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Technology and democracy

Technology’s impact on the practice of democracy has been a hot topic of discussion in academia and the media over the past year. From the use of social media in the Arab Spring across the Middle East to the use of electronic surveillance equipment in the United States, technology can help mold the actions of a free government.

That interplay between technology and democracy was the subject of this year’s Engaged Citizen Experience conference at Drake on February 17 and 18. The interdisciplinary conference, attended by about 90 people — mostly students — featured breakout sessions related to cyberbullying, surveillance (with a focus on surveillance on college campuses), the environment, elections and the Arab Spring.

Mahmoud Hamad, assistant professor of politics and international relations

“The conference challenged students’ understanding of high-tech tools they may take for granted,” says Mahmoud Hamad, assistant professor of politics and international relations.

“The free flow of information provides a level plane for people to participate in the democratic process,” Hamad says. “Technology can empower young men and women to be active in public policy and public affairs. Research shows that 18- to 22-year-olds are the least likely to participate in politics in the United States, so I hope this message would entice our students to be more active in public policy and political efforts in their communities.”

Jordan Payne, a sophomore international relations and sociology double major from Lawrence, KS, says the most enlightening moments included historical background on the Arab Spring and a “Spotlight on Campus Surveillance” discussion led by Emily Troshynski, assistant professor of law, politics and society.

“Especially after the controversial usages of the USA PATRIOT Act, we often hear about surveillance in America and what it might mean for our democracy and basic rights of privacy,” Payne says. “Troshynski’s discussion of the usage of surveillance technology on college campuses was a welcome reminder of how closely these issues can truly impact our everyday lives.”