The development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the world. The centrality of information in our society has resulted in many declaring that we have entered into a new stage of human existence, often referred to as the Information Age. The easy access to ICT provides new opportunities for individuals and non-institutionalized organizations to unite and coordinate in order to publish their message across international boundaries. There have been movements that have adopted ICT as a tool of democracy but the real question is whether or not ICT can function as a tool in assisting democratic movements and political parties to raise national or international awareness of their cause. E-democracy and electronic government can drastically alter the relationship between government and citizens and the way they communicate (Darin, 2005). Furthermore, ICT-usage could be developed significantly as a tool for publicizing information. Democratic movements have much to gain in adopting better media skills and a greater understanding of the dynamics of the contemporary media system and the internet. The Information Age’s altered media sphere can entail new and positive opportunities for political groups and grass roots movements if they learn to master the information technology media logic.
Technology has produced an altered definition of democracy. The concepts we know are based on the citizen’s rights and the competition of power but that definition has drastically changed. For instance, Benjamin R. Barber notes that “digital technology is well-suited to enhancing democracy” (Benjamin, 1998) therefore democracy itself needs to be given a new definition to adapt to how technology is influencing the term. On one hand, e-democracy is the use of technical tools – particularly the Internet – to allow citizens access to information; to take part in petitions, consultations, deliberation, referenda and elections; and communicate with each other to form e-communities and movements, and take part in e-campaigning and e-activism (Edemocracy, 2008). On the other hand, democracy is a political system that protects the people, a system that allows the replacement of political leaders, one that promotes the active participation of citizens in their countries’ political affairs.
With the Information Age new ways of doing things have emerged; now there is digital democracy, E-government and E-governance concepts, all of which are dramatically changing the political environment. Power too has been impacted as a consequence of ICT. Political power is no longer in the hands of two or three but grass roots movements have become involved in politics creating a more balanced and more evenly distributed political power system.
The interest in using technology to develop an electronic type of democratic system is more North American in origin than any from any other part. Declining rates of political participation in North America has called for the introduction of new innovative ways of getting citizens to participate in politics electronically. As a consequence of the origin of electronic democracy any future world electronic political advancement will depend on the North American political culture. Europe and other developing nations such as Chile are also implementing the electronic democratic system which will balance any Americanization that might have suffered world politics.
ICT gives political parties better ways to target and reach voters. Website has been used as a tool giving parties the ability to become their own news reporters (Stephen, 12) and better inform their target audience. President Barack Obama’s previous campaign is a symbol that using the media and internet can yield great results to a political candidate. The internet for instance, has been used for fundraising, as a social medium for reaching voters and as a way to promote their political ideologies targeting specific segments of the population.
Technology makes democracy more accessible and has eased the process of participating in one’s government. For example, in “developed and developing countries the internet is everywhere” (Andrew and Christopher, 271). Every department has its own website and the same is true for political parties. Moreover, social media channels such as Facebook, Youtube and Myspace has allowed the government and parties to interact with citizens and voters in a way never seen before. Therefore information technology makes democracy more affordable and accessible for anyone, regardless of income or social status and further allows government and parties to use technology as a tool of democracy.
Access is perhaps the most notable impact that ICT has had on democracy. Having the ability to say what we think when we want has increased political participation in the last few years, at least electronically. For example, on Youtube there are countless videos of grass roots, individuals and non-governmental organizations talking and protesting about certain issues; without technology that would never have been possible. Moreover, as a consequence of technology’s involvement in political affairs new political culture and ideologies will emerge which may further complicate the association between democracy and ICT.
To conclude, this essay has highlighted some of the ways in which technology is creating positive impacts to democracy, be it through fundraising or its social media usage to reach targeted segments of the society. It has also given a definition of democracy and of e-democracy and finally, it shows how ICT makes it easier for one to voice one’s opinions and participate in governance affairs which is the main principle on which democracy is based. Therefore, ICT does have a positive impact on all individuals, political parties, non-governmental institutions and grass roots movements if they learn how to use the new media and information technology to be more effective and proactive.