Musings, Writing

Dialogue or broadcast? Where’s democracy going?

The way we communicate has always changed. We’ve discovered and harnessed new media time and again – all the way from cuneiform to computers. But the newest change is possibly the most powerful and is already starting to change the way we’re governed, sold to and employed.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate – yet. What the ‘social revolution’ has done is move communication from a broadcast, monologue process to much more of an obvious dialogue.  At least, in some places.  It seems that this council in the Prime Minister’s constituency has just about moved on from employing a town crier with a bell.  “Oh yez! oh yez! Hear ye!”

Encouraging local democracy?

Encouraging local democracy?

Communication between organisations, governments and businesses and those they serve has nearly always been on a broadcast basis. The politician has spoken, unchallenged apart from perhaps an interviewer, and people have listened. Or not.  The business has advertised and people have bought. The only ‘dialogue’ has been at the ballot box or the cash till.

Broadcast vs Dialogue

It’s all been about broadcast – the sender of the message simply sends and the grateful public receive. And broadcast is fine. There are times when it’s essential. But some of us have been talking for years about how broadcast has insulated those who govern and sell to us about how they really need to communicate.

Communication needs to be about dialogue. But one side of that dialogue – the reader’s – has been silent – until recently. That means corporations and governments have been able to speak and write almost as they liked. Today, corporates, organisations and local authorities and governments are still struggling with the democratisation of communication.

Out of their depth

It’s tragic watching them on Facebook; businesses shouting to an empty room about how great they are. Baffled MPs and councillors ducking under Twitter onslaughts. Local authorities wondering why they get social media abuse, not involvement from people in their areas.

People are interested – so how do we engage them?

It’s not that people aren’t interested. The growth in single-issue and local pressure groups shows that, in fact, people are MORE interested in politics, business, government and society. But they’re turned off by the way these organisations communicate with them. Just listen to almost any politician trying to defend herself on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions. It’s not dialogue – it’s blocking monologue. It’s not communication, it’s communication’s antithesis.

And it is rooted in a past where those in authority knew best. Now, those governed are as likely to know just as much as those governing. And they’re becoming much less shy about telling them so.

So, for the first time, communication really IS about dialogue. And the dialogue is showing that people aren’t interested in the big issues that the politicians are – they’re interested in the local issues that affect and hurt them. And they want to get involved.

Harnessing the power of dialogue for society

There aren’t easy answers about how government and business can involve these newly-articulate stakeholders, but, imagine the knowledge, information, wisdom, perspective and depth they’d tap into if they could harness social media’s potential for dialogue and did. And, bluntly, to achieve any sort of inclusive, progressive politics and commerce, they need to.

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Musings

Don’t vote. It just encourages them?

It’s election day 2015. Politicians are, depending on the colours of their allegiance, either about to start weeping into their espresso or taking a pull on another celebratory pint of bitter. In the European elections last year, Marine Le Pen’s Front National topped a nationwide poll for the first time ever. The UK front pages nearly all carried photos of Nigel Farage with a grin as wide as the channel tunnel. The political establishment had its arse very firmly kicked.

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Is this what people really think?

David Cameron said that voters are “disillusioned” with the EU. A Lib Dem commentator said that Nick Clegg needs to quit because voters are no longer prepared to listen to him. I fear they’re deluding themselves. This wasn’t about the EU or Cleggy, this was about people’s view of politics and politicians. It’s also, fundamentally, about who’s talking and who’s listening. Who’s talking? Who’s listening? The 36% UK turnout tells its own story.

People are giving up on conventional democracy because ticking a box once every few years doesn’t really constitute a conversation between equals. And that’s what they get in most other areas of their lives. Only the way they’re governed (and, less so, the way they’re employed) is still so autocratic. Politicians aren’t talking about what voters are interested in and voters aren’t interested in what politicians are talking about. And when people do talk, politicians don’t listen. Letters get batted back with delegated, form answers and the real questions unanswered. The results of consultations seem pre-decided. Protests are increasingly ignored.   Image

Traditional politicians are becoming an irrelevance

We don’t really need elected representatives. We are now better informed, educated and connected thanks to the internet. Direct local democracy is possible and indeed, becoming more common. People can contact their local representatives, take part in consultations and lobby as never before. But their participation is still very much for form’s sake and, because of that, only a minority take part. Worse, most politicians seem to either fear or ignore this participation.

We’ve moved on in so many other areas. We choose our own direct, fragmented media, the news we read, the subjects we engage with, the style of reporting we want. Why shouldn’t we do the same with politics? Labour, LibDems, Conservatives – even UKIP – are becoming as irrelevant and archaic as just four channels of terrestrial television.

Pre-internet politics in a post-internet world

Democracy still consists of a pre-internet model where a few groups of people give pre-determined answers to a set of vague, general questions and ask people to elect them on that basis. Doesn’t it make more sense to ask the people the real, live questions directly and let them answer?

If we don’t begin to do this and educate the electorate (that’s all of us) to do so, ‘four channel’ party politics will continue down its slope to irrelevance. If people believed their vote might actually affect their lives, we’d start to see people becoming engaged in politics.

Wouldn’t it be splendid to see Pericles’ quote turned around – “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

So get out there and vote. We’re not going to change anything from outside the room.

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