If you’re an elected representative, what does an e-mail mean? If it’s from a constituent, individually written, it’s clear enough. But what about if it’s part of a campaign? In the clip above Clay Shirky argues that the predictive value of an e-mail for a member of Congress is zero, and with e-mail campaigns its impossible to rescue the signal from noise. Have we put the barrier to political engagement so low that it can cease to be meaningful? I can’t claim to have the answers, but watch the clip and have a bit of a think. The clip starts at the best bit of the presentation, but the rest is worth watching too.


  1. The speaker raises allot of interesting points. I have been troubling myself with similar issues the last few years. Personally, I think we should be wary of those who advocate the utilization of online tools for introducing direct forms of democracy as a way to rectify the, admittedly real, problems of the current representative democratic system. If we cave in to such arguments, we risk creating even more problems than the ones we attempt to solve. We should for example have always in mind that California, which is at the forefront of such type of citizen’s initiatives, has already been dubbed the Ungovernable State, due to the contradiction between the different ballot initiative of its citizens (e.g. they vote to lower their taxes and at the same time the demand even more social security benefits, better schools etc.). In addition, the recent mosque referendums in Switzerland should act as a cautionary tale for all those who advocate for direct democracy and more referendums, since the People aren’t always right.

  2. @Ronny – yes, precisely. And that’s one of the reasons I am rather sceptical of the value of the ECI. Plus 1 million signatures is rather a lot of noise to have to collect!

  3. To play the devil’s advocate: Isn’t that the risk we run into with the European Citizens Initiative? Very low signal to noise ratio, especially when online tools will be introduced?

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