18 Chp18_fixed_reformat

Abstract

Never in history has democracy been more pervasive throughout the world. Yet, available evidence points to a growing, widespread crisis of legitimacy of governments, parliaments, political parties, and politicians in most countries, including the United States and Western Europe. 1 Because the Internet is seen as the ultimate technology of freedom, its diffusion among citizens has been hailed as a potential savior for the political ills of representation and participation. At the same time, critics have sounded an alert on the dangers of electronic democracy, not the least being the potential fragmentation of citizenship and the capture of public attention by elites and demagogues. 2 A symbolic manifestation of both utopian and dystopian views is apparent in the work of one of the world's leading political theorists, Benjamin Barber. In 1984, in his pioneering essay Strong Democracy, he foresaw the possibility of using new information and communication technologies to energize citizen information and political participation. Fourteen years later, having observed the actual practice of democracy under the new technological paradigm, Barber himself called attention to the deteriorating quality of public debate and democratic decision making in the biased space of the new media. 3 In principle, both of his arguments are plausible and not contradictory. The Internet can, indeed, be an appropriate platform for informed, interactive politics, stimulating political participation and opening up possible avenues for enlarging decision making beyond the closed doors of political institutions. On the other hand, any technology—and this is particularly true of the Internet—is shaped by its uses and its users.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Castells200918C, title={18 Chp18_fixed_reformat}, author={Manuel Castells}, year={2009} }