Guest Commentary

Don Tapscott

“You Vote, I Rule”

(Editor’s note: In 1996 futurist Don Tapscott published The Digital Economy: Promise And Peril In The Age Of Networked Intelligence. Computers “will fundamentally change our lives,” he wrote. “The crowning achievement of networking human intelligence could be the creation of a true democracy.” Tapscott called it “the reinvention of government” that “tears down the walls between government employees and leaders and the rest of us.” In a May 11, 2011 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, Tapscott reflected on his earlier forecast. Following is a transcription of his remarks)

In the early 1990s most government leaders, like business leaders, thought the purpose of computers was to automate existing business processes. They didn’t understand that computers would become a communications tool that would be used by everyone.

Governments didn’t have a clue. They didn’t get it.  Many of them still don’t get it today, honestly.

The only experience government leaders had was with broadcasting. They attempted to apply the old thinking about rules in broadcasting to a new medium that in many ways is the antithesis of broadcasting.

We have a broadcast model of democracy. I’m a politician, listen to this 30-second negative clip where I attack my opponent on an issue that as a young person you could care less about, and then you go vote for me and then I’m going to broadcast to you for four years or less. Then we get to do it all over again.  You vote, I rule.

When people started talking about computers being used by everyone, it was a personal threat to many government leaders. It was out of their control and the old paradigm was, “We need to control things.”

Changes have been much slower than I hoped. Governments today are taking baby steps towards a new collaborative model of democracy where people are engaged and get to participate. The technology genie is out of the bottle, but this time it’s very different.

This is not an information age. It’s an age of networked intelligence and it’s a time still of vast danger and peril. But ultimately it’s a time of unbelievable opportunity and promise.

One of the biggest opportunities for government is to release data, raw data. Just let society take that data and do good things with it, as they will.

This was the first generation to come of age in the digital age. Those kids were going to be different. I remember thinking, these computers? They’re going to change the world.

But not a lot has changed.  It has been very, very slow. Most governments today still use the internet in very traditional ways, “putting government online,” taking existing models of government and putting them on the internet.

The idea of creating a platform, releasing data, enabling society to self-organize to create public value, that’s a very, very radical change. We’re talking here about unbundling and reconstituting our public institutions.

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