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If everyone had a BlackBerry, that might not be a good thing

Jeffrey Roy, who is an associate professor in the School of Public Administration at Canada's Dalhousie University, muses on what a democracy would be like if almost every citizen (and by implication, voter) had a BlackBerry.In fact, Roy seems to be wondering if BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion might not already have commissioned such a study.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor on

Jeffrey Roy, who is an associate professor in the School of Public Administration at Canada's Dalhousie University, muses on what a democracy would be like if almost every citizen (and by implication, voter) had a BlackBerry.

In fact, Roy seems to be wondering if BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion might not already have commissioned such a study.

Tailoring his commentary to Canada, Roy then makes the point that some countries are already approaching that threshold.

"Such a scenario, perhaps not so entirely farfetched when considering wireless penetration rates now in excess of 90 per cent across much of Northern Europe, would galvanize the emergence of a truly virtual democracy," he writes. "Yet it's worthwhile asking: Would the result be positive?

Roy seems to have his doubts.

The word "virtual" has many connotations, two of which are particularly relevant for the speculation at hand. On the one hand, virtual is meant to denote a non-physical form, one we now readily associate with the Internet. On the other hand, virtual also conveys a sense of not quite being true, as in a virtual reality.

Would, then, ubiquitous Blackberries yield a newly digitized democratic order constituting an improvement over what we have today? Alternatively, would such virtual connectedness merely parallel, or even marginalize, existing political institutions and collective citizenship? The answer to this fundamental question rests on two competing and not entirely separate dynamics: firstly, media messaging and visibility; and secondly, deliberation and learning.

Roy doesn't come flat out and say it, but he seems to be somewhat troubled by a citizenship technically equipped to participate in civic affairs via, say, BlackBerry-enabled voting and petition ability, and what that citizenship would mean for traditional governmental apparatus.

"The crux of the virtual democracy challenge is thus apparent: how to leverage the benefits of a more knowledgeable and inquisitional society, while also replicating the sorts of dialogue that have historically taken place in legislative chambers," Roy writes. "Put more succinctly, can virtual democracy be both visible and deliberative?"

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