Digital Democracy?

Nina Power

Abstract


We stand on the cusp of enormous change, both politically and technologically, and the two can hardly be separated at this point. To speak from the situation in the United Kingdom at the moment is to recognize a series of sea changes and tendencies that will, and have already, changed much about contemporary life for millions. We need to be wary of both political and technological determinism here – the recent surprising hung parliament in Britain which saw the Conservative government drop more than twenty points in the polls on the back of a terrible election campaign and massive Labour activism shows that politics remains unpredictable, even when austerity and despair have become internalized. Technology’s future too remains uncertain, even as it is integrated more and more into the everyday lives of millions to greater or lesser degrees. We cannot begin to discuss the relationship between technology and politics, however, without acknowledging from the outset the fundamental asymmetries in its distribution in the modern world, or without a series of major caveats. As many feminist writers have pointed out, technology cannot be considered as neutrally or inevitably ‘progressive’.

To think politics and technology together, then, is to rethink what we mean by organization, as well as to understand what it is that is being organized (knowledge, resources, people). The uneven distribution of technology, globally and locally, has put questions of automation, production and consumption firmly on the left’s policy agenda, and such questions go to the heart of Marxism’s status as a live political and theoretical perspective on the world. Expanding our historical and critical relationship to technology via feminist and ecological perspectives, particularly thinking about the continued dependence on fossil fuels, and how automation might avoid that (or if it can avoid it), there are huge questions at stake: the future of work, the future of politics, the future of global relations of production and consumption, and even the relationship between men and women. Politics and technology must also be understood as intimately intertwined in the everyday lives of millions.

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