By 2020 we will see a substantial reinvention of politics driven by the progressive evolution of online activism techniques. After the SOPA battle in January 2012 large numbers of lobbying organisations in Washington will have sought to hire online expertise to synthesize the approaches which yielded success for online activists in the campaign against SOPA – but harnessed towards the prosecution of their client’s objectives. The future of the political system in most democratic countries will look like American politics does today. There will be more money involved and there will be more professionalised manipulation of public sentiment. It will be less about getting people to vote on particular issues and more about mobilising mass feeling (usually around single cross-cutting issues). The political elites realise this is how you get what you want from the political system – and the Internet is an incredibly effective tool for mobilising mass popular sentiment. This mobilisation process will become increasingly less organic and more organised and deliberate.
There will be more and more single issue political movements which cut across traditional party lines, generational lines and geography. Political and business lobbying will become increasingly interwoven across transnational lines. The state to state or intergovernmental mechanism will not be the dominant decision making locus – this locus instead will lie with cross-cutting international business connections. This will lead to large scale commercial arrangements being agreed under the radar of traditional intergovernmental negotiations.
In the future governments will not just gain legitimacy through elections – they will also be measured against their ability to deliver on open government and transparency objectives – enabled by digital technologies and hyper-connectivity. These will become new major sources of political and institutional credibility.
Increases in the use of gameification and simulated environments where people can test out potential decisions in a virtual context before executing them in a real world context will have a profound effect on a range of areas of human activity. In particular, such simulated environments will allow voters to project the potential social and economic impact of different political party policies before deciding which to support. This will potentially be hugely disruptive to traditional party politics – and hopefully compel many political actors to consider projected outcomes more carefully before making attractive (yet probably unrealistic) promises to their electorates.
Party politics will recede and engaging with the state as a set of processes rather than an institution will increase. Now that it is becoming progressively easier to determine which bit of government (national, local and municipal) is dealing with the issue or area you care about – more people will engage with particular parts of government on that basis. People will continue to aggregate around single issues which resonate with their values and interests – but not around traditional century old political parties.
It was suggested that in the short term (for example by 2020) the Internet is unlikely to radically change the electoral system in terms of the concept of democratic voting - but the trend towards rising voter engagement via the Internet will certainly continue. This is likely to weaken traditional political parties as they are less likely to be able to mobilise these new digital channels and opportunities than newer single issue political movements. This may produce progressive fragmentation of the party system in the developed democracies as the younger generation increasingly focus on specific issues which matter to them as opposed to generational or partisan alliances which have defined party systems in the past. This may also yield to individuals developing political and intellectual affinities which transcend traditional boundaries along national, regional, generational or geographical lines.
It was suggested that in one sense the future is already here but its impact has not yet been evenly distributed. Governments and large centralised institutions and organisations will continue to fail to grasp the full extent of the opportunities presented by the Internet, whilst continuing to grapple with the trans-national and multi-jurisdictional regulatory challenges it presents. Monolithic states will find it particularly difficult to adapt as the next generation of young people will continue to be increasingly technologically empowered. However, monitoring and tracking techniques will also increase in their sophistication with emotional metering and retina movement tracking replacing traditional click tracing. It will also become harder to differentiate between different agendas and which corporate or political forces are driving them.
The question was posed whether the future would see a consolidation of religious fundamentalism in digital form. It was highlighted that it is important For example there are large Muslim populations in Indonesia, India and the Philippines who would not necessarily conform to the traditional Middle Eastern fundamentalist stereotype.
The “no more secrets” factor will continue to consolidate by 2020. It has become increasingly difficult to keep information secret which has a counterbalancing effect of attempts to exercise control. The pressure to accommodate freedom of speech will be on-going, particularly from bottom-up civic engagement and advocacy initiatives.