Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Praise for “monitory democracy”: a concept attuned to TIMN (Part 2 of 2)

As noted in my Part-1 post on monitory democracy, I’m always on lookout for concepts that may help show how the +N (network) part of TIMN may unfold in the future. John Keane’s concept of “monitory democracy” is one of the best I’ve seen lately.

The Part-1 post summarized the concept and provided preliminary review comments. This Part-2 post assesses the concept’s relevance to TIMN.

I’m interested in “monitory democracy” for its own merits. But doing this double-post now is prompted by my intent to refer to monitory democracy, but sparingly, in the final (Part-IV, upcoming) post in my coterminous series on the causes, conduct, and consequences of Occupy! and related pro-democracy movements.

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Monitory democracy and TIMN: major similarities, minor differences

TIMN is about the rise of network (N) forms of organization; how they work differently from older tribal (T), hierarchical institutional (I), and market (M) forms; and how the whole thing can be assembled into a theory of social evolution that spans the ages from monoform (T-centric), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), to quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies. According to TIMN, the rise of the information-age network (+N) form is strengthening civil society more than state and market actors, and will lead to the growth of a new sector that is different and separate from the existing public and private sectors. TIMN associates this with the spread of networked NGOs and other entities that act as sensory organizations and do lots of watching and monitoring.

Keane’s view is remarkably consistent with TIMN. The concept of monitory democracy parallels, overlaps, and reinforces much that I’ve said about TIMN. The similarities are not precise — see the next two sections for some major differences. Yet his concept is tantamount to a missing piece in TIMN — a piece that slots into place quite nicely. I like it in lots of ways, as follows:

I like his emphasis on monitoring. My TIMN efforts have long pointed to the monitoring roles of NGOs and other actors involved in the rise of the network form (see Appendix 1), and related to that, the growth of vast new sensory apparatuses, both organizational and technological, that enable monitoring (see Appendix 2). But I never thought of elevating monitoring to a degree that redefines and renames the nature of democracy.

I like 1945 as a date for the start of monitory democracy. For TIMN, I’ve often wondered when to date the start of the rise of the +N form. Sometime in the mid-to-late 20th century, for sure. But when, why? The +N form doesn’t start to take-off until faxes come into play in the 1970s. But seminal experiments with organizational networking occurred earlier, in the 1960s, notably with the civil-rights and anti-war movements. I’ve not seen a way to put the take-off date earlier. But Keane’s account shows that the stage-setting ferment for networked activism within civil society began decades earlier, circa 1945, with the appearance of monitoring “inventions” all across civil society, often operating outside the standard boundaries of the state- and market-related public and private sectors. Thus, these early inventions were not extensions of the prevailing +I or +M parts of TIMN; they were a new breed of actors and entities — forerunners — awaiting a capacity to link up and maneuver in +N directions.

I like Keane’s emphasis on civil society. TIMN also regards civil society as a growing source of monitory power vis à vis state and market actors. And related to that, I like Keane’s point that monitory democracy brings new kinds of checks and balances. TIMN is very much about each form being used in proper ways vis à vis the other forms — ways that would keep the forms and their realms largely separated, limited, balanced, and mutually regulated. I see monitory democracy fitting well with that.

I like Keane’s point that the progression from assembly to representative to monitory democracy does not mean that the old forms are displaced by the new. Rather, the old continue to coexist with the new, and they all work on and with each other. Likewise, TIMN is about the layering and compounding of all the TIMN forms and their respective realms, in a preferred progression over time.

I also like Keane’s recognition that all three types of democracy have both bright and dark sides. This too is TIMNish. Keane does not extol monitory democracy in utopian terms, any more than TIMN is utopian about the rise of the +N network form. Indeed, if the trends behind monitory democracy turn out to generate far more surveillance than sousveillance, the outcome might be more a monitory cyberocracy than a monitory democracy.

And I like that Keane’s concept offers a way to look beyond Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. TIMN does so as well; and I plan to eventually post about this. As a reminder, Fukuyama’s famed thesis (1992, p. xi, quoting from 1989) held that “[L]iberal democracy may constitute the “end point of man’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” … the “end of history.”” From a TIMN perspective, Fukuyama’s thesis is thoroughly triformist (T+I+M); it does not grasp that the network form of organization is on the rise and will remake history by creating quadriformist (T+I+M+N) societies. Rather similar to TIMN, Keane’s monitory democracy means that political evolution is far from ending. The forces and dynamics behind Keane’s concept will grow throughout this century. Something quite different from liberal democracy á la Fukuyama seems bound to result.

