I’ve been doing some thinking about books, and libraries, and slow rooms, and came across this video from Susan Cain about introverts:
In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert.
The thought here is that a decision-making space needs to be slow, quiet and introverted, and that there is a danger, or at least a perceived danger of everything becoming loud, glitzy, technical, instant and superficial.
Democracy and the Slow Room
It is a common concern that while the wisdom of crowds and using television or the internet to make it easier to vote, they also make it less considered. If (the thinking goes), all you have to do is send in an SMS, “like” or click +1 here, to “answer” some television poll – what chance is there for a more contemplative response? Surely this is a dreadful way to express a democratic opinion?
This is an unfortunate assumption, and certainly not what is being aimed for, when we discuss democracy and debate in the Parliament of Things. Indeed it is precisely the superficial forms of public debate encouraged by television, and current political systems that inspire the project to look for richer forms of deliberation.
In particular, for many decisions we need to be able to construct slow rooms, and long tables. A slow room is a place in parliament where thoughtful, and considered processes are required before the decision can be made, while a long room is a space which is designed to debate and decide on issues that only make sense to discuss when considering very long time scales (such as environmental impact).
How such a space is designed is an art that involves the design of physical and virtual space (what we call interface design), as well a social process of creating the right culture around the decisions backed up by the technical and legal structures that embody the decision-making framework.
Liquid Democracy and Thoughtfulness
It may well be the case that what most people currently experience on the internet, is a trivialization of debate, and a chaotic over-exposure to information and opinion, but it would be a mistake to judge the future of online decision support tools on this basis. Rather the current poor state of online deliberation, should be viewed in terms of a natural historical progression: from simple self publishing tools and mass platforms, to specialised and sophisticated spaces that are designed to support decision-making in specific niche fields and communities.
We now have had secure digital tools for online payments, and are beginning to see these on mobile platforms, and it is only when the low hanging fruit of mass engagement platforms have been fully ceded to platforms like FaceBook, Google Plus and Twitter, that we can see developers and investors taking the time and money required to create more sophisticated tools. At the same time, we as users of these systems will begin to become more demanding.
Voting is thought at the moment as a process of putting a cross on a piece of paper, or clicking a button on an online poll – but it need not be like this. There are many ways an individual can express their preference, using richer forms of democracy voters can:
- express their support for individuals they trust, based on dialogue, long-term acquaintance, and extended conversation.
- express their support for various positions, through learning and study, and in so doing gather the support of others
- they can abstain on issues they are not interested in, and act directly on those that they are knowledgable about or passionate.
In a time where the collection of votes, and the distribution of rich documentation around a debate (let’s call this documentary), is effectively free and substantially more universal than ever before (via the internet and mobile phones), the problem can shift from the practical task of collecting trivial democratic input, to enabling individuals to express their democratic preference in richer and more engaging ways.
Doing this every 4 years used to make economic sense, but no longer: now it is just a forced distortion on the ability of individuals to express their knowledge and political preferences with regard to how society should develop. We’ll take a look at the sort of mechanisms that we could use, and how these enable and encourage a higher quality of debate, and not just a greater quantity of button pushing – in a later post.