In moments of downtime I think about that Paul Graham post about frighteningly ambitious startup ideas; specifically the part about generating ideas:
One of my tricks for generating startup ideas is to imagine the ways in which we’ll seem backward to future generations. And I’m pretty sure that to people 50 or 100 years in the future, it will seem barbaric that people in our era waited till they had symptoms to be diagnosed with conditions like heart disease and cancer.
I love speculating on this topic (what will completely baffle our descendants when examining us?). I often cite things like smoking (“wait, why did people in 2013 keep smoking even after they knew how much it damaged their lungs?”), manual control cars (“seriously, anybody was allowed to just get inside a fast, powerful machine? Even if they’d been drinking? And they could drive it down public streets without control?!”) and others as my theories about the future. One thing I started thinking about recently was how all of this relates to politics.
In the UK (and probably most countries using our parliamentary model), MPs were elected as representatives of a given area, and they’d go to Westminster (or wherever the seat of government was located) to vote on issues and pass laws. Every couple of years, the populace was able to vote on their representative and choose someone they thought best reflected their wishes on local issues, as well as national.
When I think about how the world of the future will regard us in, let’s say, 60 years’ time, I keep coming back to this: they’ll wonder why it took us so long to realise that we’d built a global communications system covering almost every home (wait a couple more years, maybe). They’ll wonder why we still turned out to elect someone every four years that we didn’t genuinely believe would reflect our opinions. They’ll wonder why the country’s political decisions were effectively made by an elite of a thousand or so people who were supposed to be representing an entire nation’s citizens.
They’ll wonder why we built things like Facebook and Twitter but it didn’t occur to us to sweep away a government system built for a world where travelling between cities took days, communicating with voters took weeks, and voting on legislation cost millions.
A “Google Government” might be just as bad, but I’m struggling to see how we can continue to make excuses in support of a system that’s become a relic. We could have country-wide referendums on every issue the government debates — no need for electing local representatives if everyone’s got a say; directly. Parliamentary terms could be made up of voluntary committees of the public (like jury service) to set the agenda. Experts from industry and academia could sit on advisory boards to provide public context for votes and debates. The infighting and point-scoring between political parties would become redundant as every vote suddenly became equal.
Of course, this is a naive and pie-in-the-sky theory. I’m nowhere near politically educated enough to work through the implications or implementation of something like this. But I do believe that a century from now, people will wonder what took us so long to iterate once we’d built the tools to replace what was broken.