We frequently hear how the Internet is going to transform society and people’s lives more than any innovation since the printing press. Beyond all the trendy applications in art and commerce, the electronic realm is seen as a vital locus for developing new kinds of dispute resolution, and even law. Some enthusiasts perceive it as a way to bypass older systems of social authority, allowing users to create their own self-organizing structures. Indeed, the Internet's rapid development seems only surpassed by its potential.
Still, far too many enthusiasts focus on just one side of the equation...the technology. The other half -- the human half -- is far more important.
How do real people behave, when confronted by opportunities and capabilities they never imagined? History shows that new media don't always liberate. At first, printing enflamed Europe's 16th Century religious hatreds. In the 1930s, burgeoning exposure to radio and loudspeakers helped consolidate the power of tyrants. Only time, and the development of user maturity in a competitive environment, eventually made these media capable of fostering cooperative citizenship.
In the long run, the Internet will serve us best if it enhances two seemingly contradictory traits -- individualism and accountability. This may seem an odd blend, but their synergy brought about nearly everything we cherish about the modern era. Exploring ways to utilize this synergy, in order to create new systems of dispute resolution, will be the aim of this article.