Politics after the Internet
IT is no longer in vogue, as it was just a few years ago, to gush breathlessly about politics in the age of the Internet. In the late 1990s, many commentators were convinced that a new day had dawned in the life of our republic. Some said direct democracy was just around the corner, as tens of millions of Americans in “chat rooms” would form, in one author’s words, “a committee of the whole, made up of all citizens online.” Others predicted enormous increases in voter participation, the rise of a more informed and active populace, and a decline in the importance of money in politics. It seemed for a moment as though everything was about to change, and for the better. That moment has passed, and the subject seems to have been dropped. It may be too soon to pick it up again in full. The influence of information technologies on our politics has not been playing out as anyone quite expected, and to say that we now know the shape of the future would be to repeat the mistake of earlier prognosticators. But by understanding the source of the error committed by the forecasters of the 1990s, we may be able to see farther than they did, if only by a little.