The Internet will revolutionize democracy. Joichi Ito firmly stands by this belief. Ito is the director of the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a cutting-edge institution of knowledge.
At a Tokyo symposium jointly sponsored by the MIT Media Lab and The Asahi Shimbun in June, Ito talked passionately about his idea of "emergent democracy."
The Internet links people around the world. If a vast amount of information is exchanged among them and debate deepens, eventually, the world as a whole would get smarter and the situation would give rise to more direct democracy, not one that is left in the hands of politicians, Ito argues. He hopes to one day see that happen.
Ito also talked about a concept called "liquid democracy." The idea is for voters to entrust their voting rights on specific issues, such as nuclear energy or social security, to someone who is widely perceived to be more knowledgeable than they are. When the process is repeated, in the end, votes would converge on the most capable expert.
It is a system to give power to a person whose argument is most persuasive rather than to a politician who shook hands with the most number of voters. This is not a simple thought experiment. In Europe, political parties that actually put such ideas into practice are emerging, according to Ito. The idea is extremely thought-provoking.
How about Japan? In the first Upper House election in which the use of the Internet for election campaigns has been recognized, more than 90 percent of candidates have been using social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter. The ratio of users substantially rose from last year's Lower House election. At the same time, however, not so many voters refer to information on the Net. An Asahi Shimbun survey shows that fewer voters are turning to the Net for information as the campaign period advances.
It seems that messages transmitted online by candidates are poor in content. Many of the messages are about such trivial matters as what they ate for lunch. It cannot be helped that candidates are not yet used to using the medium in an effective way. I hope it will not end as a passing fad and that politicians will continue to send out messages on the Internet even after the election and learn to use it more effectively.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 17
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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