Monday, 24 December 2007

Changeable Identity Aids Security

Some types of information security may be changed after a breach. For example it would be relatively easy to change the encryption standards, voter identification codes and passwords after a security breach, in order to prevent fraud. On the other hand, names and postcodes can't be altered making them more valuable for identity thieves. To side step this issue, after registration and validation, unique ID user names may be stored on the system, instead of real names. These may be changed after a security breach (or by the user at any other time) and will be worthless to identity fraudsters.
If each region operated its own ID database it would be easier and cheaper to "re-set" the security data after a crisis.

Decentralised Data

In the event of a breach of security, centralised databases can lose colossal amounts of personal information. Apart from the security measures already mentioned (encryption, fraud monitoring, firewalls, PINs etc.) it may be worth avoiding centralising data. Instead each county could run its own system at very little extra cost.

It may even be possible to put the servers, which take up little space, in already secure buildings (e.g. police stations?) so that costs don't escalate.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Multiple Choice

The technology of Interactive Democracy facilitates "ranked voting" where multiple choices can be ranked by voters as a preference list: each option may be ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. Alternatively, voters may be asked to give a score to each option, rather like many questionnaires, perhaps with a range from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". This could easily be accommodated by the computerised system and may give a clearer indication of majority sentiment in decisions where there are multiple options presented together.

This link discusses the problems of satisfying the majority in elections with more than one party.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Problems With Democracy

Here's a list:

  1. Funding
  2. The Party Whip undermining the ability of MPs to represent their constituents or, even, their own conscience
  3. Spin and lies
  4. Unfulfilled manifestos
  5. General elections rest on voters making complex choices that mingle personality and policy
  6. Top down not bottom up
  7. Inaccurate information
  8. Statistical naivety
  9. Low voter power
  10. First past the posts skews electoral power
  11. Point scoring debates and sound bite politics
  12. Pursuit of the centre ground leading to stagnation politics
  13. Little voter choice
  14. Little connection with voters
  15. MPs can't represent the views of their constituents because they don't know what the majority of them think
  16. Local and European politics aren't well presented in the media

Monday, 3 December 2007

Parliamentary Decisions

One of the advantages of Interactive Democracy is that the complex choices of our current General Election (personalities, parties and manifestos) are split into simpler choices about individual policies. Some may say "that already occurs in parliament", but MPs don't always vote on the merits of each case or the wishes of their voters. Instead they must consider their position in the party and the wishes of the whip. This can be clearly seen in the abstentions of Labour MPs who "opposed" the war in Iraq!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Qualified to Vote?

Today we already have a qualification to vote - you have to be aged 18 or over. What if there were another qualification, perhaps one based on intellect, logic, values or compassion? Perhaps everyone would sit an exam on it?... at any age. Maybe it would be like a test of Britishness? Maybe those adults that fail the test must nominate someone else to vote on their behalf?
This isn't something I would like to see in Interactive Democracy because it may create a disenfranchised underclass. The type of test also biases the system and if votes are transferred to others, the door is opened to corruption.

Authority and Democracy

Voting for a leader is voting for someone to have authority over us; perhaps someone cleverer, more experienced, more capable and better able to make decisions. Yet many of us have clear and often opposite views to our leaders, who are also apt to disagree amongst themselves.

It may be that our need to be lead by capable people is more a fear of other members of our society, who oppose our sacrosanct views and values... lets call them idiots (these people have as many rights and as much democratic authority as ourselves). After all, we can aspire to become that sensible authority figure in parliament and the self evident fallacy of the views of those other citizens (idiots) precludes them from sharing the same success.

Put another way: We may prefer the current model of Parliamentary Democracy to Interactive Democracy because we would rather have decisions made for us than share equal power with the idiots in our society!
However, this argument ignores the prospect that a well explained argument can win over the stupidest and most dogmatic of our fellow idiots.

Wise Men

In November 2007 a number of the most senior (retired) servicemen in the country launched a broadside against the government, critical of the paucity of funding for the armed services that are stretched by wars on two fronts. Wouldn't it be shameful to lose the depth of expertise of these honoured men from political life?

