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A Look at Personal Democracy Forum’s ‘Rebooting America’

This week Personal Democracy Forum has released a promising new publication. Rebooting America is a collection of forty-four essays that ponder, discuss, and debate issues of governance and democracy in the Internet Age. Many friends and fellows of the Berkman Center have contributed to the anthology and have put forward some thought-provoking analysis and visionary ideas. One of Rebooting America’s four editors, Allison Fine, visited the Berkman Center this spring and presented her thoughts on social change, online activism, and millenials.

The topics of Rebooting’s essays are diverse, ranging from political participation and government transparency to youth engagement and political campaigning. But they all regard a common theme, namely “reorienting” our government for a new digital age. In the book’s forward, Esther Dyson muses, “Just as the Net created new business models, so can it foster new governance models.” Rebooting America starts off a fascinating conversation about such models.

The anthology brings together the past, present, and future of democracy in this nation, and considers where technology fits into this picture. Looking to the past, Zephyr Teachout draws a vivid picture of the Constitutional Convention. She muses about how our Founders would have altered the Constitution, if they had known how technology has helped to spread certain vices of our democracy like corruption. Drawing on the present, Michael Turk reflects on the current state of participation in this country, concluding that it has been depressed by mass media “sound bytes” and weakened by an uninformed electorate. Both Turk and Yochai Benkler agree that the Internet is changing this dynamic by providing a forum for “effective, active social cooperation.” In another essay, Craig Newmark discusses transparency, and how citizen journalism on the Internet is augmenting our procedural system of checks and balances. And looking to the future, Lance Bennett examines how digital natives are shifting “citizenship styles” and changing preconceived patterns of engagement.

Perhaps the best part of Rebooting America is its diversity of ideas. Each essay presents a unique vision that moves the conversation forward. The anthology engages in a reasoned debate about the political and social effects of the Internet, the avenues that it has opened, and the possibilities it has created. It is clear that no one author has come up with all the answers to these debates. Rather we are left with an amalgamation of thought-provoking ideas and an appeal for deliberation and dialogue.

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