The Choices and Challenges project at Virginia Tech marks this election season with a public forum that examines how political life is changing through the use of new information and communication technologies.

Entitled “Taking it to the Web: Political Participation in the Internet Age,” the event consists of a day-long series of panels and discussions to be held on Oct. 30 at the Lyric Theatre and the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown. This forum is open to the public at no charge.

The forum will take place exactly five days before Americans go to the polls to select their next president, and the participants will certainly discuss how campaigns have been transformed by the internet. But the role of information technologies in politics is much broader, including issues such as

  • eGovernment – How the citizen-government interface is being reshaped through the use of the internet, and whether this can lead to a more transparent and responsive government.
  • The “blogosphere” – How internet-based citizen media are changing the way political information is created and used.
  • The potential of new information technologies for mobilizing social movements around the environment, women’s rights, and other causes.
  • How extremist groups make use of the internet to adopt a decentralized, networked structure.

“We are in the midst of a potentially big change in the way people get involved in public life, and no one knows exactly how it will play out,” said Choices and Challenges co-coordinator Saul Halfon. “This forum is an opportunity to pause and take stock of what’s happening, and figure out the opportunities and dangers these tools present for expanded democratic participation.”

The forum will begin at 8 a.m. with background sessions on a range of topics. The main panel, at 11 a.m. in the Lyric Theatre, will be moderated by Daniel Breslau, of Virginia Tech’s Department of Science and Technology in Society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and will include the following experts

  • Michael Cornfield, who is a vice president for research and media strategy at 720 Strategies, which is a Washington, D.C.-based public persuasion firm specializing in integrated communications: online, on video, and in print. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, is a political scientist, and has authored two books about the Internet and American politics.
  • Andrea Kavanaugh is a research scientist specializing in the study of human computer interaction. She is associate director of the Center for Human Computer Interaction in the Department of Computer Sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.
  • Doug Schuler is a faculty member at Evergreen State College where he teaches interdisciplinary programs such as Community Information Systems and Global Citizenship. He is currently the director of the Public Sphere Project.

Other sessions will discuss e-Campaigning, online fundraising, transnational terrorism, and the Web, and online environmental activism.

In addition to the forum, Choices and Challenges has launched an interactive website, which includes a wealth of resources on the topic of information technologies and politics, and a range of opportunities for online visitors to engage in discussion. The site features a series of podcast interviews with experts, practitioners, and activists involved in innovative uses of information technologies for political action. Visitors can listen to the interviews individually at the site, or can subscribe to them through iTunes or other subscription services.

The Choices and Challenges Project was founded in 1985, and has presented annual forums on issues of public concern involving science and technology. For more information, visit their website or call Daniel Breslau at (540) 231-8472, Eileen Crist at (540) 231-5195, or Saul Halfon at (540) 231-1648.

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