If the House of Lords were "demolished", it does not mean that this expertise would be lost. These ex-generals could just as easily make their point through the media. I'm sure many papers would appreciate a column written by such illustrious figures and I imagine that most journalists would like to interview them. Similarly, any other ex-politician, senior clergyman or police Superintendent could use the media to make their point, made all the more powerful by acting in unison with each other.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Data Leaks and Identity Fraud

25 million personal records lost by the government! Identity fraud on the increase! It's enough to make anyone want to return to good old paper systems, but I hope this will provoke an altogether more useful question: "How do we ensure the security of computerised records?".

The answer isn't rocket science. In fact it's implemented in many, perhaps most, systems: the software is written to prevent unauthorised access, unauthorised copying and it is encrypted. Lets hope that the government learns from these mistakes and ensures the systems are in place to stop data loss from happening again.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Super Crunchers

This is the title of Ian Ayres new book, which looks at the ability of statistics and experimentation to improve decision making and explains the significance of regression analysis, randomisation and controls. It has a whole chapter on Government, which makes interesting reading.

Experiments in social science, conducted by academics, can be a driver of new ideas in Interactive Democracy but should also be part of the parliamentary tool kit for gathering information on any policy that may be put to a public vote. Getting these skills into parliament and the media is important if we are to improve democracy.

The New York Times blog on "Super Crunchers".
Ian Ayres is a Yale Law School professor and Forbes columnist.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Too Lazy to Vote?

I would imagine that some of the population are too lazy or uninterested to vote on most issues. This may benefit democracy as those who take the trouble to contribute are, by definition, more conscientious (whether you agree with their opinions or not).

Media Moguls

One concern for democracy is a too powerful and biased press. I suspect that this is less problematic than it once was, as our news comes from increasingly diverse sources: print, terrestrial TV, radio, satellite TV (including foreign channels) and the Internet. Indeed, it is now far easier for anyone with a connection to discover blogs on virtually any subject and to access raw data on many aspects of society and government.
Perhaps the next media mogul is Google, but it doesn't have a monopoly - there are still a number of good search engines out there and they only cover one information channel making them a little less controlling than the press Barons of old.

Newspaper readership figures can be found here.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Making Sense of the World

Robin Lustig has been studying politics for decades as a student and journalist. Over the years he has made a number of programmes about democracy. His blog is available here and is well worth a read.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Stupidest Person in the Country

In Interactive Democracy the stupidest person in the country has the same voting power as the brightest person in the country! Is this bad?

This unfortunate individual should have the same human rights and be treated with the same decency as anyone else. If they possess a little IQ it does not mean that they don't have emotional intelligence, sound morals or unique experiences from which to draw in reaching a decision.

And, should their vote be considered somewhat random, you may think of it as the noise on the signal of the national intent. Noise that is likely balanced by a random vote in the opposite direction, leaving the winning argument to emerge, clearly.

"IQ minim" is perhaps more likely to be swayed by strong persuaders and it is the role of effective political leadership, the media savvy and eloquent, to win him/her over. There will always be a role for intelligent leadership. The danger, as in any election, is manipulation of their vote by close associates.

The ideas engine (or ePetition) provides an opportunity for good solutions to emerge, allowing society to capitalise on the intelligence of the brightest. This is an area where "IQ minim" is unlikely to shine, unless their situation sparks ideas in others.

You Be The Judge

In our justice system the Judge guides the Jury within the legal framework. In Interactive Democracy it would be sensible to give Parliament the responsibility of overseeing the ID process, making sure that enough time is given to debate, that the correct information is presented, that the process isn't subverted in some way and that it is in the national interest.

12 Peers

One point of view in politics is that referenda have no place in democracy, perhaps because the public can't be trusted to reach a sensible decision on complicated issues? This seems to me to run contrary to our whole justice system - "12 good men and true".

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Too Much Government

In "What is your Dangerous Idea?" Matt Ridley discusses the notion that successful societies rely on personal and economic freedoms for improvement and that historically "strong central government led to parasitic, tax fed officialdom, a stifling of innovation, relative economic decline, and usually war."

Interactive Democracy decentralises democracy, offering new opportunities for innovation, freedom and collective responsibility.

