I have been hearing quite a bit recently about the "democratization" of information, knowledge, art, entertainment, etc. With the expansion of the world wide web and other technological wonders, we find ourselves with more opportunity to learn the skills that we choose, to watch the movies that appeal to our taste, and to read the books, magazines and blogs that focus on our hobbies and interests. Most of this is even available on-demand, bringing what used to be at least a car ride away instantly to our fingertips. What makes this even better is that much of this content is available at no additional cost beyond that paid for the medium by which it is consumed.
For example, the entertainment I consume during my daily commute has been transformed from the relatively minimal content available over the radio to countless hours of absolutely free podcasts tailored to my individual interests of comedy, economics, politics and technology. I rarely watch news on television, but I have the opportunity to pick from several 24-hour news stations. On the web, my news sources are endless. When I was a child we could tune in, via our antenna, to the evening news on CBS or NBC. We subscribed to the morning newspaper and the evening newspaper, published in the nearest major town, and the two county papers published every Wednesday. I was born in 1985.
Is it appropriate to refer to this great leap forward as a "democratization"?
A democracy, contrary to common parlance, is not a societal framework in
which individuals have a choice in the selection of their "public
servants." Sound outrageous? Consider a trip to the supermarket. You
are standing in the frozen food section, staring at the assortment of
ice cream flavors. Do you want vanilla, chocolate, rocky road or
strawberry? You have a choice, and the pint that you choose is the pint
that you take home. Now consider a trip to the grocery store with your
spouse and three children. You and your spouse settle on chocolate
while your children select vanilla, rocky road and strawberry
respectively. What to do? You could of course purchase one of each
variety, you could assert your authority as adults, you could placate
your favorite child (if your parenting skills are lacking), or you could
put the matter to a democratic vote in which case you have a strong
chance of taking home chocolate, barring any sort of prepubescent alliance.
In this case, while everyone has a vote, no individual has a choice in the
ice cream flavor taken home.
The aspect of our society that is improving is an increase in individual choice and a decentralization in how information is disseminated. A democratization of the evening news would be a situation in which everyone cast a ballot between CBS and NBC, and then everyone had the opportunity to watch only the one chosen by the majority. A more apt term for this great expansion in individual choice would be the anarchization of information.