The emergence of new technologies and especially social networks first took place in people’s private, everyday spaces. Before businesses and governments got in on the act, ordinary citizens started to link to each other over networks, transforming the way they related to each other forever.
And thus the centres of power shifted. In a world in which geography no longer exists, the tools of power are in the mobile phones and personal computers of the citizenry. From their homes they link not just with their local environment but also their country, region or the world. Paradoxically, this phenomenon has strengthened local, regional and supranational identities, as can be seen in the cases of Scotland and Catalonia, paving the way for ‘glocality’, a community that thinks globally but acts locally. Under this concept, representation is granted to those who relate in one’s personal everyday space, representing the region they live in, and who in turn connect us to the world.
In this context, the centralized nation state ceases to represent the demands of the citizenry. Partnerships made through the use of technology and networks lead to the emergence of social movements that expand identities that weren’t or didn’t feel properly acknowledged to a mass scale, challenging existing representative mechanisms.
Faced with these new dynamics, democratic systems find their traditional modus operandi changing and even though political parties, parliaments and elections are still essential they lose ground to an empowered citizenry that constantly shares its opinions and judges their actions. In the case of digital natives, the posture is even more critical given that democracy is a basic starting point from which they can advance, demanding answers according to their own inclinations. This viewpoint forgets that democracy is an achievement; a process that is always seeking to perfect itself.
This is why it is fundamental to begin political discussions between the centre of power and communities in a way that will allow the political system to construct forms and institutions that resolve their needs as well as stimulating the citizenry to play an active role in democratic decisions.
In spite of the rapid pace of technological transformations, their incorporation into the political sphere should be planned in the long term. As I have said on other occasions, I am convinced that we do not yet know what the next political institutions to emerge from the network will be, the ones that in addition to strengthening democracy in its representative sense, will also do so in its participative sense.
The internet is a constant challenge to political governments and institutions, and they must navigate it in a horizontal manner. Today it is clear that many citizens know how to navigate just as well as the governing political class. The trick is working out how to incorporate them in a proper, direct manner.