July 2001

How democratic is IT?

Amidst much enthusiasm about the democratic potential of information technology, the social democratic newspaper Uutispäivä Demari (29 June 2001) wonders if things are yet as promising as politicians are claiming. The newspaper comments on President Tarja Halonen's recent speech in which she compared new technology to the invention of printing. In a leading article, Uutispäivä Demari thinks the comparison is good but wonders if Finland is really as far on the road to equality as Halonen claimed.

"President Halonen spoke (...) warmly of Finland as a country utilising information technology, and as a country which offers good education, independent of parents' economic or social status, and also educates adults. Certainly, we are in the forefront of the world in matters which Halonen mentioned but not as far advanced on the road to equality as she implied."

The newspaper says that Halonen connected modern information technology with the free flow of information which always has been important for democracy.

"Unless there is a free and open flow of information, citizens do not have possibilities to fully participate in the political process and decision-making.

"The great challenge is that information technology is also in practice within people's reach and not only in the form of advertisements, unattainable consumer articles and the privileges of the fortunate. The question is of economic and knowledge-based preconditions of being able to use communication opportunities."

Uutispäivä Demari complains that in spite of talk of IT-based democratisation, class divisions in Finland have become more pronounced.

"Unemployment, socio-economic deprivation and lack of education are being inherited by the next generation. This fact cannot any more be explained solely by the recession years of the early 1990s. A better explanation is that the damage caused by the recession has not been sufficiently addressed.

"Welfare state indicators may reveal great equality for instance in possibilities to follow the development of information technology, but in real life the situation is different. The reality is less satisfactory, more inequal and unjust.

"One can agree with Halonen in that even if information technology makes many opinion polls possible, they cannot replace elections any more than people's need to participate. This also applies to young people. Many signs here and elsewhere prove that young people long for human factors and contacts — especially when they want to make the world better."

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