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Impolitness a boon, not hindrance to democracy

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Achieving democracy in a country is one thing, but practicing it is a completely different beast. Economic development has been said to be the key in determining political system of a nation (2). As the economy of a country grows, the middle class and their power also grow, and that ultimately leads to democratic rule (1). With the growth of information technology, various countries have started to implement a wide variety of online systems that can lead to enhancement of democracy.

Recently many governments including local ones have started implementing cyber-government, which refers to creation of web pages that can be used by public for giving feedback on public policies and participate in the political process (3). At a superficial level it may appear as if the use of cyberspace facilitates democratic process, but so far no one has come up with concrete evidence to show benefits of cyber-democracy.

The easiest way to measure the effects of cyber democracy is to look at nations that have recently achieved democracy and have implemented their IT infrastructure to support democratic political processes as they do not have a tradition for supporting such a political system. One nation that fits this characterization perfectly is South Korea, where democratization happened fairly recently and their national IT infrastructure is one of the best in the world (4).

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has created elaborate layers of web pages to provide an opportunity for citizens to provide complaints and opinions on matters like garbage collection, taxi service, or traffic control. A major part of democratic political process is to be able to criticize authority figures when necessary. This kind of attitude is difficult to adopt for a nation like South Korea, which is heavily influenced by Confucian culture that emphasizes giving one’s respect to elderly and seniors in the social hierarchy (5).

In order to investigate if the cultural norm of being polite to authority figures extends even onto the internet, 103 postings at a web bulletin board for complaining to the mayor of Seoul were looked at. A survey to the users of the board was also given asking them how respectful they usually are to government officials in their messages.

The content of the bulletin board postings and answers to the survey indicated that while posting on message boards, Koreans did not follow the cultural norm of being respectful to authority figures. They tended to be much more interested in conveying their message and did not worry about including salutations like “dear sir”, “I am sorry to bother you”, and so on.

The reason why people are not burdened with the social norm of being respectful while posting on internet is due to self-efficacy (6). The theory of self-efficacy states that people compare their own behavior to behavior of other individuals and behavior of others can influence how they are supposed to act. On a web bullet board, people can read postings of others where no decorative words are being used and they can become encouraged to do the same. This is how the use of cyberspace can foster democracy by undermining a social norm that is inappropriate for democracy.

References:

1. Lee, O., & Gong, S.J. (2004). Overcoming the Confucian psychological barrier in government cyberspace. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 25-28.

2. Yandle, B. (1990). The decline and rise of political economy. European Journal of Political Economy, 6, 165-179.

3. Gronlund, A. (2001). Democracy in an IT-framed society. Communications of the ACM, 44, 22-25.

4. National Computerization Agency. (2003). The white paper on national computerization. Available: www.nca.or.kr.

5. Lee, O. (2002). Cultural differences in e-mail use of virtual teams: a critical social theory perspective. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5, 227-232.

6. Cervone, D. (2000). Thinking about self-efficacy. Behavior Modification, 24, 30-56.

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