Monitory democracy vs. TIMN: differences along with similarities

Despite all these likeable similarities, there are some major differences I’d highlight:

Keane’s progression from assembly to representative to monitory democracy makes good sense, and aligns quite well with the progression of TIMN forms. But with qualifications. As I’ve long intended to show (2006, p. 39, fn. 16), each TIMN form may be associated with a different type of democracy. Thus TIMN implies four, not three, types of democracy.

What I’ve had in mind means that Keane’s assembly democracy corresponds well to the tribal (T) form; consultative consensus-seeking in tribal councils — majority rule — was indeed the first type of democracy. Representative democracy evolved later, when it appears first in hierarchical state-centric (+I) societies, and then is more fully realized in later societies where the (+M) market form takes hold as well. Monitory democracy corresponds to the modern rise of the (+N) network form and its effects on civil society.

Which leads to a discrepancy. TIMN implies that representative democracy — or should I say liberal democracy, with its allowances for political parties to compete and for dissenting minorities to have rights — corresponds best to triformist T+I+M societies where the market (+M) form has taken hold, penetrating and modifying the state (+I) realm. That leaves a question as to what kind of democracy corresponds just to a biform T+I system that revolves around a central (+I) state hierarchy, and where the +M form has not emerged, esp. if it is being prevented from doing so. The answer, I detect, is what is now called democratic centralism — a sheltered pyramidal institutional (+I) system in which allowances are made for the selection of lower-level representatives who then select or otherwise approve higher-level ones, tier by tier, until the top ruler (e.g., a dictator like Lenin, Mao, or Castro) is validated, along with his chosen cadre. It’s essentially hierarchical but can claim to be democratic. Variants I’ve spotted include “consultative dictatorship”, “authoritarian deliberation”, and “networked authoritarianism” — mostly in connection with efforts to characterize China’s system today.

From a TIMN stance, such a four-part typology makes more analytic sense than a three-part. But I’ve not yet gone through the history of democracy enough to document that it makes factual historical sense as well. Making a good case would require identifying past examples of democratic centralism, say in medieval monarchies or the Papacy, in order to show that what may seem like early examples of representative democracy can be recategorized and better understood, from a TIMN perspective, as instances of democratic centralism. Any suggestions?

This difference in Keane’s and TIMN’s approaches to typologizing democracy is reflected in our views about the nature of enabling technologies. I like very much Keane’s association of each age of democracy with a different information and communications technology: assembly democracy in ancient times, with the spoken word and early writing; next, representative democracy, with first print, then telegraph and radio, and lately television; and now monitory democracy with all sorts of new digital media. This is very TIMNish. I have long associated the rise of the tribal form with early language and writing; the hierarchical institutional form, with the mechanical print revolution; the market form, with the electronic revolution (telegraph, telephone, radio); and now the new network form, with the digital media revolution.

That’s quite an overlap between our analyses — but notice the discrepancy: Keane associates representative democracy with both the mechanical and the electronic revolutions. In contrast, TIMN says the two are so different that they help explain the phasing of two different forms of organization. The +I and +M phases each require, in turn, a deeper denser information / communications revolution to take hold. This suggests that, at a minimum, representative democracy goes through two phases: an intra-hierarchic (+I) phase and a more open competitive marketlike (+M) phase. Or more to the point, the two phases are so different that the +I phase should have its own name — e.g., democratic centralism — and representative democracy, in its liberal sense, should be identified primarily with the +M phase. That would be more in accord with what I think TIMN implies.

Of course, none of this is to say that one of us is right and the other wrong — that a three-part or a four-part typology is better. We just have different analytic sensibilities and priorities. Mine is to keep elaborating TIMN. Hence my interest in identifying the foregoing differences and discerning ways of adjusting to them. In any case, most are of an historical nature. More significant may be some differences in our orientations toward the future.

Monitory democracy vis à vis TIMN: long-range future implications

As already noted, monitory democracy is a powerful concept that fits well with TIMN. Yet, TIMN contains some pointed themes about future forces and dynamics that are not fully evident in Keane’s approach. I lay them out in this section, with an eye to wondering whether they might benefit future elaborations about monitory democracy or TIMN, if not both.

