Personal Democracy Forum 2009

There was too much good stuff at PdF 2009 to do it justice here (Nancy Scola has a good overview of some reactions here, and the twitter stream was, shall we say, lively).

I’ll just highlight a few of the quirkier moments I found more thought-provoking than the various celebrations of the leveling, democratizing, liberating, and what-have-you potentials of new technologies.

* Mayor Bloomberg participated via Skype from downtown–despite everyone’s shared fascination with and belief in technology, Andrew Rasiej still felt a need to apologize that hizzoner couldn’t be with us in the flesh. And of course, in addition to a grainy video stream, there was also the obligatory black-out. At a tech conference. In the Time Warner building.

* Todd Herman, the Republican National Committee’s new New Media Director, asked what I thought was one of the more thoughtful questions in his talk: “how open can a political party be?”, reiterating it later as “how open should a political party be?”, pointing to both the instrumental and the more normative dimensions of this–one thing is how useful it is to build campaigns around participatory platforms (there are pros and cons from various perspectives), another is how susceptible this makes organizations to undue pressures from active minorities (there are pros and cons here too–even keeping in mind that they of course already are, only old-school organized interests rather than newfangled online ones).

* On the last note, on the dilemmas of online organizing (which is of course one of my hobby horses and the topic I spoke on in a panel with Deanna Zandt and Tanya Tarr), Beth Noveck drily pointed out in her discussion of open government that one person’s energized participant is another’s, and I quote her, “loud idiot”, and that both facets of involvement, the force and the friction, are amplified by new technologies. This applies not only when people of different partisan leanings interact (as they may have to do in public spaces), but also when people with similar leanings try to work together, akin to what I’ve written about elsewhere as the “labors” of Internet-assisted collaboration.


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