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Technology and Democracy

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 8, 2021 14:32

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A rant, an appeal, a contemplation - computer woes can make one go metaphysical. Still, consider the effect of technology on democracy. Then let's start an insurrection in the workplace.

It was not dramatic. Just that the browser on my computer stopped working. Resetting and so on did not help. An online diagnostic program supplied the bad news: the hard drive has failed, and because it is obsolete equipment the suggestion was to buy new.

Now, note, this is my 'new' machine, barely out of guarantee, a late 2011 model. Yes, I know computers have an estimated lifespan of five years, but I am cheap, ok? I hauled my old(er) one out of storage and fired it up. Fortunately all the data (and all the junk) could be recovered. 

Suddenly I find the pleasure of working on the old, fast software without the bloat, without recovery to the cloud which implies buying more storage. The old operating system is faster, more agile, and that, too, does not require cloud storage. 

Which set in motion late night comtemplation. Farmer friends despair at getting the latest top-of-the-range equipment repaired away from dealerships. Small farmers cannot plant the seeds of last season, these days only hybrid products ae sold. While more productive, these do not reproduce well. 

And then Facebook crashed. I do not, like people I know, rely on it for work, but I still felt some anxiety at not being able to check on the children before going to bed. And the take of over-reliance on a single integrated system set more thoughts rolling. 

As with Gutenberg's printing press the internet was supposed to bring us democracy, freedom of information. With that, though, came constraints. The printing and publishing industry had become so hedged about by rules, regulations, habits and customs that the idea of freedom was lost.

I once submitted a manuscript electronically to a publisher, who rejected it because I did not use the required font, spacing and formatting. Now any basic word processor user can change fonts, spacing, indentation of paragraphs, background color and whatever you might desire in seven seconds, but this publisher would not consider my thoughts because they were in the wrong font. Well, I published independently. 

A recent article reminded me that the checks and balances of peer review, aimed at eliminating fake research in academe, has become a battlefield of the publish-or-perish pressure, and now pay-to-say is a problem. 

The freeing up of economies from rigid controls by bureaucrats is evident in most developing countries. Freeing the economy allows free choice and creativity to generate dazzling growth. The inverse is also true: over-control of the South African economy is the major cause of an almost zero employment growth. Control almost inevitably leads to corruption and stagnation. 

The French did not learn a major lesson in time: a controlling government was told: Laissez faire, leave us alone to do our thing.

Free markets, free choice works, also for companies. Can I have democratic software, please?   

 

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 8, 2021 14:32

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Source: Quartz

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