One key TIMN theme is the growing importance of the network (+N) form of organization. Keane’s writings, to their credit, often refer to networks — “organizations and networks”, NGO networks, global networks, computer networks, media networks, social networks etc. And it seems implicit that all kinds of networks — organizational, technological, social — are making a crucial difference for monitory democracy. But in contrast to TIMN, Keane’s writings do not (yet?) say much about the rise of networks as a distinct form of organization. And I don’t mean this strictly as a plug for TIMN’s +N view; Bauwen's P2P or similar views may be suitable as well. I just think that monitory democracy, as concept and practice, would benefit from a stronger clearer identification with the rise of network forms of organization.

A second key TIMN theme is that the rise of the network form will lead to the creation of a new sector, from out of civil society, that is different and apart from the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors. Various names have been tried out for this nascent sector over the past several decades: e.g., third sector, social sector, civic sector, citizen sector, social-benefit sector, commons sector. But sure as I am that TIMN implies a new sector, it remains unclear what’ll be its cardinal purpose, scope and scale. Maybe one of the previous names will stick, but I have doubts. In any case, it cannot turn out to be simply a monitory sector, for a lot of monitoring will also be done in and by actors in the other sectors. Yet, monitoring — á la Keane’s concept — will surely be a major function. I’m still trying to figure out this aspect for TIMN. And I will hope that Keane’s future writings offer further guidance. His current writings indicate in spots that a new sector is emerging; and as my Part-1 post noted, he ties the prospects for monitory democracy to prospects for people having “equal access to ‘the commons’”. But that is far from explicitly forecasting a new sector, much less calling for a commons sector.

A third TIMN theme is that the network age will result in new modes of governance. Keane’s mention of “networked governance” indicates that he recognizes this, though he doesn’t elaborate. TIMN, mainly in a paper on future prospects for cyberocracy, expects networked governance to become increasingly significant, perhaps resulting in a “nexus state” that combines multiple modes of governance, as a successor to the classic bureaucratic and modern market states. A democratic nexus-state would surely be a monitory democracy. Keane’s concept also fits well with Michel Bauwen’s P2P concept of a “partner state”. In any case, a lot of work remains to be done on how monitory democracy may affect governance in the future, from local to global levels.

And that leads to a set of final points: One is that the prospects for a new sector and for monitory democracy will depend on what happens with the vast new sensory apparatuses, technological and organizational, that are expanding capabilities for both surveillance and sousveillance. I’d suppose that a balance between them is advisable for the sake of both TIMN and monitory democracy. But at present, surveillance seems to be growing far more than sousveillance. I covered some of this in a 2008 writing (see Appendix 2), but a lot has transpired since then. For example, just the past few months have led to revelations about the construction of a huge NSA electronic surveillance facility (reported here in Wired, blogged here by ever-attentive David Brin). And there’s an idea to build a “social radar” for the U.S. government. But I’ve also come across ideas for a “sensor commons” and “surveillant landscapes” as well as “augmented activism” and “crisis mapping” that are mostly about sousveillance. Quite a lot of ferment! And it’s still in early stages. The balance is far from set.

Something else: A point that is missing in writings so far about TIMN and monitory democracy is that, if a new sector is to become influential in the deep future, new kinds of aggregators and clearinghouses will be needed. I offer this point speculatively, but I’m pretty sure about it. The +I realm has its states with their councils, congresses, parliaments, parties, and elections. The +M realm has various markets, exchanges, banks, and currencies. But so far, the +N sector is lacking in aggregators and clearinghouses of similar scale and scope. Sure, there are bits and pieces, often by issue area, as in social forums, watch-dog networks, opinion polls, and philanthropic entities that do scanning. But we’re still far from seeing major aggregators and clearinghouses that can assemble large amounts of monitoring from multiple diverse sources and give voice to what it all may mean. Perhaps like a Google designed for monitoring rather than searching, or a platform like All Our Ideas that uses “wiki surveys”, where people may even set their own parameters.

A final point: As I noted in my Part-2 post about Occupy! and related pro-democracy protest movements, responsibility is emerging as an important thread. Many activists talk about rights — e.g., Occupy as a continuation of the civil rights revolutions of the 20th C. But I detect a growing emphasis on responsibilities, and have wondered whether Occupy! may develop into a responsibilities revolution more than a rights revolution. Corporate social responsibility and government accountability are strong threads. If monitory democracy is to take hold in the 21st C., it may make sense for activists of all stripes to press on civic responsibilities even harder than on civil rights. A recent plea for this appears here in the Democracy journal. It comes with a liberal / progressive bent, but I’ve seen similar pleas of a conservative bent. Monitory democracy may well turn out to be about responsibilities more than rights — and about how this affects people’s abilities to work together and abide by mutual social compact despite different leanings.

