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by Prof Beth Simone Noveck @NYUWagner @MITMedia @NYLaw


Welcome to the Cairns Blog!

In the Sedona, Arizona Red Rocks, the dry, dusty, red, rocky terrain can be confusingly similar. I hiked up a mesa, forgetting to pay attention to where I ascended and my position relative to the horizon. An encounter with a wild coyote further distracted me from noticing the trail. Luckily, in the Western states, unlike what I've seen on East Coast trails, hikers make CAIRNS, or markers, to indicate the best path. By following these manmade stone mounds I found my way.

The Cairn represents democracy in action. Unknown climbers take the time to stop and mark trails Using the tools of stones and twigs. They create these monuments for the members of the community of hikers. Even though they do not know who will follow in their footsteps, they feel themselves to be part of something, enough to go to this extra effort. New hikers come along and add to the Cairn, collaborating to solve the problem of finding the right path. These rocks are the shared object through which the community of hikers maintains its dialogue. Eventually, Cairns become art as well as monuments.

I have chosen the Cairn as a metaphor for the future of e-democracy, the subject matter of this blog.

The fundament of democratic life are the groups and communities who work together to deliberate, make decisions and solve problems. In a democracy, legitimacy derives from the participation of members of the community. E-democracy focuses on how groups and communities work in virtual space and how new technologies change the social life of groups. What are the tools and methods that enable collaboration in cyberspace? What are the prospects for participation in virtual spaces? In real space, democratic life is defined by activities such as voting, deliberation, dispute resolution, activism, revolution. Lots of groups work in ways that combine these activities. In cyberspace, because we have to program these practices into the code of the software, we can combine them in different ways than in real life. We can now have decisionmaking without deliberation or deliberation without decisionmaking. I am trying to understand the future of this "democratic bricolage." My goal is to promote the civic conversation that underlies democratic life.

The conversation I hope to cultivate here focuses on how technology changes the way communities cohere and how new technologies might help us to transform from private actors into public citizens.