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Smart Citizens, Smarter State: the technologies of expertise and the future of governing

By: Beth Simone Noveck

Editor: Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2015

Ideas about the relationship between technology and politics remain in constant evolution amongst progressive intellectuals.
Marx’s vision of the dissolving of political conflict into an administration of things, strongly influenced by the industrialism of Saint-Simon, doesn’t win many over. But the possibility of improving workers purchasing power offered by Fordism reconciled the left with technological modernisation for a long time. This reconciliation was then weakened not only by the rediscovery of alienation from work by the Frankfurt School philosophers, but also by the unemployment created by new techniques of production.
Beth Simone Noveck has chosen to explore another angle of the relationship between technology and politics by taking it outside of the context of the workshop. An academic much sought-after by governments on both sides of the Atlantic, Noveck is not afraid of Big Brother. Conversely, she sees in the development of communication a fundamental resource for restoring citizens’ confidence in governing authorities as well as improving the coherence of political decisions and public expectations.
No irenicism in the explanation for Barack Obama’s ‘Open Government Initiative’ in 2009, but a weak defence of the theory that the dipping of a President’s public confidence rating below 20% is an emergency, and forces a modernisation of political participation, which can no longer be limited to exercising the right to vote. In the same vein, her hopes in the capacity of technology to instil dialogue and participation at the heart of the state are not the fantasy of some geek lost in the administration, but of an academic who has analysed the success of techniques already used by private sector businesses, such as Starbucks, in their attempts to build a user community, rather than just trying to attract clients.
Noveck doesn’t hide the very relative nature of the Democrat administration’s success in Open Government. But she attributes responsibility not to technological limitations but to the historical discrepancy between new possibilities offered and legal norms for protecting data confidentiality and maintaining the outdated culture of the state secret. In other words, there will be no technological revolution of politics and administration without a cultural revolution.

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