A visual example, then, to support the arguments I made in this recent interview about digital disengagement within representative democracy. Behold the public notice board, located on my town’s main street, for our local community council.
Ain’t that pretty?
Now don’t you feel excited and energised about playing your part in local democracy?
No, me neither.
There are two things currently on display in the board. One is a statutorily required list of home addresses and phone numbers – but not email addresses – of CC members. It is dated September 2011. The other is an announcement about a supermarket consultation. That took place in July of 2012. Since then, either the CC has stopped caring, or they have lost the key. The amount of dirt and mould growing on the sign suggests both.
Now let’s talk location. The sign is located on my town’s main street, in front of the doors of the pharmacy which dispenses methadone. The sign is located next to the bench where the junkies like to sit, in those leisurely moments when they are not doing what they usually do for fun (viz, jump up and down, shout, shoplift, and stab each other.) There are days when you would take your life into your hands if you were curious about what information was contained behind that plastic cover.
The main street was “a main street” in the long and exalted past. Now, it’s a place people drive through – not walk down – en route to better shopping areas. A jingoistic campaign banner encourages people to “shop local” and keep their custom in the town. The banner conveniently covers the rotting plywood window boards on a shop that has lain vacant for nearly twenty years. It’s next to the bookies, which until last month was the only shop on the main street open past six PM.
It is as if the people who put the information sign in the location where they did are living in an imaginary town in the past, where people converge in the town centre to heed the wisdom of the great and the good.
Now, I am not picking on my town, or their CC, for the sake of having a go at them. Their board just happens to be en route to where I was going this morning. Indeed, it is to their great credit that they have a central email address, a Facebook page, and an archive of downloadable minutes and agendas. That is a lot more than many CCs offer. Yet none of that information is on display in the board; you have to proactively search for it.
On the bright side, if I recall the little paragraph in the newspaper correctly, they have also secured funding for a new information board, possibly to replace this one. Is it interactive? Will it sing? Will it dance? It had damn well better, if the price quote I read in the paper is accurate; it’s costing more than I have charged for some contracted web projects. “We’re too old/remote/financially crippled to go online,” moan thousands of Councillors; and yet they’ll make an effort to secure outrageous funding for a glorified cork board. Where there’s a will…