There’s been quite a few stories lately in the French news about politicians and other “famous” people demanding a regulation of the Internet. There’s been this famous publicist named Jacques Séguéla who called the Internet “the biggest crap ever invented by mankind” (link in French). Then there was Jean-François Copé, head of majority party, who said on TV that we should regulate the Internet in order to preserve politicians and journalists (well, of course he was talking to a journalist). And yesterday, Jacques Myard, one of our elected parliament deputies, wanted to “nationalize the Internet” (here), taking example on… China!
At first, I thought it was just one crazy guy who wanted to get into viral communication, but now I’m starting to see a pattern here. Combine that with the whole net neutrality debate in the US and it becomes really obvious: politicians are starting to be really afraid of the Internet. Now is it really because of those stupid things they say that spread over the web like wildfire? I think this is just the visible part of the iceberg. But as it seems, when someone says something stupid, it only gets crazy on the web if people are already angry with them. If people don’t take you seriously, it won’t go that far.
Which leads me to this question: the Internet is already changing our working environment in a lot of ways, but is it doing the same thing with our political systems? I’m not a French history expert, but if I remember correctly, one of the main triggers of the French revolution and the Enlightenment that got us out of Old Regime is the widespread of education made possible by the invention of the printing press. Now if the Internet has the same potential magnitude as the printing press, how will it affect our democracies?
For example, democracy is all about electing people who vote laws on our behalf, but why do we do that? Because the City is too big, and we cannot be all direct actors in the legislative process… at least not in a world where we have to gather at the same place at the same time to write laws and vote them. But does this constraint still hold with the Internet. Isn’t there a way to build up a more direct democracy again? Wouldn’t the vote of masses compensate for the vast incompetency of our elected guys and their tendency to fall for lobbyists? Maybe that’s what our politicians are really afraid of, that they could be rendered useless by this new system they don’t control or even understand.
Maybe it’s time for us to dust off our constitutions and start thinking about what the Internet could do to improve democracy. And when you see the kind of failure we can expect for the Copenhagen summit, it could even be a real solution to a more global way of dealing with problems, one that would lead to real solutions. And I’m not talking about eDemocracy and other eGovernment stuff here: those are just evolutions, shy intrusions of the Internet in the traditional political debate. I’m talking about what could be the next stage in democracy, without any corrupted or incompetent representative, just the intelligence of the crowd on a global scale.
What do you think? Do you know any politics expert working on such a scenario? Would you like to participate more directly in the decisions that have an influence on your daily life?