Saturday, April 4, 2009

Glances Backward... Steps Forward

It's been almost one year now since the publication of the excellent "It's More Than Talk" report from Don Lenihan and Canada's Public Policy forum. That report described some provactive experiments in democracy with new media and explored new ways in which Canada could use technology to strengthen the ties between government and the people. So, in the wake of that report, how much has government changed in the last year ? Not very much at all. Not surprisingly, it continues to use a top-down method of governing - with real consultation limited to polling the public`s impresions of mass media press releases.

But the net continues.

It continues to burrow into the common culture. Inernet use, and online advertising expenditures increase as the economic climate seems now to be thinning the herd of the weaker old media offerings. In Toronto, a persistent activist new media movement is centered around improving transit service and making the TTC more responsive. And yet the effect of new media on our larger democracy seems non-existent.

The Public Policy forum has just realeased a new report "News & The Netizen", a disappointingly tepid examination of the current media climate. It ambles through descriptions of the participatory democracy offered by the internet with vague assertions that new media is changing politics - even suggesting that online political donations (which have been around for several elections now) and Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign are somehow significant events. The report circles around the issues, and the authors seem too unfamiliar with the potential of new media for change. In the end it offers the conclusion that "ongoing research and dialogue are warranted".

This is analogous to a frog being carried downstream on a lily pad, calling for ongoing research of the river. What we need now is not passive (and powerless) analysis of how the river is flowing, but ideas on how government should jump in - or at least some better examples. Then again, when interesting and thought provoking reports like "It's More Than Talk" haven't had an effect, then maybe watching the river is the only option.

One starts to wonder when and how the new media will finally take its proper place in our media mix. Radio and television arrived suddenly, so perhaps in the coming years the Net will do so as well. If such is the case, then we Netizens need to just watch, wait, and blog... documenting warning against the attendant problems of sudden change, while counting the small victories.

One such victory happened today, in Robert Fulford`s National Post column. In a rare blessing from an old media maven, Fulford declares that the "Net is way better" for journalism than pre-net days. He sees the value in increased communication between individuals. Hopefully, soon we'll all start to understand that online digital relationships are real relationships that can unite people across distances, and social standing. Netizens can help the nation see that the potential to plug these relationships into our governance will be put to good use.

So, let's keep riding the lily pad down the river, and continue our research and dialogue.

As such, I offer you Hardner`s 4 Imporations for Netizens:

1) Stay Online - keep blogging, keep posting on message boards, keep emailing the government, filling out `Contact Us` forms and letting them know that you exist in Cyberspace.

2) Practice Information Hygene. When posting and discussing, be sure to check your facts, and only use sources with an established record of accuracy and objectivity.

3) Be Proactive - Review the latest information from the source - unbiased studies, government statistics, universities, or independent surveys. Don`t wait for articles to appear on online newspaper or commentary sites first.

4) Look for chances to participate in wider dialogue, and jump in. If there is a chance to take the dialogue into the non-virtual world, then do it.

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