Why tech is on the verge of changing the political process forever

Jon Stewart
Would youngsters rather watch the Daily Show than the Beeb's Daily Politics?

It's a bleak time to be young. The 30-something-and-below generation is facing huge debts, long hours, low pay and an ever-disappearing retirement age.

The cost of higher education in 2014 would've been enough to buy a three bedroom house 30 years ago. When a graduate enters the workforce, they can either look forward to being used as a political football, or a punching bag when one of the three main parties' PR machines needs "tough on welfare" headlines.

Critics argue that the young bear the brunt of the worst policies because they're politically disengaged – that they'd rather read about Nick Cage than Nick Clegg. As a result politicians see no benefit in appealing to them because the favour isn't returned at the ballot box.

It's certainly true that the 18-24 age group had the lowest turnout at the last General Election (44%). But is it true that they're politically disengaged? Or is that they'd rather watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart than the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil?

Obvious evidence

You only need to look at the evidence to answer that question. The 2010 student fees protests, this year's 50,000 strong people's assembly protests, the call to arms by Russell Brand and subsequent endless debates on social media, the various Occupy movements around the world, the recent Israel/Palestine protests around the UK and every other protest across the globe that has toppled a regime in the last 5 years – all have a distinctly young face.

Young people are more political than ever, just not formally. The very core of the anti-1% narrative has been moulded by the young, the people who have to work until they're 80 and pay for the mistakes of a few from the previous generation. It's now accepted thinking that young people are, ostensibly, screwed

But the response from today's youth hasn't been to queue up at the ballot box, largely because they think the system is flawed and the representatives don't represent them.

A declining voter turnout over the last 30 years suggests that the rest of the electorate are starting to think so too. What young people are doing is far more ambitious; they're working towards a fundamental change in the way we govern and they're using technology as the vehicle.

Disruption is key

The concept of a political startup that focuses entirely on disrupting the political process is the result of the tech boom, disenfranchised but highly skilled young people, and the realisation that technology has the ability to topple a regime in a matter of weeks.

A good example is the US-based PlaceAVote, a startup that wants to replace elected representatives with candidates who vote on legislation based on how their constituents tell them to vote.

It's a form of Greek Direct Democracy that works within the confines of the current American political system. PlaceAVote is planning to field 50 congressional candidates for the 2016 elections and it's looking for more.

It says that it's fielding "high-quality" candidates, but they'll act simply as a proxy for the registered online participants. The PlaceAVote team are quite clear about their intentions, they describe their project as "the most transparent and auditable system ever".

The startup is also clear about why it feels this project is important: "We are all committed to democracy and we are all contributing to start this grassroots effort without collecting a dime from special interest groups. We believe influence shouldn't be purchased from a politician at the public's expense, rather earned from the American public."