November 23, 2002

Darin Barney (the author of Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology) gave a great talk on campus yesterday. He talked about Canada's long, unmatched tradition of democratic participation and public consultation in government decisions about communications technologies, starting with telephone service at the turn of the century, and the creation of the CBC.

He then talked about the public consultation regarding regulation of the internet. The committee in charge of that consultation, as it turns out, was dominated by corporate execs. The committee (along with the Liberal govn't) categorically determined that in all cases, the market would provide the best distribution of communications infrastructure. At the end of the fairly short talk, he concluded that if there is diminished or eliminated democratic control over the implementation of technology, then the outlook for the democratic potential of the use of these technologies was the more grim for it.

During questions, I pressed him on what could be done about this, and he came out with a fiery exhortation to a "long march through the institutions," from national governments to the WTO, to render them democratically accountable. The sad bit is that it will take decades of hard work and sacrifice if any progress is to be made at all.

Barney's look at the policy around communications technology was very David Noble-esque, exposing ideology in practice, so I'm psyched to look at some of his other stuff, as much as it's good to know that there are young intellectuals out there doing the intellectual legwork for social change. I also asked him for an interview, and he sounded enthusiastic, so that may also be in the works.

A related article: Internet Illusions, a NYRB review of several books on the net and politics, including Barney's, by James Fallows.

posted by dru in politicsoftech