If there is any merit in long-haul flights it is the opportunity to catch up on some reading, and I have just caught up with a good Grauniad essay of last weekend, Who's Really Driving Change? by one David Runicman. Is it the techies, or the politicos ? And who do we want to be in the driving seat anyway ? Some extracts, to whet your appetite or let you know you've had enough already, whichever way it grabs you.
"No one likes to see politicians using technology as an instrument of control, least of all the people who invented the technology. But we have to remember the alternative to politicians controlling the tech industry: it's the tech industry controlling the politicians. Government using its monopoly power to manipulate Google is bad. But Google using its monopoly power to manipulate government would be worse. Who would you rather controlled your government: a techie or a politician? I'm afraid we're stuck with politics."The Chinese political elite ... have even managed to corral the internet as an instrument of managerial politics. This is not simply an exercise in censorship and suppression (though there is plenty of that). It is also a way for the state to find out what irks its people, so as to head off those grievances before they become unmanageable. In the absence of elections, this is a valuable service ... The internet has not democratised the Chinese state. Instead the Chinese state has used it to bypass democracy. Of course, it's not easy to control something as complex and multifarious as the web: it is a cumbersome and time-consuming business; it requires lots of money and lots of coercive power. That's why the only people who can do it are politicians.
"This isn't just a story about tech. Many people retain an interest in politics – we all would like laws made to suit us – but fewer and fewer people seem interested in being politicians. It's simply not a very attractive job ... The political elite have been exploiting our inattention to shore up their own position. We would like to hold them to account for their temerity, but we lack the tools to do it: their superior knowledge of how politics works leaves us feeling impotent. People who think they can pick up politics when they need it often find that when they really need it they don't know where to find it. The professionals run rings round them. The only way to learn how to do politics is to keep on doing it, in good times as well as bad. We need more politics and we need more politicians."In the end, only politics can rescue you from bad politics."