Technology and politics -- two paths that need to cross to enable progress
In the world of politics, the wheels of change move slowly; very slowly indeed. Parties and those in power have a vested interest in maintaining the established order, and any attempts to buck the status quo are usually fairy fiercely opposed. Contrast this with the technological world where there are new innovations made every single day -- even at the weekend! Technology doesn’t run out of money and leave an entire nation on the verge of collapse. Technology is not interested in race, class, sex, sexuality or other characteristics. It is certainly true that technology is largely driven by a desire to generate profit -- we are, for the time being, living in a capitalist world, after all -- but it is profit born of fulfilling people's needs and desires.
Can the same be said of politics? To a large extent politics is self-serving. There's still an interest in generating a profit, but it is for the benefit of the few. Technology serves the masses, and has the potential to serve and benefit all. Of course, the term "technology" is rather broad. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to use it to refer to computers, the internet, smartphone, the cloud, electronic/connected devices, robots and the like. For all the gestures to democracy and choice, politicians are, for the most part, interested in serving certain sections of society. There are of course those parties and politicians who are able to take a wider view, have an interest in helping those at the bottom as much as those at the top, and value all people equally.
Being as it is non-sentient (for now, at least), technology is democratic, non-discriminatory. And empowering. It is something that the world, nations, groups and individuals are able to embrace and use to further their cause, better themselves and help other people. Can the same be said of modern politics? Compared to many parts of the world, the US, the UK and many other countries get a pretty good deal. These are not countries -- all joking aside -- in which people are ruled by dictators. Polling stations are places where every man and woman is free to express their views and do their little bit to change the destiny of the country they call home.
But, as mentioned above, the political world is a painfully slow one. A party that promises something that ultimately wins over the people and gets them into power, will find that promising and delivering are two very different things. Laws take an age to get through all of the various stages of voting that need to be navigated to bring them into being, and it is often the case that the legislation that is passed is a pale imitation of what was originally proposed, a watered-down version that tries to please everyone and ends up disappointing all. But by this point, it’s time for the next election and the whole shebang starts all over again.
Look again to the world of technology. This is a world that changes minute to minute. Being both profit-driven and fragmented, it is possible to keep a far larger number of people happy -- and, really, how many people have complained about processor speeds increasing, new devices being released, new software being developed and so on? You might not be overly interested in technology, but you can opt in to whatever degree you want. You can choose to be on the cutting edge, take things a little more slowly, or even take no active position.
It's easy to forget just how democratizing technology can be. It may seem trite to look at the likes of the smartphone and even Twitter as being tools of democracy or the political process, but they are. In order to be an informed citizen able to make educated decisions about who to vote for, information is needed. In regimes where society's access to information is controlled, access to the outside world is vital. This is a communication process that works both ways. In closed societies, it can be all but impossible for the outside world to know what is going on. This might not be a problem ordinarily, but when abuse arises there are obvious advantages to those affected being able to get a message out.
Access to the web provides access to information. This is important not just for the political process, but also for education in general -- and there are few people who would argue with the idea that an educated world is a better world. Love or loathe politics, it is a part of your life. Politics and technology need to join forces to help with progress to a better world -- for all. But governments are slow to adopt technology. They are unwilling to invest in the money that is needed to bring universal internet access to the world... not several years down the line, but right now, when it matters.
Governments will always find money to invest in weapons of war, to fight for oil, to pay back loans that have been taken from other countries, and so on. But how do these budgets compare to the money that is put towards technology? How many politicians have embarrassed themselves with tech gaffes; referring to "the Twitter" or "going on the email"? Governments spend money on technology, but not in the right way. The wrong people are asked to install computer systems which then end up costing billions more than can be justified. But spending billions on a broadband infrastructure for all? Billions on ensuring every child has a computer? Billions supporting hardware and software companies? Dream on!
It is false economy not to invest in technology. Technology is the future. Technology is people. Technology absolutely matters -- just about more than anything else. There's little that technology cannot improve, and it is disconcerting that the world of politics is seemingly so out of touch with what is going on and how to help things progress. Politics and technology should be running and skipping hand in hand into the sunset. Technology is not just about playing Angry Birds, creating ever higher resolution monitors, making porn available on every device imaginable. Technology is about people's life, and it matters one hell of a lot.
Being driven by profit and popularity, technology knows about efficiency, it knows about moving forward quickly, and it knows about competition. It could probably learn a thing or two from politics, but the tech world has more to teach politicians, the democratic process, and the people in power. Bill Gates hasn’t quite made the move from tech to politics, but he has shown how technology can be used to better the world. We need more figureheads like this -- and they don’t have to be super-rich like Gates -- but how many will be willing to pick up the baton?
This is where politics and government come into play. The importance and value of technology, its nurturing and development, need to be embraced and encouraged by government. Without this, the disparity between what people want and what politicians offer will only get wider. There are very few people -- wherever they live -- who are happy with who is in power, or are pleased with the way things are going. What’s needed is a revolution. There are charismatic, intelligent, personable technologists out there who are far better positioned to, if not run the world, steer it in the right direction. The world stagnates while technology continues apace. The two worlds need to converge so we can accelerate progress.