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Letters

VOTING AND DEMOCRACY:  MEANS AND ENDS

The June Pathfinders page was in two parts “Would people in socialism spend all day voting on everything?” (small print) and “How would people vote?” (bigger print). The small print told us about “collaborative filtering” (CF) software. Developed for capitalist marketing purposes and producing recommendations based on people’s likes and dislikes, CF can apparently be used in socialism to stop us voting all day on everything.

The example is given of a farmer using CF to get recommendations about what to vote on: crop yields, GM technology, etc. CF can also put people “in touch with other people of similar interests” – a variant of computer dating? Small-print Pathfinder admits that unfortunately “Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility...”
Bigger-print Pathfinder presents as a dream what to me seems more like a nightmare: “... in the future the technology to debate, dispute, appeal, complain, conference and vote will all be in place – at the touch of a phone button.” The trouble with this is that it confuses means with ends. The essence of democracy is having information and ideas to exchange, considerations to weigh up, debates to participate in – and, in some cases, balances to be struck.

In the old days – and even to some extent today – the means to those democratic ends were focused on paper or persons – books and other publications, public meetings, casual or serious conversations. Now these old means are being challenged by new technology means – a screen to watch, a mouse to move, a button to push.

I don’t doubt that a phone button or other technological device can play a part in voting and democracy. Some people – with busy lives or physical disabilities? – may find “new hat” voting technology better than the “inconvenient, time-consuming”, in-company-with-other-people method illustrated in Pathfinder’s photo and labelled “old hat”. But whatever technology is used, it is still a means to an end. It is not a substitute for that end. Debating, disputing, etc are not matters of a person relating to a piece of technology. They are matters of a person relating to one or more other persons using some form of technology as a means.

According to a 1970s pop song, video killed the radio star. It didn’t. Books are said to be on the way out. They aren’t – but they do have new technology competitors. This applies to debating, disputing, appealing, complaining, conferencing and voting. You can do these things directly, more or less face-to-face with other people. Or you can go a little or a long way on the road to human-to-machine “relationships”. The choice is yours.
STAN PARKER (by e-mail).