Coda: revisiting a comparison of 1848 and 2011

Previously, in a sidebar at the end of my Part-1 post on Occupy! and related protest movements, I picked up on comparisons of the 2011 movements to the 1848 revolutions, and speculated in TIMN terms that 2011 is to the rise of the +N form as 1848 was to the rise of the +M form:
"If 2011’s wave reflects the rise of the (+N) network form … what about the 1848 wave? Where’s the similarity in that TIMN regard? Back then was too early for the network form of organization to be much of a cause …. But — and here’s my TIMN point — it was an era when the (+M) market form was on the rise, reshaping not only economic but also political and social dynamics. Indeed, representative democracy depends on the penetration of (+M) market principles and dynamics into the (+I) realm of the state. …
"… The 1848 revolutions were “caused” by the rise of the market form, much as the 2011 revolutions are “caused” by the rise of the network form. As to whether the post-1848 outcomes imply being cautious about expecting much from the 2011 wave, I’ve little idea. But my sense of TIMN suggests that the stakes this time around involve a different kind of democracy, not just representative democracy."
After reading Keane, I see that the “different kind of democracy” at stake may well be monitory democracy. If so, then 2011 (or will it be 2012?) is to monitory democracy as 1848 was to representative democracy — a year full of upheavals, harbingers, and turning-points for the future of democracy, but likely to yield mixed results for decades to come.

Thus Keane’s framework — his distinctions about assembly, representative, and monitory democracy — is consistent with (and helps make) a point that undergirds my coterminous series on Occupy! and related pro-democracy movements: These movements are doing a lot to express and propel the rise of the network (+N) form of organization. They will succeed to the extent that they continue to do so, presuming it’s in a constructive manner.

From a TIMN perspective, fostering monitory democracy is one of the most constructive things to do. It’d help with renewing social compacts that have been badly damaged in many societies over the last decade or two. It’d help with assuring that the liberal democracies of the world get fully back on that path, rather than slipping further in the direction of patrimonial corporatism.

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Appendix 1: Excerpt from “A Long Look Ahead: NGOs, Networks, and Future Social Evolution” (2002)

What follows is an excerpt from a TIMN-related paper I wrote — “A Long Look Ahead: NGOs, Networks, and Future Social Evolution” — in 2002 for Robert Olson and David Rejeski (eds.), Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow: Shaping the Next Industrial Revolution, (2005). The excerpt is from pp. 92-93, 94-97. The paper is available as a download here.

I include the excerpt in order to document and provide elaboration that TIMN has long been moving along a similar track to Keane’s in regard to the monitoring roles of NGOs. The excerpt focuses on environmental matters, but its scope could be applied to other issue areas as well, in keeping with TIMN’s general implications about how the rise of the network (+N) form may reshape societies.

Implications for Future Modes of Conflict and Cooperation

New modes of conflict and cooperation emerge with each evolutionary shift. A society’s efforts to transition from one stage to the next, or relate to a society that is at a different stage, are bound to create internal and external contradictions; indeed, the values, actors, and spaces favored by one form tend to contradict those favored by another. Thus, the rise of a new form induces epochal philosophical, ideological, and material struggles that are jarring to a society’s stability, transformability, and sustainability. This happened in the past when tribal systems faced the rise of states, and states the rise of market systems. It will happen anew now that the network form is on the ascendance, energizing mainly nonstate actors.
Network forms of organization are attracting enormous attention these days; new books and articles appear every few months (with some of the best analysis coming from researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). But it remains quite unclear what a new network realm may ultimately look like. One way it may evolve is through a four-stage progression in network topology: from an initial scattering of groups and individuals that have sparse network ties (“scattered emergence”); to their combining into a “single hub-and-spoke” design where the central hub acts mainly as a clearinghouse and coordinating agency; then to a deeper, more dispersed, specialized “multi-hub small world” design; and eventually to a dense, vast, sprawling “core/periphery” mass of organizational networks.[*] To some extent, the environmental movement (not to mention other civil-societal movements) is already moving through this progression. But just as the molding of a network realm will take time, so will the development and understanding of its interactions with the other, existing realms. …

