If there's one interweb thing that really grinds my gears it's idiots with too much time on their hands. I say this because I just had my first day attending a course on e-Government. It's pretty interesting overall, and has already dramatically expanded my understanding of how, why and when 'the gubbermint' has been working in the e-space to improve both its own services and the use of the information superhighway nationally.
I think if you're interested in how this stuff is developing you'll want to click on over to the two main places for checking things out, The Digital Strategy, and e-Government. There's a wealth of information and knowledge in there that will doubtless take up loads of your time.
But beware, if you're outside of government this is something for people with too much time on their hands (or a direct interest in the interweb). The course itself hasn't actually talked yet about what I'm about to go into, but I thought I'd vent it a little before I end up berating a bunch of perfectly nice people because I haven't talked the issues through in my head...
I find the issue of e-governance interesting because it seems to be a common misunderstanding that the interweb will somehow bring governance closer to 'the people'. It bugs me because there's this myth that just because 'the people' decide something that it must necessarily be 'good'. But this is simply not the case.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of democracy. Yay democracy! What I struggle with though is the limitations on democracy too much participation can give. And the interweb is one of those places where too much participation is easily evident.
I know you've all heard this one before. The great, and awful, thing about the interweb is that it allows access to information on a scale unparalleled in human history. You can find out all kinds of crap about all kinds of things at the simple click of a button. Never before has so much stuff been floating around free to everyone. And because of that the old doyens of knowledge, they old guardians of 'the truth' have become redundant in many instances. Simple example, wikipedia versus encyclopaedia. No competition.
But, some information on wikipedia is simply rubbish. And who vets that information? Who controls what becomes 'the truth'? Obviously, we do. But the recent kerfuffle around Helen Clark's wiki shows that sometimes this open system can let us all down. And why? Because people naturally disagree when you introduce politics.
If there had been a gatekeeper of some sort, a gatekeeper that kept away hearsay and/or opinion, then the Clark wiki would have simply represented current facts. But then that runs counter to the spirit of wikipedia. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this particular Catch-22.
So how does all this tie to the issue of governance? Not everyone has the time or inclination to fully participate in government. You can open government up and welcome contributions from all and sundry, but someone still has to sift all those opinions into coherent order and make decisions about how and when things happen. If you didn't you would end up with anarchy. And sure, anarchy is preferable for some people. But... sometimes order is a good thing.
In a way, experts and gatekeepers play a really important role in democracy. They prevent competing issues from becoming too unwieldy, and give shape and purpose to governance. Without them you run the risk of government losing focus.
What I think I'm trying to say is that hive minds like the interweb are all good and well, but there has to be at least a little control over the information and opinion that hive mind produces. Not total control, and not restrictive control, but 'centres' for the information to form around. Without that, you end up with information for information's sake.
Another issue is the sheer quantity of the information available. Who has time to voluntarily sit around and sift through the mountains of crap we can access these days? More often than not I find myself turning to a few trusted sources of information. Ones that can take all that 'stuff' out there and represent it in a useful form. In other words, gatekeepers.
And why I rely on trusted sources? Because as the comment functions on blogs both left and right show, there are a whole lot of unreasonable nutters out there willing to go ballistic on every subject under the sun. Sure, I would welcome their contributions to governance, but the very, very last thing I want to do is give these people any kind of power over decisions that effect me. Thing is, it's these people who would have the time on their hands to get involved in some fictional e-participatory democracy, while the rest of us just get on with the job of making money to pay the bills (and watching total shit like NZ Idol. Guys, give it up. Bad performances, lame stars. And then there's the singers...)
Ahhhh.... I feel better. Always glad to get these things off one's chest.