Today we are being enveloped by the digital revolution that is rapidly changing the nature of
communications in the worlds of commerce, government, science, scholarship, education, and
The speed and depth with which the new telecommunications are influencing the world make it urgent
that we examine how this will serve, rather than endanger, democracy within individual countries and
among nations of the globe.
The need is urgent. We know that earlier media inventions have already altered our world. And like
earlier inventions of communications, this new one holds both great promise for the betterment of the
human condition, but like those earlier inventions, it also bears the possibility of missed opportunities
and unexpected social and political damage.
To a remarkable degree, we already live in two worlds. One of these is the traditional face-to-face
human contact world - of parents, siblings, classmates, playmates, friends, enemies, co-religionists,
and the personal human interactions of men and women every day. These have existed for millennia
and we have had millennia of attempts to understand the way face-to-face human contact has
changed our social values, models of behavior, and, indeed, history itself. Finally - by endless trial-
and-error, too often with terrible failures - this human contact world has evolved until today the
philosophy and reality of the democratic ethos has become the almost universal assumption that
creates the path by which the human race will survive.
The other world in which we increasingly live, is the world of the mass media, the world of
newspapers, radio, television, printed books, the cinema, and the computer. We know that this world,
also, influences social behavior, socializes generations by portraying models of behavior, and can
change the course of history itself. This is a less complex world and is overwhelmingly driven by the
natural marketplace desire to make a money profit, not the desire to enhance democracy. We have
not had millennia to experience and study it. But in developed countries, new generations spend at
least as much time in this media world as they do in the traditional face-to-face human contact world.
As the digital revolution encompasses both worlds and involves capturing masses of information about
citizens' private lives, from medical records to personal mail, it behooves us to examine what we must
do to protect and expand democracy in this powerful new cyber world.
What are the basic needs of a democracy? First, there must be preservation of personal privacy. If
there is no personal privacy, there is no democracy. Second, people must have the unrestricted right
to vote for their leaders and the policies under which they will be governed. Third, to do this, citizens
need to have reasonable and unrestricted access to the information they need to vote in their own
interest, and to have this access readily enjoyed by all. If people are denied this information, the right
to vote means nothing.
These are the goals the digital revolution must meet if it is to become an instrument for democracy and
not the private privilege of the few.
Because of the speed with which the new digital revolution is changing the world, there is an urgent
need for nations of the world to plan an international meeting of national representatives and
individuals and of groups recognized throughout the world as authorities in both the history of
technology and the historic evolution of democratic principles.
Out of this meeting must come a gathering under the umbrella not of any one nation but of a
consortium like the United Nations. The aim should be an international convention to enhance
maximum use of the digital revolution in the cause of democracy, just as the nations of the world
already have created international conventions governing use of the oceans, the electromagnetic
spectrum, and human rights.
The speed with which the digital revolution has encompassed the globe is one of the marvels of
contemporary science and technology. But like all human inventions, ultimately, these are merely
clever machines and we must not expect machines to have morals or a sense of history. It is human
use of these machines that involves humanistic values. Consequently, that same speed and ingenuity
of the new technology make clear the urgent need to apply to the new digital world the lessons of
history in the search of democracy.
Interview with Ben Bagdikian
Review of Bagdikian's Book "The Media Monoply"