Recently, I read an interview with the Lieutenant Governor for California, Gavin Newsom. He was commenting on the importance of technology to foster two-way communication between the government and its citizens. According to him,” Technology, more than anything else, democratizes voices. It allows people to share.” (“Yelp for the DMV?” by Adam Lashinksy, Fortune, 4/8/13, pg. 40)
The sentiment is warm and fuzzy and arguing against it would be like arguing against motherhood. Still a perversity exists in me that always has to look at the other side of the coin. I have to question the value of mindless communications that amounts to little more than “I like,” or “I don’t like.” Do I really want my leaders to count noses? I wouldn’t buy a picture from an artist who painted by numbers. Should I support a politician who voted by them?
During my tenure in public office, I attended hearings filled with angry constituents who were invested in one issue or another. Should I have focused only on those who participated and ignored the rights of those who didn’t know a hearing was going on? One hot button issue during my term of service was sewer development in the unincorporated areas of the county. So many people were moving to the suburbs that the growing number of cesspools was endangering the safety of well water. When the issue of sewer development came before the commission, people in the outlying areas poured into the courthouse in angry opposition. Sewers were going to cost money, a good chunk of it theirs, and they didn’t want to pay the assessment. I understood their argument. I was even sympathetic. But I also understood that growth threatened the groundwater for future generations. I voted for the sewers in spite of the unanimous opposition of those who’d come to testify.
Every day, via the internet, I get a multitude of questionnaires and petitions in my mailbox. Sure, I can offer my opinion with the click of a mouse. But is my opinion any good? How deeply have I studied the issue? Or am I reacting because a friend sent me the petition?
Of course, when I think about making policy based upon numbers, I also have to ask myself, “Is the majority always right?” Before the civil war, several states were almost unanimous in their opinion that slavery was permissible. Was that majority right?
(Courtesy of www.massresistance.org)