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 “bandwagon” – as I called it – I wrote:

“The 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 Merkel’s video blog and reading Guembel’s tweets, we don’t ask questions at the same time. Very convenient for the politicians and we’ll see more of that. Bread and games 2.0”

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 “outreach” 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).

Sebastian Haselbeck is a graduate student at the Erfurt School of Public Policy and webmaster of the Center for Public Management and Governance.

sebastian.haselbeck@gmx.com'

About Sebastian Haselbeck

Sebastian Haselbeck is a graduate student at the Erfurt School of Public Policy and webmaster of the Center for Public Management and Governance.

19. April 2009 by Sebastian Haselbeck
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , , | 5 comments

Comments (5)

  1. justuslenz@gmx.de'

    Hey Sebastian,

    I think you’re making an important point. But you fail to see the bigger picture in my opinion:

    Politicians are of course trying to use the new tools to their advantage. They have every reason to do so. Why should they start to employ the new tools to their “real purposes”? What is their real purpose anyway? Empowering the citizens? Hell no! This would make their lives much more complicated. From the logic of politicians (and other actors) keeping “the citizens at bay” is exactly what these tools are designed for.

    The question we have to ask how high the chance is that they’ll prevail.

    My take on this is that it is not very high. There are enough examples that the distribution of (potential) power has shifted significantly. The citizens’ (or for companies the customers’) costs of voicing their complaints and of organizing have decreased significantly. Politicians will never lift the closed curtains at free will – they have to be forced because it is against their interest.

    The interesting question is therefore not whether politicians (and public agencies and companies) will start to use the new tools to empower the citizens – the interesting questions is whether the citizens will start to empower themselves.

    Justus

    • sebastian.haselbeck@gmx.com'

      I see what you mean. I guess I was mostly referring to overly optimistic or naive views of 2.0 usage in politics. Some people see it as the ultimate solution that will make democracy truly democratic while first of all it’s just another medium that is being used – and misused – for interests….. but I absolutely agree with you also

  2. justuslenz@gmx.de'

    Hey Sebastian,

    I think you’re making an important point. But you fail to see the bigger picture in my opinion:

    Politicians are of course trying to use the new tools to their advantage. They have every reason to do so. Why should they start to employ the new tools to their “real purposes”? What is their real purpose anyway? Empowering the citizens? Hell no! This would make their lives much more complicated. From the logic of politicians (and other actors) keeping “the citizens at bay” is exactly what these tools are designed for.

    The question we have to ask how high the chance is that they’ll prevail.

    My take on this is that it is not very high. There are enough examples that the distribution of (potential) power has shifted significantly. The citizens’ (or for companies the customers’) costs of voicing their complaints and of organizing have decreased significantly. Politicians will never lift the closed curtains at free will – they have to be forced because it is against their interest.

    The interesting question is therefore not whether politicians (and public agencies and companies) will start to use the new tools to empower the citizens – the interesting questions is whether the citizens will start to empower themselves.

    Justus

    • sebastian.haselbeck@gmx.com'

      I see what you mean. I guess I was mostly referring to overly optimistic or naive views of 2.0 usage in politics. Some people see it as the ultimate solution that will make democracy truly democratic while first of all it’s just another medium that is being used – and misused – for interests….. but I absolutely agree with you also

  3. azhcba@yahoo.com'

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