It seems shows such as Matt Groening and David X Cohen’s Futurama were not as farfetched as they were once thought to be. In the show, Philip J. Fry is transported to the year 3000 where today’s virtual reality is lived reality.
The only thing that is far off though, is their over-estimation of when this ‘cyber-revolution’, as it were, would take place.In this era known as the information age, new information and computer technologies sit at the centre of every aspect of our lives.
Politics for a long time has been about people and power. The study of states, their governments and the leaders in those governments, has rested at the base of political and international studies. There are even political theorists who have argued that to understand how state and inter-state relations work, one needs to look at human behaviour and interaction.
From this, it becomes clear that people lie at the centre of politics. However this notion is being seriously challenged by modern technological advancements.
The notion of cyber-democracy has become ever more real and widespread. Politics is now moving, or it can even be argued that it has already moved, into a realm that’s beyond the physical. The political realm now has a more virtual quality to it.
With the power and wide use of the internet, political action committees can now be run from citizen’s homes, public opinion can now be disseminated with greater ease and the traditional routes to democracy can be bypassed.
In America, Richard Hartman ran what was called “America’s First CyberSpace Political Action Committee” from his home. Instead of following the regular channels, he used his PC and fax machine to get his message and information out. To justify this choice he said, “we could have sent the information by Federal Express overnight. Electronic media, however, lets us tailor the message to this precise audience instantly”.
In South Africa however, cyber-democracy has not become such a major part of our politics. This could be due to the lower online population. Africa makes up only 3.4% of the world’s online population. South Africa has 5.1 million Internet users, while China has 210 million and Germany has 53.2 million.
This though is not to say that SA politics has not begun to take on a more virtual quality. Many of the country’s political parties have websites to inform the nation about their party and its policies. However, there is a lack in user interaction with the parties.
The Independent Democrats website offers only a poll of whether or not users believe the government can solve the electricity crisis and a page for them to report any corruption on. The African National Congress’ webpage gives the option for users to subscribe to a number of their publications and news updates sent to their mobile phones. There is also a feedback page where people can complain, praise, make the party aware of problems or offer suggestions.
In the weeks to follow, I’ll look at the number of issues that rise with the concept of cyber-democracy in far more detail. The question remains however, is this increasing virtual reality at all desirable or even just feasible, especially in South Africa?