Perhaps it's happening already...
About a year ago, I wrote:
Network democracy is a proposed new way for diverse elements of society, represented by three stakeholder groups, to seek consensus on major policy issues. . . A balance would be sought between political interests (nations), economic interests (corporations), and humanitarian interests (NGOs).
That's true as stated, but it's also basically theoretical. However, I would submit that a shift is currently underway -- and has been for some time -- which represents a real-world transition from representative democracy to network democracy.
The basic paradigm of representative democracy is: "one person - one vote" leading to elected individuals who represent voters' interests. While that model is still highly important and remains in force, it is being augmented by a second paradigm, that of network democracy: "many persons - collective influence" leading to a distributed, organic system of decision making.
It could be argued that this apparently new system is nothing really new, that interest groups have existed as long as democracy has been around. But what has changed is the relative power of groups that could not have existed prior to telecommunications satellites, the computer revolution, and especially the explosive impact of the World Wide Web.
These powerful new groups include: 1) multinational corporations; 2) globally influential non-governmental, non-commercial organizations; 3) regionally or nationally influential interest groups united through online activism (sometimes called netroots); and 4) non-regional, sometimes ad hoc alliances between two or more sovereign governments (e.g., BRIC).
For those of us who are concerned about the serious societal impacts of molecular manufacturing, and who are interested in finding ways of developing and implementing responsible solutions, it may be important to understand this transition from representative to network democracy.