December 5, 2007

Democracy and Enterprise Architecture

A society that is open to thoughts, ideas, and expression is free to grow and mature. This is democracy.

The Wall Street Journal, 5 December 2007, reports that the Chinese government’s repression of ideas is being challenged through the widespread use of social and networking technology, including the use of the internet, blogging, messaging, and so on.

Generally speaking, without the ability to think and express freely, Chinese society’s development has been stifled. One Chinese blogger shares this parable to describe the effect of repression on Chinese society: “There was a kind of fish that lived deep in the ocean. It did not use its eyes very often, since it was used to the darkness there. So its eyesight degenerated gradually, until one day it became blind.”

While 162 million Chinese use the internet, the government continues to try to stymie their freedom and movement toward democracy. For example, the “Great Firewall of China”—the Chinese government’s filtering software—is used to censor website access.

In addition, there is the Chinese “mental firewall,” which is a form of self-censorship, based on “China’s Confucian values [that] teach respect for authority and the subordination of the individual to the family and state. In China’s rigid education system, young people rarely are encouraged to express their opinions. And people have learned to keep quiet as political orthodoxies changed with the wind over the decades…finding yourself on the wrong side could lead to punishment, including exile and jail.”

However, the power of technology to open societies—even those as entrenched as China’s—to free thinking and expression is compelling. Many “think that over time, the social-networking capabilities of the Internet will help Chinese people become more assertive about speaking their minds. Young Chinese have already made the Internet an integral part of their lives. It opens opportunities for them to express individuality and emotion in a way that didn’t exist before.”

In one survey, “73% of Chinese Internet users age 16 to 25 felt they could do and say things online that they couldn’t in the real world.” The Internet is opening up real possibilities for freedom and democracy that could only be dreamed off earlier.

From a User-centric enterprise architecture perspective, we as architects apply technology to solve our organization’s greatest business challenges in order to improve mission execution and drive results of operation. However, the use of technology goes way beyond our organizational boundaries and outcomes. Modern technologies based on the Internet are a major disruptive force that brings down the “great firewalls” and “mental walls” of China and other countries with similar restrictive regimes and traditions, and enables the free expression of ideas and the democratization of billions of peoples around the world. Therefore, while EA can be applied at an organizational level to drive enterprise outcomes, it can also be used on a macro-geopolitical level to drive political change, freedom, and human rights. The foundational principle of information-sharing and accessibility in enterprise architecture can be an important lever to drive social change.


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