Problems of Scope

Any alteration of communication by electronic networks has the potential to affect democracy as well. Media like the printing press, radio, and television have all altered the political discourse.

Hence, many citizens and politicians alike point to the Internet as a cure for what ails American government. While the Constitution guarantees all people equal access to the public forum, in reality obstacles such as class and race have denied marginalized groups the right to speak. In addition, over the past fifty years, voter turnout has dropped, party affiliation weakened, and dissatisfaction with the current political process has grown.

Thus, enthusiasts see electronic networks as a means for revitalizing citizen involvement in democracy. Two
years ago Vice-President Al Gore spoke of "forging a new Athenian age of democracy (Economist 21)," by
utilizing the capabilties presented by the Internet for increased popular participation. Yet one must remain
wary of such utopic reminisces for past forms of discourse. The Athenian model hinged on the notion of
direct participatory democracy: each citizen served as his own representative in government, deciding on
matters ranging from the passage of laws to technical procedures. But this system worked in part because
members of the polis were a homogoneous group of wealthy, Greek men who shared similar status, if not
goals. In contemporary society, postmodernists note, the multiplicity of voices which stems from a diverse array of backgrounds appears to complicate such a procedure. In addition, the Athenian bodies of governance never exceeded more than one thousand people at any given time. It seems unlikely that any electronic technology, regardless of its ability to enhance communication, could manage the desires of millions in a reasonable manner.

If we posit that democracy in the modern sense shall be synonymous with open discourse and unlimited access to information we must ask "how such democracy (is) to distinguished from simple noise (Ess 231)?" In other words, given the dissimilarity and emmensity of modern society, is it possible to reach any type of coherent consensus on issues which affect our lives? Moreover, should such consensus even be the goal of
democratic discourse?