Why politicians don’t get the Internet

An interesting blog post at Amused Cynicism

on why politicians don’t get the Internet. To be fair this is less of an issue in New Zealand. We have a fair few MPs who do get the Internet, but this is far from universal. Some quotes:

Politicians sometimes say (and do) things that internet users think are both clueless and immoral. Why is this? Politicians want people to vote for them, so they don’t deliberately come across as stupid and nasty. Furthermore, they know the internet is important to the economy, and don’t deliberately want to sabotage it.

So why do politicians so often say things that give off the wrong tone? I think there are three systemic reasons for this:

  • They are not digital natives
  • They don’t understand the technology
  • The way the internet works doesn’t fit in with their worldview

Talking on the issue of potential disconnection for infringement:

And that’s why the threat to disconnect internet users is seen as so bad, so disproportionate: it’s banning people from talking to their friends, from socialising, from being part of the communities which have meaning in their lives and through which their lives have meaning. If someone wants to take away my internet, they threaten to take away a large part of my identity. I’ll fight them to the end, and because there are millions of people like me, and we’re growing stronger every day, we’ll win.

The US is demanding termination for copyright infringement allegations in the TPP negotiations. The Government so far is saying no to this, which is good. If they change their position at some stage, there will be considerable political risk in doing so. As the post says, Internet natives take disconnection as the state trying to take away their identity, and will fight it all the way. I would not want to be a Government that is on the wrong side of that issue.

Then on the issue of world-view:

Everyone attempts to understand the world through the filter of the categories they understand. What if the nature of the internet doesn’t fit in with someone’s pre-defined categories? Then they will struggle to understand it. So, what is the nature of the internet?

Firstly, No-one owns it, though different people own bits of it. The internet isn’t a thing, it’s a protocol — to be precise, the tcp/ip suite of protocols — an agreement that certain patterns of bits mean certain things, and because everyone keeps that agreement, the internet works.

Secondly, everyone can use it, so once you’re connected to it, you’re connected to all of it and can use all of it.

Thirdly, anyone can improve it. Tim Berners-Lee didn’t need to get anyone’s permission to create and deploy the world wide web. Nor did Bram Cohen need anyone’s permission to create BitTorrent.

How does this fit in with how politicians see the world? Well:

  • No-one owns it: governments are defined by what they control.
  • Everyone can use it: in government, making laws means imposing restrictions on people.
  • Anyone can improve it: Business and government cherish authorized roles. It’s the job of only certain people to do certain things, to make the right changes.

As I said things are not too bad in New Zealand. But we should not be complacent.

Comments (11)

Login to comment or vote