On the global democratization trend in knowledge, news, financing and so on
| Misunderstood democracy |
This article appeared in October 2013, in Romanian, in Adevarul.ro
The nostalgic quote from Ion Iliescu that I used as a title is a cheap trick to get your attention. In fact, this article is about “democratization”, a term used more and more with the meaning of “broad access” or “free access” to a particular field (as in “democratization of knowledge”).
The theory I want to support with examples is that there is a general and coherent trend of liberalizing the access of the general public in a number of seemingly disparate areas and that this trend can be analyzed systemically. In 2013, man has more freedom of choice than ever before in history. This empowerment should come with more responsibility and especially with the science (unknown to some) of taking your destiny into your own hands. But first we must be aware of all the paths that have just been opened to us. Here is a systematization attempt:
1. Democratization of knowledge
I think the crown winner in this field is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia about everything, written by everyone. About forty years ago it would’ve seemed a utopia worthy of science fiction or a book by Aldous Huxley. Today, anyone can know in a minute what the “invisible hand” described by Adam Smith is, or why the Higgs boson is called the “particle of God.
This completely changes the idea of the school’s purpose. Until recently, the school was the only source of information. Today, the main source of information is elsewhere, and the purpose of the school must be repositioned to train discernment and character-building. The problem is that the school hasn’t found out yet about this change.
Another champion of open access to knowledge is Coursera, a platform through which the world’s largest universities hold free courses for hundreds of thousands of students around the world (MOOC – Massive Online Open Courses).
The courses are not filmed from the back of the classroom, with over fifty students, but are designed especially for the online environment. You can enroll in hundreds of courses, from “Anatomy of the Upper Member” to “Social Psychology”, given by Nobel professors that you used to read only in specialized magazines, and which are now addressed to you. There are tests to keep you focused, projects, deadlines, final exams, grades and diploma.
Founded two years ago, Coursera has reached 5 million students in 190 countries, 100 partner universities and 48 million hours (!) spend watching courses. I am glad that Romania is one of the leaders, with several thousand students. The way this phenomenon grows makes me believe that the university system will no longer be as we know it.
I think that soon the students will be able to tailor their own mix of courses (from a given palette), courses that can be from different universities, offline or online. And I think that whoever will bring in Romania this type of courses will have a lot to gain.
2. Democratization of journalism
Today, everyone travels with a high-performance camera in their pocket: the phone’s camera. Which means that any news (from terrorist attacks or anti-government demonstrations to newborn elephants or successful children) finds an owner, an amateur photojournalist, then a channel (Facebook or Twitter) and then arrives in the river of traditional media channels. Another example in which the traditional media is “democratized” is this channel, adevarul.ro, where new and varied voices appear next to journalists.
3. Democratization of art
I think it’s obvious that we need to talk about YouTube here. An opera lover who, before YouTube, listened to his favorites in one or two performances on disc, on the radio on lucky days and exceptionally live at the opera, can now compare dozens of famous sopranos, contemporary or not, singing “Always free”, with or without mi bemol at the end.
Another example is the Kindle, from Amazon, which makes almost any book accessible to you in a few seconds, even if you are at the beach without Wi-Fi around. And the classics are free.
We talked about art consumers. Becoming an artist is also easy. There are, for example, self-publishing sites all around the world. And movie editing applications can now be installed even on the phone.
Another example, located at the border with the next field, is the Kickstarter model, through which an artist finances his production by selling his work in advance (you can buy autographed copies from a book, a CD, or even pieces from an installation). I saw this mechanism working in our country when Petruţ Călinescu and Oana Hodoiu published the extraordinary story of some Romanians who went to work abroad (“Pride and Concrete”) – I also have an autographed copy.
4. Democratization of financing
Here we’re talking about opening the borders for both camps: those who are looking for financing and those who are looking to make an investment. In the first case, generalizing the Kickstarter model, there are platforms such as multifinantare.ro, in which your project is presented to potential investors. About other Romanian crowdfunding models, such as Pot şi Eu, Creştem Idei or We Are Here, I found an interesting discussion on Adevărul Live: https://adevarul.ro/tech/internet/adevarul-live-ora-15-crowdfunding-ul-romania-povestile-succes-provocarile-industrii-1_5215f329c7b855ff5600fe34/index.html
On the other side, people who want to invest in start-up companies which aren’t listed on the stock market, can do so through angel investing platforms, such as AngelList in the USA or TechAngels in our country.
5. Democratization of design
Zara and its brothers (Massimo Dutti, Bershka etc.) or the competitors from H&M dress people in affordable clothes inspired by the collections from fashion shows. Frédéric Beigbeder, whom I know with left-wing views, seeing that his housekeeper is “more stylish than Ivanka Trump”, proposes in “The Romantic Egoist” to ban the access of those with salaries higher than 1500 euros per month in Zara and H&M stores, so that “the poor people remain more elegant than the rich”.
6. Democratization of tourism
Along with mass tourism, which appeared a few decades ago, we can give the example of newer tools, such as online booking (from home) of accommodation through Booking.com or Agoda, or searching for the best flight deals on Kayak. The model from Couchsurfing, which makes the “sleepover” more official, is also nice and worth mentioning.
7. Democratization of professions
After the nineties, when the press and advertising were populated with hundreds of engineering, medicine or law graduates, I am glad to see now efforts to bring to Romania the model from Teach for America, where young graduates of any kind of university become school teachers for two years, increasing the level of teaching in the poorer schools and growing their knowledge at the same time.
8. Democratization of celebrity
Reality shows appeared in the United States in the 1990s, starring Big Brother and Survivor, making strangers famous overnight. The basic idea is that “you can be famous too” and those who wanted, came forward. Romanian television is full of such celebrity aspirants, whether they have qualities to justify it (“Romanians got talent”, “X-Factor” or “Masterchef”), or not (“Mireasă pentru fiul meu” or “Schimb de mame”).
This topic is broad and, in this article, I only try to signal its existence. The fact that a paradigm changes slowly, not from one day to the next, makes it difficult to perceive the change, hence the idea of this article. Apart from that brief opinion in the second paragraph, I would like to leave the discussion open about what comes with this new type of “new man”, with all the freedoms and all the democratization.
Etymologically, democracy comes from the Greek language. Democracy comes from demos (people) and kratos (power, leadership, state). The extrapolation of the meaning to “broad access”, about which I wrote today, is either a little exaggerated, in which kratos is no longer relevant, or a metaphorical one, full of meaning, in which the true power comes from the freedom of choice. Choose what you like best.