Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Digital Democracy

I have become a member of  If you don't know what it is, I would encourage you to go to their site and take a look.  In essence what the folks at Nextdoor have done is break up the U.S. (??, not sure if it is just the U.S.) into neighborhoods and if someone will take the initiative in a given neighborhood to get them to become members of Nextdoor, then they effectively have a forum for just themselves on any neighborhood issues or notices that they want.  Now if adjoining neighborhoods become organized, then when a notice is posted, it can go not only to your own neighborhood, but also all the adjoining neighborhoods.  When I say neighborhood, I mean a really small number of households.  My neighborhood has about 130 members signed up out of maybe 200 homes.  Including the adjoining neighborhoods (there are 7) we have about 2400 households.
This service has worked quite well.  When burglaries occur, or there is a pet lost, or someone just needs a recommendation for a plumber this is just the right spot to go. Very local and these are the people you meet on the street if you go on a stroll with your dog.

There have been some tense moments when some issues have come up.  For example, there has been an issue with homeless people in the area and there is a clear schism between those who think we should extend ourselves as a community for these individuals and those who want to rid our town of them and that they are too great a burden on our community.  Nevertheless, the Nextdoor forum has been a wonderful medium for an honest an frank discussion on not only this issue, but many other "issues" that the community is facing.

Recently the folks at Nextdoor added a new feature on the site wherein the County could broadcast via Nextdoor information that it believes to be of importance to the community.  The County can broadcast to all the neighborhoods in the community or to any subset of neighborhoods.  So, the County issued a post on the site to all members in all neighborhoods in the County stating that this capability will be used by the County.  There are certain restrictions on the County's use of the Nextdoor site.  First, the County cannot look or read the conversations that the neighborhoods are having on their sites, nor can they look at the profiles of the members.  Members may choose to reply to the County posting, in which case that reply will go to the full scope of the County posting (that is, if it was a countywide posting then the reply will be visible to everyone in the county).
This opened up an opportunity for people in the county to start any discussion they wanted on a matter of interest to their community.  There have been some constraint put on the free two way conversations, but the general idea of allowing the citizenry to organize their discussions on local issues in such a well broadcast media was quite refreshing.

I use the term "digital democracy".  I did a search on the term and found that it has been used before, but I am not sure yet if it was used with the same connotation.  There is another term
E-democracy that is also getting some use.

In either case, this has gotten me to think about our democracy.  In the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution), Article I deals with the right of assembly of the citizenry. We all know this since we were in elementary school.  One of the founding principals of this country is that the citizens can assemble to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way) anything that they want.  They can also petition the government with their grievances.

From a practical point of view this is not quite as simple as it sounds.  In this busy hustle bustle world we live in it is difficult to contact and get others to participate in such activity.  But now, with a little help from the internet and our friends at Nextdoor, it is very easy for us disorganized and busy citizens to get together electronically to discuss and also protest (in a peaceful way, of course) anything on the local level that we want.  The age of digital democracy has arrived.

Please comment on your thoughts about this new and exciting way to improve the democratic process.