TAN+N -- Book, Article Reviews and Excerpts

Teledemocracy - on Societal Impacts of Information Networks

Auli Keskinen, editor
(Helsinki,Finland: Painatuskaskus, 1995)

book coverEditor's note: This book is a collection of essays by The Interactive Expert Group, edited by Auli Keskinen. The Interactive Expert Group includes: Theodore L. Becker, Olavi Borg, Harri Erametsa, Tuula Haavisto, Satu Hassi, Sirkka Heinonen, Kari A Hintikka, Hannele Ihonen, Mika Pantzar, Parttu Rastas, Anita Rubin, Leena-Maija Salminen, Helo Touru and Marja-Liisa Vihera


I. Societal Development and Democracy

II. Information Networks

III. Human Needs and Capacities

IV. Selected Points of View

English Summary

Teledemocracy - information networks as citizens' means and tools for participating in societal decision making; in transforming political power structures; in realizing sustainable development; in facilitating personal and community evolution; in rebuilding social value structures; and in making the future.

This book deals with the current global social transition period and the coming of the information age, both of which are characterized by an unprecedented global telecommunications and information networks explosion. Our position is that the rapid dissemination of computers and connected networks of electronic means will have even more profound impacts than heretofore on various social phenomena such as work, entertainment, business, education and, most important of all, democracy: how it is understood, exercised and developed.

Representative democracy is in crisis. Indeed, more and more observers agree that this few hundred years old idea and practice of democracy does not work as well any more in societies where more and more people gain more and more information on various social and political issues by having access to the new electronic means of communication and information. Thus large segments of citizens are now able to form personal educated opinions on common issues.

Many people have grown impatient with their governments which they see minding only narrow interests rather than fulfilling the major task of representative democracy, which is taking care of the citizens' common good. In modern societies, many people want to shift from being "the governed" into "self government." They want to become actors in society instead of being mere subordinates. They want to have more power and control to conduct their own life as they want. The future ubiquitous information networks will be a readily available tool by which people can easily empower themselves, but only if they grasp the opportunity.

What is ready to be born, then, is "teledemocracy" - a new form of direct democracy promoted by the new electronic means, that groups of tools and methods that can be generalized as Information Networks. So far, information networks, as one part of the "the Information Society," have mainly been dealt with by governments form the technological point of view.

For example, there has been a major initiative in the USA's NII program (National Information Infrastructure) which launched the Information Highways concept. There has been an incredibly rapid growth of the Internet network and other personal telecommunications all around the world. And last year, the Commission of the European Union declared a major plan for Europe's development towards the Information Society. Finland, too, has been very active in this field. There are more Internet users in Finland (and Iceland) per population than anywhere in the world, and the National Strategy for developing Finland towards the Information Society has just recently been completed.

However, most of the efforts so far have been focused on building high speed telecommunications networks. Almost nothing has been said about the societal impact of information networks. This book aims to start and fuel continued public discourse on the democratic potential of the information society, on whose terms it will be developed and what effect the networking of people can have on their lives - by introducing and discussing various associated concepts and phenomena. Our goal is to provide various well-thought-out points of view and explanations by various experts on the many societal phenomena that surely are affected by the information age. Hence this new concept of teledemocracy is discussed in detail.

However, Teledemocracy is a complex, dynamic, nonlinear and multivariate phenomenon which cannot be described and understood in simple terms. That is why this book emphasizes that there is no one truth or "one way" to develop teledemocracy but that many people's initiatives and personal understandings are necessary. A lively interaction between all these ideas and viewpoints is essential to produce a truly democratic information society that is most likely to produce the greatest benefits for the broadest base of that society.

Ultimately, this book concludes that information networks have vast potential for aiding citizens to realize critical political transformations - not just reforms. This will mean a re-distribution of political power - the coming of a new form of a citizens' society, one where the ordinary citizen can play a major role in helping decide what kind of society he/she and their children should live in.

This book thus consists of the following issues and objectives:

This book will try to convey to the reader an understanding that citizens can and should take an active role in socio-political decision making in order to make life better for themselves and their children. This can be done by more employing the new electronic means at citizens' disposal. And this is also a major message - in many ways, the technology is already there for people to capture, employ and develop, if they want to use it. And it is only a matter of a short time before this technology will be universally available and more user-friendly technologies will be there as well.

The author group consists of experts (professors, researchers, a member of Finnish Parliament, science writers) on a wide array of concerned and associated disciplines such as political science, futures studies, information technology, media and telecommunications science, engineering, economics, sociology, psychology, networking and system theory and library science.

The author group has worked together preparing this book for almost a year. The book is interaction oriented in that articles contain a comment made by another fellow writer. The group is wiling to participate in further discussions on teledemocracy.

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