Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

The worst possible system of government, apart from all the others that have been tried.

Posted by Andrew Cooper on February 10, 2009

Earlier this morning I commented on the blog post here  which is about a subject that interests me.

Over the past three or four years there has been a lot of talk about re-engaging people in politics, much of it prompted by the idea that technology can help this happen.  But terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘involvement’ are often used without serious consideration of what they would actually mean in practice.  Our systems of government are deeply engrained, based in long established institutions, legal frameworks and, perhaps most importantly, customs and practice.  Just because current information technology enables broader involvement doesn’t mean that it will happen.  

As I suggested in an comment on the same blog, portable  networked computers been around for many years – I sent my first email from a laptop device over 20 years ago.  For most of those two decades pundits predicted that teleworking would revolutionise our working habits and travel patterns.  It still hasn’t happened – those of us who telework are at the margins, most people still travel to their place of work and the airlines still rely on business travel for much of their income.  The reasons we don’t telework (or tele-educate, for that matter) have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how we best interact with one another in groups.

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2 Responses to “The worst possible system of government, apart from all the others that have been tried.”

  1. alex said

    I think you’re being to pessimistic about teleworking – the figures show that while it might not be a revolution yet, it’s on the rise, not to mention the continuing increase in businesses that start up from home. I agree about the problems of tele-education, but I think that the message about remote working is starting to get across. When I was at school, almost no parents were teleworkers and that’s changed tremendously when I think of how many of my children’s friends’ parents work from home. I realise that’s a bit anecdotal, but that’s being replicated across the country.

    • Hi Alex – I guess this is all about what’s driving change. Technology is obviously an enabler of teleworking, but it’s not a driver. Remote working will only really take off if organisations are forced to do so. I certainly know more people who regularly work from home these days, but that’s because there are more freelance and self-employed people than there were way back then. Most large public and private sector organisations I know still have large offices and expect people to work in them most of the time. A shame, because I think one of the main benefits of remote working is that it can enable people who have to travel to work to time-shift their journeys which would both reduce congestion during the peaks and enable people to work much more productively.

      I was arguing that the use of social media to increase engagement is analogous: technology can enable better engagement but it isn’t driving change. One point that Shirky makes is that there’s an assumption that social media are all about virtual/online interaction when in fact sites like http://www.meetup.com enable people to get together with people with common interests in the real world. There’s a good website here – http://www.kennetheath.co.uk – which is doing just that. What Shirky has to say about the ‘small worlds’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_phenomenon – is also very relevant.

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