Radical Connectivity – How it is Changing Our Institutions and Our Governance

From The National Journal:

In a (recent) book, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath, author Nicco Mele argues that social-media-social-networking-connections2(public) cynicism is not only warranted, it’s the inevitable result of social and political changes wrought by what he calls “radical connectivity.”

That is, our ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally—breathtaking new tools that “empower the individual at the expense of existing institutions and ancient social structures.” These include government, businesses, entertainment, military, schools, media, religion, and other big institutions designed to protect and sustain people like Whitmire.

Radical Connectivity is the term being used for the new way we act, interact, cooperate,

and communicate, using emerging technology and processes.

In a recent Politico article, written by the same Nicco Mele, Radical Connectivity is viewed in a more ominous way by political institutions.  According to Mele and other political scientists:

“Political parties are more interested in persuading voters than satisfying them. ‘Parties no longer compete to win elections by giving voters the policies voters want,’ writes Georgetown professor Hans Noel, in a summary of a paper he co-authored. “Rather, as coalitions of intense policy demanders, they have their own agendas and aim to get voters to go along.”

The danger to parties is when a coalition doesn’t hold firm with the “demanders”. In that case the party insiders would lose control over the party agenda as the coalition dissolved due to the information and ability to act as individuals using the tools of technology and rapid information gathering and feedback.

Radical connectivity is also affecting fundraising, shifting it from coalitions to individuals. Historically, industry organizations like the American Medical Association raise money from doctors to support legislation that affects doctors. But now, many of those professionals are donating money themselves.

Two recent examples of how radical connectivity has affected Government. And public policy.

In Iceland, the “Pirate Party” has bounded onto the stage, taking over 5% of the national vote in Icelands most recent election. As Iceland has a parliamentary style of government, the Pirate Party now holds three of the 61 seats giving it an outsized voice in the Iclandic Parliament.  From a recent news article:

The (Pirate) party, just a few months old, took 5.1 percent of the vote in Saturday’s poll, gaining three of the 63 seats in Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi.

It is the biggest electoral trophy yet for a movement founded seven years ago in Sweden by a group of rebellious file-sharing geeks and hackers who scoffed at copyright laws.

Now, its Icelandic leader says, the party is “the political arm of the information revolution,” dedicated to freedom of expression and political transparency, online and off.

Closer to home, Radical Connectivity has impacted public policy on the coal train debate. While Oregonians and Washingtonians debate the health effect of transporting massive amounts of coal through our territory, and the Washington Governor asks the feds to fund studies, one University of Washington Professor, Chemistry professor Dan Jeffe had a better idea:

– “I got the sense through channels that nobody wanted to touch this” — he listed his proposal (To study the environmental effects of coal transoprtation) on a science-based crowdfunding site,Microryza.

Jaffe seeks $18,000 to install air monitors and Web cameras along a Washington rail line to check for coal dust and air quality effects. “We know almost nothing about the impact these trains will have on air quality along the rail lines,” reads his proposal on the website, and since government agencies have been having trouble underwriting the research, “we believe crowdfunding is an appropriate way to support this project.”

 (Oregonlive.com, May 9, 2013)

Within days of a new article about Jaffes’ proposal, he had received 181 online pledges for over $15,000. 85% of the total needed to fund the project. He didn’t have to apply for grants, vet his study with multiple government agencies, or pass it by the lobbyists for the coal, transportation, or environmental communities.

Whether Radical Connectivity will  result in simply more political background noise or lead to fundamental changes in our democratic processes and institutions depends on whether  enough of the electorate makes productive use of the technology and learns to cooperate  through remote connectivity. In Iceland just 5% of the voters are making a profound impact on their society.

Some movements within the US have made similar efforts. The Coffee Party, Americans Elect, No Labels. However each of these was national in scope. There are some statewide movements as well. In Oregon, the Independent Party of Oregon has been the most active technologically. It has held not one but two online statewide elections.

Continued Radical Connectivity tactics by the IPO could result in a true movement based on technology and information that could ultimately lead to a better more representative democracy and fundamental changes in our governance.