Matt Ridley is a science writer and founding chairman of the International Centre for Life. He is the author of "Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code".

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Systems of Empathy

In "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?", Simon Baron-Cohen muses on the machismo and combativeness of conventional politics compared to "A Political System Based on Empathy".

Author of "The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism", Simon identifies our current confrontational political system with typical male characteristics and makes comparisons with the typically female trait of Empathy, which may be a crucial ingredient in solving the worst conflicts that face us.

While Interactive Democracy doesn't demolish combative party politics, by increasing the power of the electorate it reduces the bias towards male domination by increasing numbers of female votes and ideas.

Simon Baron-Cohen is a psychologist at the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Garbage In, Garbage Out

The electorate are only as good as their information, so safeguarding truth is essential to democracy:

  • Free and competitive press
  • Strong laws against fraud, lying and misrepresentation
  • Transparency in government
  • Government sponsored research free from political bias
  • Critical thinking and freedom of speech
  • Competition among search engines to avoid political bias

Chaos Theory and Consequences

You may have heard that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil it can precipitate a series of weather patterns that lead to a Typhoon in Malaysia. Another way of putting it is that 'small triggers can have complex consequences'.

So how can parliament, or anyone else, predict the detailed consequences of a policy?

It takes a super computer to have a chance of predicting the weather. And that is what we have for making political decisions when we link massive numbers of people together in an election: A supercomputer that processes discrete knowledge, experience, intellect, values and personal forecasts to come to an optimal solution (if not the perfect one).

Infinite Information

Take a subject, any subject, and look at how much information there is on it. For example how much do you know about a fly? Do you know about the mechanisms of its body, its aerodynamics, how it makes decisions, its predators, its food, how its DNA was encoded, its family history, where it is and where it's come from. Can you predict its future?

Is there an expert that knows all of this? I think not, because there are so many areas of expertise involved, each with an infinite level of detail and interlinked with other areas.

My point is that there is too much information on any subject for elite political decision makers to process. Something bigger and better is needed: A network of discrete information processors, making decisions based on their own sphere of knowledge and experience, each predicting how policies will effect their own future and grounded in their own values and morals. In short: The electorate and voting using Interactive Democracy!

Criteria for a Referendum

What is it that makes some issues appropriate for a public vote?

  1. Complexity/simplicity of the subject? Most votes can be boiled down to simple issues!
  2. The time and media coverage available to address the issue? Each vote is an interactive media story.
  3. The public's capacity to give due consideration to the pros and cons? Opinion leaders with media access are important to the debate.
  4. Cost of administering the referendum? Interactive Democracy benefits from low cost IT services.
  5. National security considerations?... Decisions may be based on secrets!... Or they may be based on morals?
  6. Frequent votes may lead to overload and voter apathy! But people can vote on many issues at one sitting and may not vote at all on issues they have no feelings about.

It seems to me that when politicians decide if there should be a referendum, there's a little voice in the back of their heads saying "Only do it if you are sure we will win!"

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Targeting the Majority, Missing Innovation

Political parties may shift their policies to target the majority of voters, which is probably why they appear so similar. When marketing to the majority, offering something new and different is always fraught with danger as many people only buy into something when its tried and tested. This inhibits political parties from experimenting with the more radical policies that some advocate. Perhaps this is why some senior police officers have been discussing "out of the box" alternatives: a debate on clarifying the paedophilia laws; legalising drugs?

Interactive Democracy allows the more creative policies a chance to be aired, without risk to the political parties. With sufficient support from the public, parliament may be forced to debate them, clarify and present them to the public for ratification, but the politicians can always hold up their hands and say "we are just doing your bidding". It reduces the political risk for them.

No Politics or Religion Please!

Arguments may not be pleasant, and in polite society they are sometimes best avoided so that deep seated disagreements don't tarnish a relationship. However, cyberdisinhibition may allow discussion of politics that would never occur in a social group. (This blog may be a case in point.)

Flaming Emails

Cyberdisinhibition or "flaming" causes people to use language on the Internet that they would usually moderate in a normal conversation. This can lead to abusiveness and bullying, something that can readily be witnessed in the comments on You Tube. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, "disinhibition becomes far more likely when people feel strong negative emotions", as may be the case in politics!

