Technology is of course not the only factor determining the efficacy of a participatory democracy, through either impairing it or facilitating it; there are many other factors well beyond the influence of schooling. Elements of the argument of this chapter, that one focus of technology education in a postmodern age should include preparation for engagement in a participatory democracy, may be contestable. The fact remains, though, that Web 2.0 enables a level of individual participation heretofore unavailable and provides a medium of personal relevance to students.
Many technologies are the substance of public controversy and increasingly consume media attention and political preoccupation. Consider power generation, the causes of what used to be natural disasters, telecommunications and security systems, defense and weapons systems, hazardous waste disposal, and resource exploration. Powerful political actors dominate the discussion and control of significant technological issues—politicians, government administrators, corporate leaders, and representatives of special interest groups. This current system of discourse and decision making is inadequate because it
- • excludes lay citizens from anything but a trivial role
- • often raises questions after many of the most important decisions have already been made
- • evaluates technology on a case-by-case basis rather than having a philosophical starting point as a basis for decision making
- • focuses on a few high profile technologies at the expense of the mass of emerging and existing technologies
- • directs attention to material issues rather than the often more important social and cultural issues
- • excludes discussion of the influence of technology on democracy (Sclove, 1995,p. 240)
Left to current patterns of control and decision making, the world is not going to become a better place in which to live for all its inhabitants. But this degeneration is insidious; standards of democracy, personal freedom, and well-being are diminished in small steps, which neither make big news nor become the focus of attention. So life progressively becomes more technologically determined (Ellul, 1964) without attracting attention to the trend.
The thesis of this chapter is that a technological literacy that aspires to a form of fully developed digital citizenship, one predicated on the possession of an ability to interpret, critique, navigate, and shape the landscape of virtual democracy, facilitates a move toward a more democratic technological order. This element of technological literacy involves not only using the web in a passive, albeit intelligent, way but also knowing how to mold it to reflect the values that we think it should have.