Long-Term Scenario: New Approaches to Policy and Strategy

As the subversive effects subside and additive effects take hold, a society adapts to the rise of a new form and learns to combine it with the prevailing forms (realms). This may take decades, probably much longer. The deepening of the network age will cause a leap in the strength of civil society, or the emergence from it of a new network-based realm whose name and nature are not yet known. An end result will be the creation of next-generation policy mechanisms for communication, consultation, and collaboration among state, market, and civil-societal (or new-realm) actors, at home and abroad.
Because of the rise of a realm of networked actors and forces, current approaches to domestic and foreign policy will go through radical revisions. Some oft-noted trends will deepen: First, the boundaries between domestic and foreign policy will blur further, as activist NGOs continue to press for transnational perspectives on policy problems and solutions. Second, public-private cooperation, so needed in so many issue areas, will continue to extend beyond state and market actors to include socially minded nonprofit NGOs (who are sometimes said to comprise a new social sector separate from the traditional public and private sectors).
Meanwhile, new challenges will take shape. Taking advantage of the information revolution, people and organizations in advanced societies are developing vast sensory apparatuses for watching what is happening in their own societies and elsewhere around the world. Many innovations are occurring in organization and strategy, often by taking advantage of the new information and communications technologies. For example, one unusual benefactor of the Internet has been birdwatchers in North America, a group that contains an estimated one in four of all U.S. citizens. A few years ago, with the help of the National Audubon Society and Cornell University, bird watchers started sharing data online and have used the network to better understand and map migration patterns.
Mining and analyzing data culled from large networks is not new and has long been used by existing government regulatory, law-enforcement, and intelligence agencies; corporate market-research departments; news media; and opinion-polling firms. What is new is the looming scope and scale of this sensory apparatus, and its increasing inclusion of NGOs who watch, monitor, share information, and report on what they see in diverse issue areas. One example is Global Forest Watch (GFW), an international network of local forest-protection groups linked by the Internet and a common data-gathering format. The World Resources Institute collaborated by e-mail with over a hundred scientists in different parts of the world to create a unique set of digital maps showing the location and extent of the world’s old-growth forests. The GFW network monitors all these areas, recording any illegal cutting, burning, or other violations of forest leases on the digital maps. This information is posted to the Internet in near-real time, naming specific violators. Review processes check the accuracy of the data collected and ensure that participating network groups are acting responsibly. The information makes it possible for activists to mobilize quickly, apply market pressures to companies, and pressure governments to regulate effectively.
Developing the kind of early warning capability illustrated by GFW is an increasing concern for many environmental NGOs; so is gathering information to affect the framing of policy options. Determining appropriate designs, and roles, for this array of sensory organizations and their (centralized? decentralized?) internetting will be a growing challenge. Perhaps one day in the future, advances in autonomic and pervasive computing will even enable us to build self-regulating systems that can monitor and report on conditions without the constant involvement of humans. How such networked-based, self-regulating systems may interface with traditional forms of top-down regulation by government is only a speculative question today.
The emergence of a network realm — and of massively networked systems and infrastructures with it — will pose significant challenges for the agencies responsible for environmental protection. Their advisory councils and decision structures will have to open up to more regular participation from NGO representatives, at least in consultative capacities. Indeed, various environmental, health, consumer, and other activist watchdog and advocacy groups are already working — perhaps with more success in Canada and Europe than in the United States — to see that such reforms occur. And as stronger, more transparent connections are built among the responsible government agencies, NGOs, and companies, they will have to learn to work more cooperatively to formulate policy through new governance systems that embrace not only government and business but also NGO representatives. Climate change is probably the best example of an environmental issue that can only be resolved by networking across institutional boundaries of every kind.
Public policy dialogue has, for over a century, revolved around contentions as to whether government or the market represents the better solution for particular policy issues. In the network age, this choice will prove too narrow, too binary, even for blending. New views will come to the fore that the network is the solution. These views may well open up possibilities for major improvements in environmental protection. …
If this view of the role of networks — and of the eventual rise of a new network realm — in long-range social evolution is correct, the growth of transnational NGOs, and the ability of NGOs, states, and market actors to network with each other, should prove a major asset for democratic societies. It may help reanimate the concept of progress — giving it new direction and credibility. It may point the way to developing the structures and organizational processes that will make a sustainable future possible.

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Appendix 2: Excerpt from The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited) (2008)

What follows is a sub-section, minus footnotes, from an unpublished paper available online: The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited) (2008, co-authored with Danielle Varda). It updates the first paper I wrote on the topic in 1991, and the excerpt is from the 2008 update.

As with Appendix 1 above, I include the excerpt in order to document and provide elaboration about TIMN’s long-standing concern with monitoring roles that may increase as the network (+N) form takes hold.

