by Adrian Tawfik
November 30, 2012
Technological advances have been the primary drivers of the spread of democracy. Today, two and a half billion additional people in China and India alone that have been catapulted into the digital age with more information at their disposal than the King of England had 100 years ago. The smartphone is the combined printing press/telephone/radio/TV/Internet on steroids. The coming together of the relentless advancement in the technological power of individuals with the unprecedented geopolitical advantage democracy already enjoys represents the greatest chance for the end of dictatorship the world has ever had.
The American and French revolutions, the first major democratic revolutions of the modern era, were the direct result of the massive technological and social change that had proceeded during the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. It is not a coincidence that Benjamin Franklin, who helped write the U.S. Constitution, also helped discover some of the basic properties of our dearly beloved electricity. Since the beginnings of the modern era, governments that did not participate in scientific and industrial progress were sentenced to domination by those that did. Governments that did participate experienced vast social change and material progress that had profound ramifications for their internal politics.
Communications technology, for example, progressed through the printing press, telegrams, Morse code, radio, television, and the Internet, which were all in their time essential innovations to achieve economic strength while also inevitably playing a role as a catalyst for social and political revolution. As the pace of technological change has quickened, inherently inflexible dictatorships have found it increasingly impossible to keep pace with the constant state of reform and self-criticism necessary for a functioning government. For long-term policy making that can cope with the massive changes that are taking place in societies across the world, democratic elections remain the essential tool which insures buy-in of proposed social and economic policies by the populace.
The increasing power of individuals is, and always will be, the primary engine of humanity’s quest to break free from the ages of suffering and ignorance. The limitless frontier of space is only one of the arenas for the human race to conquer in the coming decades. Surely the study of the human brain will lead us to new understanding of the complexities that make us who we are. Yet politics and war must not be what holds us from achieving these goals. Deep societal change has been a hallmark of modern life since the Renaissance. However, the great difference is that today super-rapid technological innovation has resulted in millions of oppressed people having the ability to organize overnight and strive to join the slightly less than half of the world’s total population that already live in democracies (LINK). The advancement of technology is a key factor in the spread of democracy and the end of dictatorships. Forget the power of the pen over the sword, today we should say: the iPhone is mightier than the gun.
About the Author:
Adrian Tawfik co-founded Democracy Chronicles in 2011. He received a B.A. from New School University and is based in New York City. Democracy Chronicles will feature, World Citizen, a series of articles that will be concerned with all things democracy.