This may cause a problem for ePetitions that allow feedback and comments, or if the author can be emailed. However, it may be moderated when abusers realise that they have to enter their name and address before posting a comment (as is required on the No.10 ePetition site, today).

As children may conceivably be using the site, this is especially important.
Swearing and abusiveness can be detected automatically by the computer system and moderated by the web master who may, in extreme cases, have cause to contact the police. Other sanctions may include a ban on the perpetrator for a period of time: "if you use word "x, y or z" you will be banned for 30 days"?

Friday, 19 October 2007

A Few Votes, Enough?

Should there be a minimum number of votes to validate a bill? Too few votes shows a disinterest from the general public, makes mistaken decisions more likely and increases the power of the individual to, perhaps, unhealthy levels.

This begs a question: How many votes are too few?... Perhaps 10000?


We all make decisions that we regret. The advantage of Interactive Democracy is that each voter is a small cog in an enormous machine with perhaps tens of thousands or millions of similar voters. A machine that requires a significant majority to ratify a law. So if you get it wrong (change your mind after the poll), there's no need to regret.

The corollary of this is that there are less than 650 voters in the House of Commons. Make a mistake there and it can have a much bigger effect.

Cool Off and Change Your Vote

In Interactive Democracy you can change your mind and alter your vote at any time before the poll is counted. This allows cooling off, time to think, to absorb the arguments and debates, and see if your initial decision still holds true.

It helps smooth out the demand peaks on the servers but also encourages people to vote instinctively and then reassess - a process that could increase the total number of votes and the processing power of the system.

Snap Decisions and Big Numbers

Voters may make snap decisions on how to cast their vote. Is this wrong?
Many people would say that a careful balancing of the facts is essential to making good decisions. Others would say that initial impressions are often correct and that detailed analysis is a process of finding evidence to support your initial view, rather than developing it.
Interactive Democracy recognises that no one person can process all the information pertaining to any decision. It recognises that your values and experience may be as important as your intellect. Each person making a snap or considered decision is just a small part of the national ID nervous system, making decisions on topics already considered and approved by professional politicians. In this context snap decisions aren't as problematic as they first seem. In fact they may allow more people to make more decisions, increasing the processing power of the system.

Voting In Advance

In Interactive Democracy votes may be cast any time before the poll is counted. This allows voters more efficient use of their time as they can vote on a whole range of issues at a single "sitting". They are thus able to process more votes.
Votes can be changed or cancelled at any time before the "count" and changes may be viewed on an online statement so that everyone can monitor for fraud.

For Bill(')s Sake!

I counted 105 Bills in the Lords and Commons in 2006/7. How much more law do we need... for Pete's sake?

As a mature democracy it's interesting that we continue to add new laws at such a rate... and it's a problem for Interactive Democracy because, unlike professional politicians, the public are unlikely to want to consider so many new laws. But do we really need them? Or are they just a symptom of having a political elite justifying their existence or reacting to media concerns? Would it really be a problem if we only had 24 new laws a year?
Alternatively, if all 105 Bills were presented to the public is it really a problem if not everyone votes on them: the people directly involved certainly would.

Adding Information to Politics... and Filtering It

It may be possible to add informative links to each ePetition. Perhaps anyone could add a link to relevant information, with a brief summary of what it's about? However, this presents problems of information overload because there is no mechanism for filtering the good from the bad.

Search engines have developed into powerful tools for filtering information because they automatically look at how many referrals a site may have, and the "credibility" of each of those referrals. The result is that the most relevant information is presented quickly. Using conventional search engines (and there's a number to choose from) arguably provides a better information system than allowing voters to add links to an ePetition system.

Requests For Information

The ePetition system can be used to request parliament to gather and publish information. For example this link on the No. 10 ePetition site, shows a request for a study into the economics of legalising drug use . I can see the benefits of requesting such studies, but their may be genuine difficulties in getting the information because of the problems (impossibility?) of gathering it. In this case it may be very difficult to set up a small scale experiment, as cheap, licensed drugs in one location would attract addicts from other areas, with various social consequences. Other types of study may be more successful and may already exist without the knowledge of ePetitioners. It would be useful for links to this information to be added to the ePetition site.

