In This Review

Republic.com
Republic.com
By Cass Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 2001, 224 pp
Purchase

This provocative book ponders the implications of the information revolution for democratic governance. Sunstein explores the tensions between an individual's dual roles as consumer and citizen, showing how free choice, innocuous and reasonable as it sounds, can produce large-scale and unintended social consequences. For example, the Internet has put a massive amount of information within reach, but it also lets its users selectively filter news about the world. In turn, technologies that allow people to tune out and live within narrow virtual communities may encourage social fragmentation. Thus a healthy democracy requires more than restraints on state power and respect for individual rights. It must recognize that information is ultimately a public good and a source of social cohesion. Sunstein's thoughtful plea is that the virtues and necessities of shared experience, exposure to divergent views, and democratic political deliberation not get lost amid the triumphalism of the information age.