The Emergent Democracy discussion is, well, a discussion. Joi could have written a paper about tools and politics in isolation and presented a polished version as a firm argumentative stance. Instead, its an open process that uses the tools it seeks to study. So there will be holes in the arguement -- which invites constructive arguementation. The means are as important as the ends.
Tim Oren constructively wieghs in on Emergent Democracy on two of the missing points of what has emerged from the discussion so far: techno-utopianism and the link from tools from groups to influence.
He quotes Cory Doctorow from a different context:
The techno-utopianism is the one thing you never shake when you grow up in a Marxist household; its the unshakeable faith that technology can affect positive social change.
Its widely known that technology advances significantly change society, but technology in and of itself is not a solution for any social issue. Its easy for technologists to get swept up in their own innovation, and I think that's a good thing -- technologists and scientists should have an ethical obligation to consider the potential conseqences of their inventions.
An adaptation of the theory of Neofunctionalism also reveals the inevitable pattern of functional spillover of cooperation from the technical to economic to political domains. Take the Stanford Open Spectrum conference as an example. Initially technologists took advantage of unliscensed spectrum and invented a way in which radios didn't interfere with the commons. Those same technologists continue to force the issue in increasingly political domains.
On Emergent Democracy, the initial focus has been on discussing the tools, their design and implications. Its a forward-looking approach that recognizes -- if the cost for communication and the formation of groups falls -- there are significant economic and political consequences.
Tim on organizational design...
...Allow me to suggest that they've rediscovered something fairly old. I suggest looking into the notion of the 'clan' originated by organizational theorist William Ouchi over 20 years ago. Clans arise in a situation of high performance ambuguity, and low goal incongruence. Here are a few of their characteristics lifted from a set of course notes (PDF):
- An organic organization which resembles a kin network but may not include blood relations
- Based on interdependence; unique and autonomous individuals more dependent upon each other
- Common values and beliefs provide a harmony of interests, erasing possibility of opportunistic behavior
Does this sound familiar? This is a valid and valuable type of organization, but Mssrs. Mayfield and Ito commit an error of type trying to amplify studies from inside of work organizations to a means for organizing a polity, and finding an exception to the power laws. The central issue is: It. Does. Not. Scale. This is one time when VC speak is entirely relevant to another situation.
There's anecdotal evidence. The social relationship number. The informal Valley wisdom is that 100-150 is about the biggest organization you can manage 'flat' - that is, around common goals and vision rather than formal structure. Years ago at Apple, I and then intern Jonathan Steuer coined the 'Iron Law of Mailing Lists' which predicably collapse into dissension when there are over 50 active contributors.
These are suggestive, but the scaling limit is directly implied by the notion of 'low goal incongruence.' Gents, goal incongruence is what politics is all about. If you think you can avoid that at the scale of a nation, I've got some juche for you right here, because it's just your flavor. Having observed at first hand how supposedly coherent sets of people like the old Well-beings made a hash of things, I shudder to think about that sort of 'organization' in any proximity to the coercive powers of war and taxation. Give me that representative government, because it's still the worst thing except all the alternatives.
Goal incongruence from the emergent structures of creative and social networks are possible because the scale is within the limits of collaborative relationships and communicative communities people can handle. These structures complement political networks that follow the power-law.
The link between the creation of fit memes at the creative network level and initial validation through social networks to scaled adoption at the political network level -- is that hubs at the political network level participate at all three levels. They are people too. Today's number 1 Daypop was diffused in this manner.
These hubs validate memes at the social network level and then establish their affiliation with the meme at the political network level. This is similar to setting policy. Congressional representatives are lobbied at the social network level (institutionalize pluralism), are influenced by other affiliations at the political network level (individualized pluralism) -- and then set establish their own policy positions which are distributed through their political network. These congruent goals, which established as policy, are administered in a scaled organization. That's what we have today, and its still representative democracy.
When the cost for group forming falls, groups emerge that are otherwise lost to entropy and new mechanisms can be adopted like deliberative polling. These groups are coupled with distributed information filtering mechanism [Werblog] that will increasingly impact the mass media and decision makers. When these mechanisms are integrated with those of decision makers, the simple change is decisions based on better information.
But this is still a discussion. The shape of the tools and their integration for influence is far from being hard coded.