I do agree that the printing press was ultimately conducive to democracy and better governance. But I do not believe that the advent of printing press technology or any technology makes it inevitable that democracy and better governance will result. Democracy and better governance came about because enough people chose to use the printing press in a manner that led to these outcomes, and because people also fought successfully in enough places against laws and modes of governance that sought to constrain the printing press’s potential.
The Internet in its current form – that is, in a still relatively decentralized open form on which it is still possible to be anonymous if you make a concerted effort and if the NSA has not trained all its resources against you specifically – is indeed conducive to democracy and better governance. But the technical setup of the Internet can change in any number of directions. Its technical architecture and capabilities can be changed in ways that will make it less democracy-conducive than it currently is. Many members of the U.S. defense establishment, not to mention the governments of numerous other countries, are making the case very aggressively for eliminating anonymity, for example. Commercial services that collect inordinate amounts of data about people, making government’s surveillance job easier, aren’t helping either. The promise of technology does in my view not absolve human beings of moral and ethical responsibility.
Near the end of my book I discuss the danger of technological determinism, the assumption that technology will inevitably lead human history in a particular direction:
Technological determinism is as dangerous as historical determinism, the worldview underpinning the philosophies of Marx and Hegel, who believed that history was inevitably and inexorably moving the human race toward a certain endpoint. Marxist revolutionaries believed they were in the vanguard of the historically inevitable. Karl Popper, in Volume Two of The Open Society and Its Enemies, his seminal 1945 defense of liberal democracy, warned that historicism “is in conflict with any religion that teaches the importance of conscience.” Real human progress, he argued, can be achieved only “by defending and strengthening those democratic institutions upon which freedom, and with it progress, depends. And we shall do it much better as we become more fully aware of the fact that progress rests with us, with our watchfulness, with our efforts, with the clarity of our conception of our ends, and with the realism of their choice.”
Certainly we can and should use technology to do precisely that.