Find out about computers and democracy

By John Nadeau | Nov 17, 2011

Hey, it’s always fun to challenge the instructor.

Sir, don’t you think the ever-increasing use of the computer is slowly, inexorably dehumanizing society?

Consider all the Internet purchases you’ve made without any human interaction.

Think of Rita the Robot, who greets you when you make a phone call.

“That’s a widely shared sense,” says Colin Lingle, a doctoral candidate in political communication at the University of Washington.

But he insists the Internet can actually bring people together.

“Through sites like meetup.com, you can find social groups that share your interests,” he says.

“Log on and say you’re interested in butterflies, science fiction, and hiking.  You’ll find three new groups of people who share your interests, and they will be eager to exchange ideas and information.”

He also points out that the Internet allows groups to come together that would find it difficult to do so otherwise.

For example, members of Native American tribes, scattered over the years by ill-conceived government policies, are reuniting thanks to the computer.

Lingle’s primary focus is on the newer media technologies that interact with the political process.

He notes that many functions we associate with elections – from learning about candidates to casting ballots to reporting results – already involve computers.

At the Creative Retirement Institute, sponsored by Edmonds Community College, he will offer a short course with a formidable title: Digital Democracy – The Hype and the Hope of Online Elections.

It will meet on two Wednesdays, Feb. 15 and 22, 2012 from 1 to 3 p.m.

“Organizations, and especially the government, are increasingly building tools to involve the electorate, “Lingle says. “Now, if you want information from the Secretary of State, for example, you go online to get it. You don’t have to make a trip to Olympia.”

Yes, digital democracy does carry risks.

He warns about “echo chamber” politics, which is hearsay repeated on the Internet but never substantiated.

“In such cases, nobody is doing his own thinking, and that diminishes debate,” Lingle believes. “If you are communicating only with sites that share your worldview, you won’t see all the sides.”

Lingle thinks that, on balance, benefits of computer involvement in the political process far outweigh the risks.

The thrust of his CRI class?

“I want people who are concerned about civic engagement and politics to be more knowledgeable and confident when it comes to the newer technologies that can move us ahead.”

His course is just one of the timely and imaginative offerings in the winter term at CRI, a lifelong program designed for all adults, regardless of educational background.

For more information about this and other CRI courses, phone 425-640-1830. Or go to www.edcc.edu/cri.

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