The Underappreciated Impact of Digital

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

I still read articles that discuss how digital technology and connectivity are transforming democracy, unlocking avenues for communication and governance. Entirely, totally true. No argument. But there’s an angle that seems underappreciated to me.

Most articles talk about it as we have found these people interested in what we’re doing, and we can connect to them, so we will. However, the far more interesting thing to me is that these people were always here, we just didn’t know how to find them.

The digital era both revealed the problem - that our decisions touch far more people than we once realized, and can impact their lives significantly - and presented a solution.

But, two things:

First, it's a solution, not the solution. Just because we can find people through digital means doesn’t make it the default interaction channel forever. There’s a reason online communities hold meetups. We need to know when to deviate from digital.

Second, recognizing that in the past we had a measurement problem, underestimating the breadth of our impact, we shouldn’t assume that we’ve solved it completely. Rather, we should be deeply concerned about who we haven’t found yet. Even for those on the easy side of the digital divide, not everyone raises their hand.

We always talk about digital technology as a solution,  but the problem that hyperconnectivity revealed is at least as interesting. This is the underrated impact of digital technology: not that it enabled government to connect and engage, but that it made us realize that we should have been doing so all along.

Note: this is an argument I've partially made in different forms before (See: Complexity is a Measurement Problem, People Act, Technology Helps, or Collaboration: Overhyped and Underappreciated), so apologies if this is old hat. But I wanted to explore this particular angle of it, and it'll play into a forthcoming deeper dive on this idea from last week: The New Nature of Process.