Development of New Sensory Apparatuses Throughout Societies

Taking advantage of the information revolution, people and organizations in the advanced societies are building vast new sensory apparatuses for watching what is happening in their own societies and around the world. Of all the uses to which the new technologies are being put, this may become one of the most important for the future of the state and its relationship to society.
These sensory apparatuses are not entirely new. Government agencies, public utilities, science centers, corporate market-research offices, news media, and opinion-polling firms have long amassed data and tracked trends in selected areas of interest. What is new is the burgeoning scope and scale of these apparatuses: the deployment of new kinds of sensors by all kinds of actors; the increasing roles of NGOs and NPOs in this activity; and the internetting and sharing of information that is becoming possible across agency, sectoral, and national boundaries, both publicly and privately. 
Many of the new apparatuses reflect the perception of perils. Crime and terrorism are impelling new installations for watching cityscapes, monitoring communications, and mapping potential hotspots. But sensor networks are also being deployed for early warning and rapid response regarding many other concerns — disease outbreaks, forest protection, bird migration, and urban electricity spikes, to name a few. In addition, environmental, human-rights, and other social activists continue to develop new media — notably, IndyMedia — to keep watch and speed mobilization in case of a challenge or abuse somewhere, say against the Zapatista movement in Mexico. In a sense, the partisan blogospheres amount to a gigantic, reactive sensory apparatus in the American body politic.
Many technologies are involved. Indeed, the diversity of devices being deployed is impressive — such as cameras on satellites in earth orbit, moisture sensors embedded in trees in fire-risk zones, postings broadcast on public Web pages, and silent alarms for remote private monitors. Networked computers, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags play prominent roles today. But looming advances in nanotechnology, robotics, biometrics, and alternative energy sources will enhance the trend. Cell phones, smart cards, and other hand-held and embedded devices may become the key bearers of this new technology at the individual level.
Thus, technologists are fusing the decades-old goal of “ubiquitous computing” with the newer goal of “pervasive sensing.” Before long, what are called “anticipatory technologies” may become so widespread and effective that many surroundings are embedded with “ambient intelligence” — leading to so-called “smart buildings,” “sensible organizations,” and “sentient cities” set to autonomically monitor for everything from leaky pipes to lost children. Then, the sensor era will turn into a sensor/effector era, where devices not only detect but also can manipulate matters. Meanwhile, citizens’ concerns about top-down surveillance may be countered by bottom-up “sousveillance” (or inverse surveillance), particularly if individuals wear personal devices for detecting and recording what is occurring in their vicinity.
This is not to say that societies will increasingly resemble “organisms” that have a central nervous system and brain. That’s going too far. But something is taking shape for which sensory apparatus seems an appropriate term. A term like surveillance system is too limited (and biased). Far more than surveillance is occurring, and the diverse arrays comprising this apparatus are far from forming an integrated system. Bits and pieces have existed for decades — they are normal for complex modern societies — and more pieces are being emplaced. Yet most are scattered and task-specific. They exist to do people’s bidding — such as responding to a change in environmental conditions, or to a signal from a nearby actuator, transponder or microprocessor. Some pieces are networked, but not all. And no central master hub exists (and presumably never will).
The scope and scale of this apparatus are growing far beyond what government, business, and civil-society actors have ever had at their disposal or had to cope with. They will all be challenged to figure out proper designs for the kinds of sensory organizations and technologies they prefer — and proper ways to regulate them. Their growth has already sharpened issues about privacy and security, but it may also open new pathways for fostering transparency and accountability. How information is assembled and accessed, how issues and options are illuminated, how public and private forces are mobilized, and how oversight is achieved will all be affected.
It has become standard fare to speculate that such apparatuses mainly benefit government and corporate actors, for good and ill. Less noticed, but we think equally likely and significant, is that the apparatuses will aid the rise of civil-society actors, by providing networked NGOs and NPOs with new tools not only for checking on the behavior of government and corporate actors, but also for participating in collaborative governance schemes with them. New mechanisms for attracting and combining diverse viewpoints under the rubric of “collective intelligence” could help foster this. So could the continued advance of principles favoring freedom of information, the right to communicate, and open access.

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A thankful h/t to Michel Bauwens and Kevin Carson for calling my attention to John Keane’s concept of monitory democracy.

Special thanks to Richard O'Neill, director of the Highlands Group and the Highlands Forum, for his overall interest and encouragement.

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[AMENDED — April 14, 2012: I added a few phrases and links here and there.]