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E-Democracy: Fiction or Future?

Article by Bart Steman.

Look around you and count how many people do have a smartphone or other device that is connected with internet. Me and my girlfriend own together seven (2x smartphone, 2x tablet, 2x laptop, 1 desktop) devices that are connected with the world. But is “connected” the same as “participating” in your society? In this article, I will ask myself what my role is in participating in my neighborhood.

My grandfather always admires the view from my student room in Wageningen. I live at the second floor and from my bureau chair, I cannot see the road. I only see some open grass field and a relict municipality plot. A “sterflat” and a factory are also visible, but they do not attract your attention that much. Both in the winter and summer it is green and open, which I really admire.

A few weeks ago, he visited my place once again to have some coffee and admire the view. I said to him that I will live here probably for at least two more years and as far as I knew, there were no plans to build something on the other side of the road. After he had gone I went for glossary shopping and on my way back home I noticed a huge billboard, which said “demolition works to construct some sport fields and a sports hall”. I didn’t knew that?! Back home, I checked the website of the municipality and after a lot of links I found an announcement. The city council had approved the construction plans a few weeks ago.

Future of fiction? It seems like there was no form of participation at all. For me, it was just an announcement on the internet that informed me about the plans. Did I turn a blind eye to the developments in my own neighborhood? Did I miss all the news and plan making processes before because I wasn’t an active citizen?

In essence, E-democracy incorporates 21st century communication devices to stimulate and promote democracy. That the internet provide all kinds of platforms where you can place your opinion is not something new and shocking. But the lack of active involvement in your own society is the main struggle that every institution faces. For example, “Jaar van de Ruimte 2015” (Year of the Environment) aimed to started a national debate in all layers of our society to debate and vision what our future should look like. However, as David ter Avest mentions at Ruimtevolk, only around 700 people supported the vision that was presented, by signing it online via their website. On 17 million people, that is not worth mentioning at all.

Pretending that E-democracy is the future would be to optimistic. It asks for a total reform of our institutions to get the maximal benefits of participation via internet. Active citizenship and, for example, direct voting for developments might seem the ideal future. The ‘new’ generation is born with a smartphone in their hands and they are able to control an iPad before they can talk. Let’s hope that E-democracy will be the future. For now, it is just fiction.

maart 15, 2016

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