How U.S. Democracy Has Responded to Networked Culture

By Robinson Meyer
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Street graffiti by graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall, next to a CCTV camera, in central London (Reuters)

Earlier this week, engineering professor Debbie Chachra tweeted a mini-syllabus:

Taken together, the three essays propose how American democracy has responded to the past decade of digital, networked culture. They all seek an answer to the question: How does American democracy -- a product of Enlightenment ideas, Industrial Revolution expansion, and 20th century infrastructure -- respond to the problems of networked democracy?

The three essays take three different forms. Tim Maly's is as much nonfictional think-aloud as it is fictional allegory, the tale and memories of a narrator vacationing in Ontario's cottage country. It ends by presenting the problem of the NSA in a way few others have proposed. (And, for all this complexity, it's readable in minutes.)

Quinn Norton's takes a sweeping view of recent history, fusing computer pods in dusty Iraqi desert, active and international Wikileaks chat rooms, and the Gotham-infused blog of writer-programmer Paul Ford into a single entity.

And the last piece, by Eldan Goldenberg, is a blog post about possible ways to respond to the NSA politically -- and, in a way, to US democracy as a whole. It is an prime piece of web writing, concerned with action, poetic when it needs to be, and bound to the work of other writers (including Maly, Norton, and The Atlantic's own Ta-Nehisi Coates). Goldenberg's post shows a mind at work, unafraid to situate itself like a constellation.

The effect is cumulative: The weirdness of Maly's tale is enveloped by history in the world Norton describes, a world which, in turned, Goldenberg navigates. The three works connect ideas I've been thinking about in politics, economics, history, and civics. You might want to read them.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/how-us-democracy-has-responded-to-networked-culture/278950/