Rendering Sensible Salient 

Innovation and Economic Growth, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Media and Content

Article Snapshot


Lawrence Lessig


Good Society, Vol. 20, No. 22, pp. 171-178 (2018)


Technological changes threaten democracy, producing polarization and fragmentation. Deliberative conventions of ordinary citizens could help restore a common understanding of issues.

Policy Relevance

Democracy will require innovation to survive.

Main Points

  • The Internet has triggered a crisis of democracy; fundamental shifts in technological context require society to rework critical parts of their social contract.
  • In the twentieth century, people's understanding of their role within a democratic government was defined by two technologies:
    • Television produced a large-scale democratic understanding unprecedented in the history of human society, exposing many people to a common story.
    • The modern public opinion poll was debuted, and its use spread broadly.
    • The idea that "the people" could govern became plausible.
  • Society has entered the post-broadcast age; today's technologies produce fragmentation, polarization, and fodder for saboteurs and critics of democracy.
  • James Fishkin’s idea of Deliberative Polling could help restore a collective understanding of the role of “the people.”
  • Congress could mandate a Deliberative Poll on fundamental constitutional topics such as the idea of a balanced budget amendment, the desirability of reducing federal power, and the question of money in politics.
  • The law could require five simultaneous citizens' conventions in five cities.
    • Each convention would include 500 randomly selected Americans.
    • Delegates would be polled as to their views, then given informational materials presenting both sides of an issue.
    • Delegates would discuss the informational materials.
    • At the end, delegates would be polled again to reveal changes in their views.
    • Lawmakers would be obligated to consider the results of these conventions.
  • Congress is unlikely to adopt such policies, which would be expensive; however, democracy needs some type of innovation to survive the current wave of global skepticism.

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