Tech Threats to Democracy

The New York Times just posted a chilling article titled “Silicon Valley Can’t Destroy Democracy Without Our Help”. In the very first line, Emily Parker says

“Silicon Valley, once a force for good, is now a threat to democracy”.

I haven’t read the entire article yet, but it probed my brain to ask if this is true. Is technology a threat to our democracy, or are certain technologies extenuating and inflating circumstances that are already occurring, and are now at the forefront of discussion?

I think many of us can agree that this past year has led the public to question the power of large technology companies like Facebook and Google. It has also lead those companies to question their own authority and responsibilities to the public. Take Mark Zuckerburg, who is now taking the Russian investigations more seriously than ever. I’m delighted to see the public take a critical stance on these companies. They need to be critically analyzed and controlled. But to blame them for our problems as a country do not help fix the underlying issues.

Here’s a good question. Would Trump’s large advertisements exist if we had controlled budgets for elections? Would political advertising be effective if citizens were provided with higher quality sources of information? Rather than be quick to blame the messenger, think about the quality of the message and how we have educated the public to receive that message.

Without question, technology companies’ influences have tremendously shaped our lives for good and for worse. But they aren’t the only ones to blame for the problems we have needed to address for decades.

(Click picture for NYT link)

Update: The article does affirm my beliefs.

Hamilton

Last night I was driving in my car and was signing along to the Hamilton soundtrack. I realized while I was singing that I discovered the Hamilton soundtrack at the end of my junior year of undergraduate, right as I started thinking about graduate school. And as I thought about the timeline in my car, I realized that the musical probably played a role in my decision to look at Congress. It reinstalled a sense of pride and faith into what the U.S. has built, and an empathy for those in charge today.

So thank you Hamilton. You may have lead to me to where I am today.

Down The Rabbit Hole

This quarter I will be entering the rabbit hole of literature to prepare for my qualifying exam in the spring (It’s basically a large literature review). There are a few questions that I need to start answering to situate my work:

[1] How many people are looking at technology in Congress and in what ways?

Yesterday I discovered a whole group of political science researchers looking at technology use in Congress, but most of them were looking at campaigns, rather than constituent-based communication. In some ways, it was almost embarrassing to know that I had completely missed their body of literature over the past year.  However, I think this is just part of academia, and it takes practice to discover similar content in very interdisciplinary concepts.

[2] Where is my work best situated?

This also leads to a bigger question of where do I want to frame my research career. Do I want to be known as the one who studies Congress? Or as the one who studies digital forms of civic communication? Do I want to situate all my future research in civic-based ICT, or broader development? Do you I want suggest future designs or processes? I don’t know yet, but creating an outlet for impact is important.

[4] Where are the arguments, discrepancies, and gaps within the literature?

This is where I can squish my own work into pre-existing work…yes, I did say squish. I think it describes the process quite nicely.

[5] What skills do I need to develop from reading certain pieces of literature?

I clearly need more experience with both qualitative and quantitative measures. So what do I need to read to gain those skills?

[6] Anything else?…