The obvious solution

The obvious solution (THE PARTY new - N. 7 - May 1992) Let us imagine two hypothetical situations regarding the life of the Radical Party: a) work meetings between people who live far apart; b) consultation between deputies who are members of the Party, in order to allow the simultaneous presentation of the same white papers, motions, or questions in different parliaments, or the organization of nonviolent actions in different cities. Let us suppose that a Commission made up of seven people from 5 different countries has to draw up a draft statute for the January 1993 session of the Congress. The commissioners will probably have to meet at least four or five times and exchange their draft statutes, emendments, and so on, either via fax or via courier. Even if meetings were held in the country where the majority of the members of the Commission live, it is likely that some of them will have to undertake four or five journeys in the space of seven months and suspend all other commitments for at least a fortnight. The cost of the activity of the Commission, including travel, accommodation, simultaneous translation, and the mailing of documents - would amount to around 150,000 dollars. The creation of transnational working groups and meetings between members from diferent countries would therefore not be possible, except in a limited number of cases, unless millions of dollars were available merely for the Party's running costs. The use of Agorà, the 24-hour multilingual telematic system set up by the Radical Party (which members can call up and communicate with by means of a personal computer linked to a telephone), would allow a 70% saving on time and money. Only two meetings would be necessary: a first meeting to define the general outline of the statute, and a final meeting to approve the final draft. In the intervening months discussion could take place in an inter-active manner, and in real time, through a "telematic conference". The participants could hold "long-distance" meetings, intervene in the debate, and present proposals without leaving their own home. Three 10-minute link-ups per week would suffice (ten minutes is the average time for link-ups with Agorà), at a cost of 28 dollars a month. The cost of translating texts into the languages used by Agorà would be one-tenth of that of simultaneous translation. To move on to the second hypothetical situation, traditional technologies cannot guarantee the speed necessary for political initiatives, and so the only way of carrying out a long-distance meeting is by means of video-conference - an enormously expensive procedure. We would have simply to propose a particular document and hope that it were presented in the various parliaments. Any objections or proposed emendments of the original document would slow down the whole process. Using the system of "telematic conference", and taking time zones into account, 24 hours would be enough to discuss a document, or simply to send a document and find out whether it has been accepted. Agorà has other potential uses: it can be used to read day-to-day news of Radical activities; to consult an archive of over 4,000 documents; to exchange private messages or documents; to request the services of other organiztions which use the system. There are, naturally, a number of obstacles: the "cultural" resistance to using computers, which are commonly seen to be the instrument solely of scientific applications; the need to acquire a computer and a modem, and to learn how to use them; the general lack of telematic networks in the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe, in underdeveloped countries and in totalitarian regimes; the limits of written communication, which is not as sensitive to nuances and emotions os oral communication. Although we can outline the contexts and the limitations of the use of this instrument of communication in a democratic political organization without risking authoritarian and over-ambitious "Big Brother" attitudes, and although we can predict that the lack of technological means in Eastern Europe will soon be overcome (since such means are also necessary for commercial purposes), cultural resistance can only be overcome through political will and through a general commitment to use this new political weapon. There must be increased awareness that telematics can, in the hands of the Radicals and in the context of the transnational force, be the obvious solution which can help us - just as photocopies and the radio helped us, in Italy, in the past - to overcome obstacles which seem to be insuperable. Almost twenty years ago we invented "Radio Radicale", with its "direct links" and its parliamentary debates, because we knew that everybody had a radio in their home and could use a telephone. Millions of people all over the world now have a computer at home or in the office. Why, we wondered, should we not turn this instrument of work or of leisure, once again by using the telephone, into a means of political participation? And this was how Agorà was born.