Although not every
politician thinks of it as the “Internet,” most elected officials
and candidates seem to treat this as nothing more than a new way to
raise money, just one big, virtual ATM. This is sort of like showing
farmers and ranchers in the 19th Century the first steam engine, and
their first question is: “Can I use it to transport my horses to the
Our leaders are suffering
from a massive imagination gap. And the clueless-ness is clearly
The establishment, much of
which could not tell a server from a waiter, is not going to get it
on its own. They are going to have to be hit over the head with a
giant memory stick.
That’s why this challenge is
really our challenge now. As “techno-politicos” who sense the unique
opportunity of the moment, we have a unique responsibility to push
our government and elected representatives to embrace the promise of
So far, we have not set the
bar high enough. All the blogs, Meetups, Friendsters, wikis and RSS
feeds mean nothing if all we can show for them is a downed Senate
Majority Leader here and a disgraced CBS anchorman there.
In my humble opinion, we
have it backwards. Too much of the energy about technology’s impact
on politics is focused on elections and what it can do for, or
against, individual politicians.
We techno-politicos should
instead be focusing on how we can restore health to our civic life —
and in particular, how we can get more people connected to each
other and their government to raise issues, share ideas and solve
After all, there are lots of
good reasons that most Americans hate politics. It’s been taken away
from them and turned into a cynical game that is more focused on
winning elections than getting things done, where tearing the other
side down matters more than lifting ideas up, where people are
treated as commodities, and the only ones who get any attention are
the people who can pay to play.
So it’s not enough for us to
use our skills and creativity to figure out a better way to block a
bill or dial for dollars.
We need to aggressively
advocate new ways to use technology to foster a more open,
responsive, and accountable government.
We also need to show how
technology can dramatically enhance access to information, which in
turn can deliver substantially more power to people so they can
solve their own problems. The fact is, today more than ever
information IS power.
And we have to remember that
this isn’t a panacea, and that we have a obligation to see that
everyone — not just a wired elite — can share in the benefits of
this new age.
Sure, the blogging explosion
is cool, and we’re going to hear a lot about it today. But before we
get too excited, let’s bear in mind the ghastly fact that today,
here in New York City, public schools kids still only get access to
computers for a ridiculous one hour a week.
The nub of the problem is
that no establishment gives up power on its own. I’ve spent the last
five years telling politicians about the opportunities provided by
new technology, and I’ve gotten a lot of polite nods following by
fundraising calls asking for $5000 checks.
That’s a big reason why I
was motivated to start this Personal Democracy Forum and our ongoing
online magazine. And your presence here confirms my instincts. I
wanted to do something to raise awareness of the almost limitless
possibilities of technology to change our politics for the better,
and help our leaders understand what they are missing.
But as I have learned, it’s
just not enough to talk the talk. Some of us are going to have to
roll up our sleeves and break down the walls of the establishment
until real changes start to happen.
The good news is, we’re not
alone and our ranks are growing. Today, you’re going to hear from
many of our leaders, thinkers and best practitioners, from both
sides of the aisle and from inside and outside the electoral arena.
Those speakers, and you in the audience, are the future. If you want
to know what’s coming next, the answers start here.
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