Open Government

"We come from Facebook," said a written cardboard message held by a protester during recent protests on the streets of Brazil. Civil movements and riots are as old as human civilization. Long before Twitter was created, mobilization of the discontented was mouth-to-mouth, or even by "smoke signals" to gather the uprising against established political power. In 1439, Gutenberg invented a revolutionary machine that could print ink on paper or cloth on a large-scale and at a fast pace. This lowered the cost and time it took to spread ideas and became the basis for all subsequent revolutions.

The Internet revolution has transformed the way knowledge is disseminated and how people unite over causes. Social networks are playing a key role in this movement, just as books and the press have done over the last six centuries. During the recent demonstrations in Brazil, approximately 62 percent of the people were informed of the event via Facebook, a much higher rate than TV, which was first source of information to 14 percent of attendees, according to Ibope Institute. Three out of four agitators used social networks to round up support. As generations succeed and the digital gap narrows, these statistics could possibly rise.

This revolution is also accentuating the imperfections of the representative democracy, the only plausible alternative, as Churchill famously said. We live in an era of "Liquid Modernity" as defined by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, which describes the ephemeral nature of contemporary social interactions. Bauman says that these days society, in a similar manner to liquid, adopts various unstable forms under small amounts of pressure. They are incapable of stabilizing in a consistent form, which results in consequences to social relationships and politics. Meanwhile, political parties, bureaucracy and institutions seem to remain firmly in the 17th Century.

Democracy has to reinvent itself in accordance with this new "liquid society" where collaboration happens between many millions of people directly. Leadership is not vertical, as in the past, but horizontal. Nowadays some say following is more important than leading. Cyber culture understands open code as a principle, something the music industry has reluctantly had to learn. There is no time and space limitation for public accountability on the Internet. Creative commonality is standard and does not resemble the authoritarian style of the dead communist experience. It seems that it is no longer society's obligation to understand legislation, it is a duty for governments to be understood by their people.

Governments and authorities have to adapt to this new collaborative era. Transparency, participation and collaboration are some of the defining elements. More than ever, the citizen is now part of the solution. Decision-makers must take advantage of technological tools to listen to the people and raise public awareness of controversial debates. If society has logged out of the virtual world it is time for government to realistically log on in an effective way to chat with citizens. Ultimately, the discussion is all about what government is doing to the people, as in France in 1779, Russia in 1917 and 1991, in addition to many other uprisings in past. After all, it is much easier to listen to people now. Open government.

While the possibilities are promising, there is also risk and danger. It is now evident that there is no such thing as privacy. Google is omniscient of what people search for and do. Facebook has over a billion subscribers meaning Mark Zuckerberg has personal information about one in every seven people on earth. USA, Brazil, Mexico, India and Indonesia are at the top of that list. Companies collect and negotiate information about customers and often without permission. There have been notorious cases of non-authorized government investigations on people, from autocratic regimes to alleged democracies. Evgeny Morozov calls for a cyber utopia of ingenuity with the perspective for digital technologies. The dark side seems closer to scenarios depicted in fiction such as 1984, A Brave New World or, more recently, the Guy Fawkes face mask borrowed by the Anonymous movement from the V for Vendetta movie that has become omnipresent throughout the latest uprisings in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and the United States.

President Obama is the best-known politician to be exploring the possibilities of new technologies to converse with the people. Others must follow his lead and innovate. It is inevitable. Facebook´s average user is 22 years old and the digital world continues to evolve bringing greater potential. Soon, every protester will have a smartphone with an HD 3D camera. The ascension of mobile caused Steve Wozniak to announce the end of the personal computer, which he himself invented with Steve Jobs three decades ago. Politics needs to adapt. Like it or unlike it.