Bread and Games 2.0 (guest article)
This is a guest post by Sebastian Haselbeck.
I recently wrote a critical comment on Philipp’s blog entry on a note by Ed Felten. Click here to read the original blog post. It dealt with the understanding of open government and transparency, and how outreach is only one side of the 2.0 coin. On the thought of politics and the web 2.0 â€œbandwagonâ€ – as I called it – I wrote:
â€œThe danger within politics jumping on the web 2.0 bandwagon is clearly that governments and politicians will use these tools to keep the citizens at bay. While we are busy watching Merkelâ€™s video blog and reading Guembelâ€™s tweets, we donâ€™t ask questions at the same time. Very convenient for the politicians and weâ€™ll see more of that. Bread and games 2.0â€
Here is why I am so skeptical about the way governments and politicians are employing the tools of the world wide web. In many cases, the effects are rather negligible. Clearly, what Felten calls â€œoutreachâ€ is a marked improvement in how citizens are being informed about politics. Yet the real decisions are still made behind closed curtains, and no matter how much citizens know about what politicians seem to be doing, as long as they do not get a say in it, what is the point? Transparency does not solely come from knowledge, it comes from empowerment. Only when the public is in a position to use the information gained towards political ends, does it server a real democratic purpose. All too often it appears to me that politicians’ blogs, twitter messages and Facebook profiles are nothing more than entertainment, to keep us busy and occupied, so we forget what is really at stake. Like the games in ancient Rome. Bread and games for the masses. Laugh, applaud, cheer, but don’t question. Public actors need to step out of the shadow of bread and games 2.0 and start employing these tools to real purposes. Barack Obama’s new open government directives sound fantastic, but will U.S. citizens get real change, or just twice the amount of PDF files and blog posts? Time to rethink the client (more on that right here).