Changing Conceptions of Democracy
by Larry Grossman

Call it what you will: the Information Age; the Telecommunications Revolution; the Cyberspace Era; the Internet Era; the Digital Age; the Knowledge Century. It's a given that, prompted by exploding computer and communications technology, remarkable social and economic changes are coming upon us at a furious pace. Revolutionary or not, these changes are transforming the work place, transforming the time we spend at home, transforming global markets - indeed, transforming the quality of our lives. And these technology changes are also transforming our centuries' old democratic political system, a fact largely overlooked amidst all the hype over the high tech glitz of the new electronic world. Information technology is transforming every other aspect of contemporary life; why should our traditional form of government be immune from such change?

I want to talk to you today about the major transformation that's happening to America's political system -- the rise of a new and unprecedented form of democratic governance. Incessant polling, e-mail, 800- numbers, telephone banks, faxes, the Internet, and call-in radio and TV shows have exponentially increased the exposure of public officials to their constituents. No major political decision are made without first taking the pulse of the people. Public opinion now plays a pivotal role in every major government action. In my book, I called this new form of government "the electronic republic," a hybrid political system that melds elements of electronic direct democracy with America's long-standing structure of representative government.

It is essential that we devote at least a modest portion of our influential and powerful telecommunications resources to the purposeful job of making citizens well-informed, engaged participants in a free democratic society. Fortunately, with the convergence to digital telecommunications, the opportunity to do that has come. We need to take advantage of it before it's too late.