"Can we ever have enough information?" Using ID to rationalise the release of information under the Freedom of Information Act is one way of prioritising requests that may prove to be very expensive and are currently often instigated by individuals and journalists.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Fuzzy Thinking

"Fuzzy Thinking", the title of a book by Bart Kosko, looks at how logic is linked to probability to predict optimum outcomes. It's the sort of process your automatic camera goes through to try to produce the best pictures and gives some insight into how to make decisions with imperfect information... which is usually the case.

Interactive Democracy combines the Fuzzy Decisions of all voters to reach an optimal outcome.

EQ not IQ

By EQ I mean the Experience Quotient (nothing to do with emotional intelligence, though similar arguments may be made about EI). Lets imagine that the sum of your life experiences is the sum of every different experience that you have ever had or learnt about. This encompasses a good proportion of your learned IQ. Compare this EQ to IQ, which is useful in understanding and analysing data on relatively simple decisions that may not take into account complex values, feelings and motivations.

Imagine a group of politicians - how diverse are their experiences? Now imagine a much bigger group - the whole population involved in a referendum. This group probably includes every politician and has a cumulative amount of experience which can be expressed through the vote.

Many voters may not easily be able to articulate their views but it may be argued that their sub-conscious has already factored in all their experience to lead them to an opinion, which may be altered by the light of good arguments, stories and debate.

Interactive Democracy capitalises on the maximum amount of every form of intelligence, from every source.

The Opposition... They're Stupid!

Arguments, especially political ones, can get somewhat heated... It's always tempting to think of the other side as stupid because they can't understand your point of view. And if they're stupid, maybe we would be better letting the political elite decide? This may be one of the deep seated rationals behind opposition to Interactive Democracy.

Perhaps it takes a leap of faith to think "Well, maybe the opposition have other values, experiences and information, that I don't have. Maybe, they're not stupid after all!"

And maybe those "stupid" people, who may have a far lower IQ than you, suddenly say something true that you hadn't spotted before.

People as Transistors

Imagine a micro chip with each transistor switching to process information. Now imagine that each of those transistors is an autonomous computer in its own right, processing its own information stream, which effects which way it switches. This is how I imagine each voter in Interactive Democracy. Each person makes a decision on which way to vote based on all the information and experience they have available. They are part of a huge social, organic computer (ID), designed to process information and optimise society for the common good.

(And this is the best reason I can think of for being 1 of 40 odd million voters in any democratic election.)

Democracy as Information Processor

Imagine our society as an organism. It has a nervous system to gather and process information, and make decisions for its own betterment. What would be the best design of that nervous system?

How Much Would You Pay To Vote?

Here's a thought experiment: imagine how much you would pay, in Pounds Stirling, for your vote in a General Election... a local election... on an issue you care about using Interactive Democracy. £1, £10, £1000? Compare this value to how much money you would consider keeping in an online bank account. This gives some sort of comparison of the value and security of Interactive Democracy.
According to this research 44% of adults are expected to use an online bank account by 2012.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Freudian Politics

It may be that we are never fully aware of the subconscious motivations that drive us to decisions. Does "Interactive Democracy" latch on to deep seated suspicions of leaders who don't ask for my consent? Do others have a deep seated need for father figures?

If we accept that some of our decision making is subconscious, doesn't that further undermine the concept that a small group of similar, elite politicians can make better decisions than a much larger group who are less biased?

Values and Choices

It seems to me that one of the common sticking points of any argument is a difference in values:
  • "I value mountaineering - you think it's stupidly dangerous"
  • "I eat too much - you think I'm a drain on the national health service"
  • "I value freedom - you value security"
It's very difficult to appreciate other peoples' values, which is one reason why we should all have an equal vote in Interactive Democracy... and not be governed by the values of a small group of 640 odd MPs.

