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September 28, 2005
Is the Internet still bad for democracy?
Eli Noam, a professor of finance and economics at Columbia University, has penned an interesting column in the October 2005 issue of Communications of the ACM: "Why the Internet is Bad for Democracy." Point-by-point, Noam deconstructs the principal arguments of those who say that the Internet promotes better democracy. In the process, Noam discusses why the Internet does not raise the level of political dialogue, why direct access to public officials is nothing more than an "illusion to access," and why the Internet does not necessarily facilitate political participatory action. Noam concludes by putting the Internet into historical context:
"The Internet does not create a Jeffersonian democracy. It is not Athens, nor Appenzell, nor Lincoln-Douglas. It is, if anything, less of a democracy than those low-tech places. But, of course, none of these places really existed either, except as an ideal, a goal, or an inspiration. And in that sense, the expectations vested in the Internet are a new link in a chain of hope. Maybe naive, but certainly ennobling."
Mr. Noam has been giving the same type of talk for years, so apparently little or nothing has changed in the past five years or so. From the Columbia University Web site, I found a link to a 2001 speech by Noam called "Will the Internet Be Bad for Democracy?"
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