I consider explainy videos a particular genre of information visualization that follows established conventions by now. The video presented here is actually several years old,1 and yet I find it still works quite well as an example of many of these conventions:

A narrated script is being enhanced through simple motion graphics to illustrate complicated concepts and break them down into more easily comprehensible chunks. The visuals are closely related to information graphics, but can rarely stand alone, they need the narration to make sense. Using context dependent graphics helps set up a goldilocks condition2 of a cognitive gap. Neither the narrative nor the visuals are overpowering, both complement each other to facilitate an unencumbered uptake by the viewer. Other videos may feature more flourish to leverage the novelty effect, then again keeping the visuals simple helps a design to stay timeless.

To finally make good on old promises (this is only the beginning, btw) you can download the video from my lab. You may edit the video file, translate it, put a new voice track on or put subtitles on there as you see fit. Just please extend me the curtesy of a link, if you may, and do at least include a mention of my name, Jakob Jochmann, as the original source.

Now for the script to help you with translating the narration:

Did you know the word politics comes from ancient Greek “polis” — the city state in which the first kind of democracy was carried out by its citizens? They, like us today, identified problems and discussed them. We do it on the streets and in bars and sometimes begrudgingly at thanksgiving dinners. In Athens the citizens all came together on a designated hill outside of the city to discuss current issues and create policy solutions. Every free man, literally only free men by the way, had a say and a vote to decide on a policy for each issue. Thus word on the street was transformed into politics. This input from citizens into policy making is what we call direct democracy.

Modern nation states, like Germany in our example here, do not share one common public space where all citizens could meet. Reaching an understanding about common issues merely by talking them over is unfeasible for the amount of people that would have to be included in our modern societies. The problems of our time are very much different from those of ancient Greece in three ways: Because of the diversity among our citizens mitigating their issues is far more complex. Moreover, to be a citizen today is no longer a vocation. Unlike the men of Athens we usually have to work to earn our living and do not have the time to spend all of our day pondering and discussing political issues.

That may be part of the reason why many people today feel they do not have the adequate expert knowledge about those issues to contribute to the political sphere. What most modern democracies do instead, then, is have designated representatives from the populace devote their full time to be professional politicians. They carry out the public discussion of issues in our place. Mass media channels their discussions back to our societies. But only the politicians get to decide on those issues in the designated political arena.

We, the public, do get the chance to vote for a representative of one world view or political persuasion in certain intervals, usually every few years. In most of our democratic systems the representatives are being organized through party affiliation. The majorities that come about in the election then get to decide on current issues and turn them into policies for as long as th ey are elected. We regular citizens do not get to have an input on policy making during that time. This system of politics is what we call (for purposes of this explanation) indirect democracy.

Recently there are people who are no longer satisfied with such a rigid system that all but eliminates the input of citizens from policy making. They argue that any citizen at any time should have the chance to make their voice heard in the policy making process, even if they do not want to become full time politicians. Full time politicians and parties may still be useful, but every citizen should be given a vote for every issue on the table. In this system, people may choose to delegate their vote to another person, whom they trust to make an informed decision in their place, who in turn may delegate those collected votes further on to yet somebody else, a politician who stands for a certain world view, perhaps. They may also choose to elect professional politicians themselves. And now people also get to vote on policies directly.

Now there are several ways in which the input from people may be transformed into policy. Moreover, whenever there is a particular issue in which a person has such a strong opinion they do not want to trust anyone else to make the decision for them, they can take back their vote from the person they delegated it to, and vote on the policy themselves. It is this fluid alternation between direct democracy and indirect democracy that gives name to the proposed system of liquid democracy.

Modern technology has made a public space that all citizens can inhabit possible. Instead of on a hill outside the city we may meet in cyberspace. We can discuss events online to determine issues that warrant policy making. Collaboration tools, of which Wikipedia is but one small example, can facilitate ways in which many people can have an input on policies. And computers and modern cryptography can tally votes and the delegation of votes so we can decide on those policies. This way all citizens could partake in policy making once again, much like on the Agora, the hill outside of Athens.

  1. Originally I created the video as a product of a class on democratic theory in political science. It just so happened that at the time I was the first person to publish something on the concept of liquid democracy that is still in its infancy. It also happened that the class was in German and I have since received many requests by interested parties to make the video available in a way that the rest of the world can reuse it. Done. ↩︎

  2. The goldilocks condition is named after the tale of Goldilocks And The Three Bears, in which a girl gangster ruthlessly robs some poor animals blind of the things that are “just right” to her. In terms of how a cognitive gap can be just right it is the amount of cognitive work that an audience has to put in to understand a concept. If understanding requires too much of a leap to a conclusion, the audience will fail to make that leap. If getting the meaning out of something is too trivial, on the other hand, an audience gets bored and loses the incentive to follow the information stream of the narration along, because they think they already understood all there is to understand and switch off. ↩︎

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