6 Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono defined six styles of thinking:

  1. White Hat Thinking is about facts and gathering information
  2. Red Hat Thinking is about emotion and intuition
  3. Black Hat Thinking is critical thinking and is sometimes seen as negative
  4. Yellow Hat Thinking looks for the positive
  5. Green Hat Thinking is creative
  6. Blue Hat Thinking is about controlling the process
I've already mentioned the Blue and White hats in relation to politicians. Interactive Democracy is also a Blue Hat process and the debate each issue creates will draw in White Hat data from a multitude of sources. The ePetition aspect of Interactive Democracy provides creative ideas which are likely to provoke other ideas and the whole voting system absorbs the predilections of voters for Red, Black and Yellow Hat thinking.

6 Sigma Government

"6 Sigma" is the title of a quality management system and refers to being almost defect free (3.4 defects per million). Its procedure for the management of improvement is DMAIC:

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Improve
  5. Control
In Interactive Democracy any issue receiving sufficient support is already defined but may need to be clarified by the elected parliament. They should define the measurements required to identify success and gather the data (White Hat Thinking); analyze the data and present it to the public; improve the issue by writing the law and seek approval by public vote. It is then the governments responsibility to use Control to ensure success.

Blue Hat Politicians

De Bono's Blue Hat thinking is all about "Control of Thinking", "Focus", "Program Design", "Summaries" and "Monitoring". In Interactive Democracy this is the main role of politicians.

Once the "seconding" (ePetition) process identifies issues and ideas that the public feel strongly about, politicians must utilise their skills and resources to define the law which will then be presented to the public for ratification. A good government will monitor the effects of the changes.

Science in Politics

It seems that there are few people with the statistical skills to separate fact from assumption. I wonder how many politicians could do a regression analysis, calculate the significance of a sample size or understand the Monty Hall problem. It may be too much to ask for every politician to be fully conversant with all this, but maybe they can request the help and advice of academics on such matters. Or maybe there should be guidance from a civil servant adept at statistical analysis?

This is just as important to Interactive Democracy as to Representative Democracy.

White Hat Politicians

Edward de Bono identified several types of thinking. He associated each with a coloured hat: White Hat Thinking is all about collecting information (imagine a white piece of paper). It would be of great benefit to Interactive Democracy (indeed any democracy) for politicians to identify what information is required for each issue and to fund the gathering of that information, perhaps through independent academics. This should be reported via a link on the ID web site.

(Edward de Bono created the term "lateral thinking")

Democratic Falsehoods

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Winston Churchill
  1. The manifesto of the winning party is always implemented... No it isn't - so how do we choose which party to vote for?
  2. MPs reflect the opinions of the majority in their constituency... How do they know?
  3. MPs always act on their convictions... So what are the party whips for?
  4. MPs always tell the truth... And there's no such thing as spin?
  5. Your vote can sway the result... Your vote is one in many hundreds of thousands and carries little influence.
  6. Anyone can become a Member of Parliament... There are only 640 odd seats in the commons, so the odds are pretty slim.
  7. All aspects of an argument are presented in debate... Points of view are as diverse as peoples experiences and can never be fully communicated in debate.
  8. All pertinent information is presented and analysed by Parliament... Information is virtually infinite and decisions can never be fully informed.
  9. Parliament makes logical and rational decisions... There is no set of standards for decision making as would be the case in, say, testing an aircraft wing structure to ensure safety.
  10. Politicians are experts in decision making... And are well qualified in statistical analysis?
  11. Politicians are mostly altruistic... Freud may disagree - he identified many sub-conscious motivators.
  12. Consequences of decisions can be predicted and fully considered by dedicated professional politicians... Consequences can never be fully predicted because of chaos and complexity theory.
  13. Politicians represent the will of the people... How do they know what the majority want?
  14. A small group of intelligent politicians make better decisions than a large group of average people... Large groups of dissimilar people have more experience to draw on than a small group with similar experiences.
  15. Multi-faceted decisions, such as those in a General Election can be calculated rationally... Multi-faceted decisions are much harder to decide than single issues.

(Politicians have special skills that are needed in Interactive Democracy and, despite the above comments, I feel it is everyone's duty to vote.)

About Democracy

This links to an excellent article summarising many of the issues regarding democracy.

Internet... The New Press

This article examines how the Internet may effect democracy. It makes the point that the Internet may be more powerful than the printing press, which was a crucial technology in the early days of democracy. However, the Internet does require some skill to use - much like learning to read!