Politics needs an update for millennials.
Unlike those folks born in the analog era, who are used to long lines at the local school voting site, millennials are used to being able to participate with the outside world via their internet/phones. They leave online reviews, ratings, submit complaints, and they expect these actions to have an effect. Bad reviews lead to lower sales for a business, and a tweet about a bad customer service rep can do some serious damage to a company’s reputation. Millennials are not going to wait for Oprah to expose a hidden flaw in a product, nor will they resist visiting a restaurant they’ve never been to if they can look it up on Yelp.
So little of these online participatory patterns have made their way to politics. Why? Sure there’s social media “debates”, but studies show that social media turns out to have no effect on changing other people’s opinions, perhaps only entrenching them even deeper. There is petitions.whitehouse.gov, but this is really just the digital equivalent of sending a letter to president, it just gets thrown into a big pile and nothing ever happens. Snowden still hasn’t been pardoned (one of the top petitions on the site.)
While I don’t expect to be able to vote for the president via an app anytime soon, it is time to start bringing more democracy online. I think a great place to start is the local / municipal /maybe even state level. These are the arenas where we have the least amount of participation from citizens, partly because the issues are less sexy and often tedious, like zoning laws or budgetary minutia. Another reason is that people just don’t have the time to get up to speed on the issues, and to show up at local community boards. But the local level is the area where participation matters most, because the people we choose to represent us here, move on to higher office and become our presidents. By the time we get to vote in the primaries, the candidates have already been chosen for us, and then they get to make all the decisions.
There’s also opportunities for more referendum type actions to be done online. Referendums are a form of direct democracy somewhat foreign to the US. However, the internet lends itself perfectly to this type of direct Democracy. Gone are the days when we needed the pony express to deliver letters to Washington. Do we really need our heavily lobbied representatives to do all the voting for us, if we don’t have to be in Washington to do it?