In any walk of life, knowledge is a powerful tool to have. There is never a lack of information to take in and learn about, and it’s beneficial for our future to continue our quest for more at all times. Like it or not, technology has become an integral part of our society today. Technology affects virtually everything we do throughout the day, and we often find ourselves wondering what on earth we did before information was so easily accessible.

As convenient as technology has made our lives (as it was intended to), however, there is still much we don’t fully know about it. Think back to the time when we had to wait for the results of the big game or the latest news — there was no instant replay, no social media to bring live updates on, no streaming television. Just good, old-fashioned newspapers, news programs on TV, and radio shows. This delay of information is certainly no more, as news is available almost instantaneously on a variety of platforms. 

How has this breakneck speed affect our democracy? Has it helped it, or has it hindered it? What effect has technology truly had on us as a free country? Many are quick to condemn the media for perpetuating a problem of spreading misinformation and hateful rhetoric spurred by recent events and tragedies. Others say that without the media we would be completely in the dark and left to our own devices to find reputable information. And still others sit on the fence, seeing both the benefits of media and technology as well as the pitfalls.

The Knight Foundation, therefore, has invested a sum of $50 million to fund research to more clearly define this very notion. 

“We’re living the most profound change in how we communicate with each other since Gutenberg invented the printing press,” Knight Foundation president said in a recent interview. “The internet has changed our lives and is changing our democracy. We have to take a step back and a step forward. To understand what is actually happening, we need independent research and insights based on data, not emotion and invective. To go forward, citizens must be engaged, and including university communities in the debate is a step in that direction.”

This investment will enable 11 American universities and research institutions to participate in this research, all intended to have a more clear understanding of democracy in the digital age. The sites of this research were selected after soliciting proposals last year. Clearly, the demand for this knowledge and information was ripe as more than 100 institutions submitted proposals for consideration for the funding.

As we proceed into an increasingly high level of technology involvement in how we consume information, it will be vital to be armed with as much information on precisely how this affects our well-being as citizens of a democracy. Will the government be too involved with technology, lowering trust and creating barriers to reform? Or will technology be a massive help to future government endeavors, allowing for more transparency and voter feedback? 

The digital revolution is certainly a powerful entity. Left completely unchecked, it has the potential to spiral out of control, leading us down a path we won’t be able to return from. It is the hope of the Knight Foundation that progress can be made in the seeking of information that can help us get the most out of technology while also safeguarding from its inherent dangers.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash