With new technologies redrawing media and society, a deep economic crisis caused by a Wall Street crash, and a democracy that needed to be fought for, the 1930′s scenario was quite similar to today’s. And opinions were as antagonical as today’s.
This is what German political poet and playwright Bertolt Bretch dreamed in 1932:
Radio is one-sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to Public occasions is a step in the right direction.
But this is what Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset feared in 1930:
There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power. As the masses, by definition, neither should nor can direct their own personal existence, and still less rule society in general, this fact means that actually Europe is suffering from the greatest crisis that can afflict peoples, nations, and civilisation.
Are we now facing Bretch’s dream or Ortega y Gasset’s nigthmare?
* * *
Both our opening and closing sessions deal with this topic:
- ‘Digital Technologies and the Future of Governance in the 21st Century’. November 8, 1500 to 1630, with Luis Abril, Yochai Benkler, Arianna Huffington, Michele Hunt, Beth S. Noveck, Samantha Power, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Benjamin W. Mkapa and Alejandro Toledo.
- ‘Making Governance Better, Democracy Stronger and Citizens More Powerful: Getting from Here to There’. November 9, 1430 to 1630, with Neelie Kroes, Cassam Uteem, Jorge I. Domínguez, Beth S. Noveck, Jorge Quiroga,Clay Shirky and Jennifer Mary Shipley.