and religion is textual. While new technologies are coming online that allow one, for example, to dictate text to a PC, you still have to read the text, even though someday soon the I'd may talk back. Therefore, American government at all levels will have to continue to focus on maintaining very high levels of literacy. Closely linked to literacy and the role of information is education. Many people have commented on the value and need for edueation, and clearly this is a nation that has made profound investments in schools, colleges, and universities and shows little signs of deviating from this pattern. Students, professors, and educated Americans a-'c \ast consumers of information, so we can expect that their reliance on information and their supporting information technologies will remain at a very high level for the foreseeable future. Understanding how to apply information technologies, such as the Internet, will continue as a tactical, immediate requirement facing most Americans. Making the connection between an information technology, such as the Internet, and practical uses has never been a major problem; in fact, Americans have a history of normally figuring that out more quickly than people in many other countries. United States
Hut as the literacy rate of the world rises, and the dissemination of information and information technologies does too, any competitive advantage Americans might have had through the use of information gets compromised. Innovative information appliances, such as a variety of hand-held devices, are coming out of
East Asia, while the West Europeans now lead the world in the development and use of wireless communications. In short, without a relentless push forward in the development and use of innovative information technologies, the patterns of use of information that have been distinctive in the United States will he no different than what will exist around the world in one fashion or another. As evidence of the use of the Internet is beginning to call out, access and availability of information is becoming so ubiquitous that very shortly we will not be able to make as many national distinctions about use as we do today. The implications for public policy and politics in the are enormous. United States
Questions public officials are beginning to face arc broad and detailed: What should be the
U.S. policy toward , which occasionally allowed its music and film industry to reproduce and sell U.S.-copyrighted material without permission of the author?1'' China
• Is it worth a trade war? What about a military war?
• In which technologies should the
government invest R&D funds? U.S.
• Does President George W. Hush's renewal of interest in the Star Wars missile defense system spin off enough new technologies of use in the civilian sector that the initiative should be invested in further, beyond military reasons?
• As the American government continues its historic mission of promoting adoption of democratic forms of government around the world, does it promote representative or direct democracies?
• At a time when
democratic practices are slowly becoming a blending of both, does that emerging experience influence the specific foreign policy initiatives of the nation? What effect would one form of democracy have over the other in one nation versus another? U.S.
• If nations are increasingly aligning by culture and religion in the post dole! War era, what effect docs information technology have on both trade relations with the
and on their foreign policies? U.S.
Public officials are already facing these questions; none of these issues will be ignored during the first two decades of the 21st century.
If we go beyond the obvious issue of national self-interests in such areas as physical security and world trade, I believe we come back to the values that made Info-America what it became. The
can draw on its fundamental values of freedom of expression, relative freedom to exploit information for economic value, a faeilitative role for government in encouraging and promoting the creation of information infrastructure, not its content, and rely on our faith in the value of education. Skeptics aside, Americans have always had a fundamental faith in the value of technology. Despite the many cases where technology has created problems, such as pollution or attacks on privacy, the reality is, Americans remain unshaken in their faith in technology. They will reach out to it in all its forms, including informational, to enhance all aspects of their lives. The benefits have outweighed the limitations of their predilection to use technology. For that reason, we can expect that there will be new innovations in both information technology and how it is used in the years to come. Technology remains a central feature of United States , affecting private and public life. It is more than homes and offices cluttered with information tools; it is a state of mind, an attitude in favor of information. America
Because of the central feature of technology's role in .^merican society, any appreciation of how Americans might use it in the future is conditioned by what is happening with information tools. Technological evolution is happening today even more rapidly than in many other periods in American history. The history of information technology is full of examples of rapid surges forward in a nation's adoption of a technology, and we are going through such a phase right now. Many of the basics of the science undergirding information technologies are new, so we are living in a period where this knowledge is being applied—exploited if you will. By looking at some basic trends in the evolution of information technology underway at the moment, and placing them into the broader context of the nation's activities, ir becomes easier to anticipate and understand how this nation will continue to function. For that reason, I discuss trends in the evolution of sonic of today's most important information technologies in the next chapter before concluding with a chaptei on the role of individual Americans.
1. Most of the data in this paragraph is drawn from Lara Jakes, "No More Dimpled Chads, Bipartisan Lawmakers Propose," Ilearst Newspapers, January 31, 2001, published in \Vi:;consin State Journal, January 31, 2001, p. A3.
2. Alfred I).
Chandler, Jr. and James \V. Cortada (eds.), A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shafted the L'nited States from (Colonial Times to the Present ( : Oxford University Press, 2000): 257-280. New York
3. Not having the facts is a problem. One of the flashpoints that finally tipped the nation into war with
Spain was the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in harbor. The widely held belief, not verified by a calm investigation of the facts, was that the Spanish blew up the ship. A naval investigation some three-quarters of a century later demonstrated clearly that Spaniards had not blown up the ship, eoal dust had ignited. For the report of this stuc'y, see Admiral H.G. Riekover. How the Battleship Havana Was Destroyed (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976). Maine
4. For backgro aid and implications, see Lawrence K. Gross-man, The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information Age (New York: Penguin, 1995): 9-142.
5. Walter Lippmann, The Public Philosophy (New York: New American Library, 1955): 19.
6. Andrew L. Shapiro, The Control Revolution: Ihnc the Internet Is Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing tlie World We Know (New York: Public Affairs Press, 1999): 150-157.
7. The major study by Juan Linz on the subject is Democratic Transition and (Consolidation (
Baltimore: Press, 1996). Johns llopkins University
8. The literature on this point is massive. However, for an initial, yet detailed, discussion, see Giovanni Sartori, The Tiieoiy of Democracy Revisited (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1987).
9. Alex Inkeles, "National Character and Modern Political Systems," in Francis L.K. Hsu, Psychological Anthropology: Approaches to (hdture and Personality (Homewood, 111: Dorsey. 1961): 172; but see also 172-207.
10. Ibid., 173.
11. The role of banded-down values was the central issue I studied for an earlier book, which contains summaries of the relevant students on the topic. James N. Cortada and James W. Cortada, Can Democracy Survive in
Western Europe? (West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996): 1-22, 157-166.
12. For example, George W. Bush, A (Charge to Keep (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1999); John MeCain, Faith of My Fathers (New York: Random House, 1999); Steve Forbes, A New iJi'rth of Freedom (New York: Hegnery, 1999); Bill Bradley, Values of the Game (New York: Bantam Doublcday, 1998, 2000); Al Gore, Earth in the Balance (Boston: Iloughton Mifflin, 2000 edition).
13. Grossman, The Electronic Republic, 188-189.
14. Ibid., 189.
15. Ibid.. 190-217.
16. W. Russell Neuman, Lee Me Knight, and Richard Jay Solomon, Political Gridlock on the
Information Highway (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997): 251.
18. Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, "U.S. Government Information Policy," paper presented at Highlands Forum, Department of Defense, June 8, 1997, draft cited is dated July 30, 1997. The copy I used came from Varian's Web site, http://www.haas. berkeley.edu/-shapiro. Quote is from p. ^6.
19. In 1999 and 2000, Chinese officials appeared to have reversed prior policy and began to adhere to international copyright and patent treaties.