Web 3.0: The Elite Strike Back?

I have been struck by the extent to which the "democracy" metaphor is used to describe Web 2.0 developments. As someone who has dabbled in the academic study of political theory in general, and democratic theory in particular, I have thought a lot lately about how important epistemological and information-cost assumptions are to the rationale for our political system, and how information technology may or may not therefore allow us to rethink the possibilities and limits of our democratic institutions. More specifically, I have thought that perhaps the apparent success of Web 2.0 at harnessing the "wisdom of the crowds" points to the real possibilities for a responsible and more equitable alternative to our representative-based legislatures and petition-vote based citizen initiatives.

I was therefore intrigued by Jason Calcanis' recent discussion of the advent of "Web 3.0," which is to him a marked improvement over Web 2.0 because it prevents "the 'wisdom of the crowds' from turning into the 'madness of the mobs' we've seen all to often, by balancing it with a respect of experts." It seems to me that democratic theory is more relevant today than it has been in decades (which isn't saying much). Recommended reading for all Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 enthusiasts is Robert Dahl's Democracy and Its Critics, especially his "critique of guardianship" (Ch. 5) and his discussion in the penultimate chapter (Ch. 22) on what he views as the single greatest threat to "democracy in tomorrow's world": the rise of a technocratic elite "expert class" that uses its power-knowledge to restrain and subjugate non-experts rather than to empower and emancipate them.

No comments: