Politics online is future prospect that needs caution

In Greece, given suitable embellishment by the mass media, the commonplace is turned into a major innovation. For a politician to have his own website (as do thousands of teenagers) – kept running by suitable employees – was considered a radical move, as was his sending e-mail. Obviously, the use of the telephone by a politician some decades ago would not have produced the same storm of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, it’s a good thing when politicians turn their attention to the new technologies and know the problems that arise from their implementation. Technology – and this is the issue – should not be regarded as a panacea, nor as a gloss on old structures, nor any substitution for those structures. New technologies and the Internet can help to deal with the basic problems of modern society but are not a solution in themselves. Foreign Minister George Papandreou spoke of the need for participatory democracy; many took this to mean a digital democracy or democracy via the Web. In truth, many are drawn to the idea of direct democracy via the Internet, online referenda (like those carried out by a number of websites, without anyone paying much attention), but how will the class and social (and therefore digital) divide be bridged? How can the whole process be kept from turning into a Big Brother reality show and political choice a matter of picking the most popular/handsome candidate, or of shopping at the supermarket? Can there be feedback from the electorate to politicians without the forum for conflict of views that was provided by the agora of ancient times and (to a certain extent) by political parties and movements, public campaigns and cafes (not Internet ones) today? Digital democracy will otherwise lack soul in a society of couch potatoes brainwashed by TV all day. The Internet needs to enter politics – not to bury politics, but to raise it up.

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