Four years ago, we gathered to share thoughts about the role technology could take in reshaping democracy. After creating open source social software to help the Dean campaign. After Gov. Dean lost the primary, we shared thoughts on what worked and what didn’t.
As I write this, we are in the final hours of another election cycle. Soon, we will be talking about the role of technology in the Obama campaign. The campaign has made tremendous use of social technology to raise money, get its message out and motivate volunteers. The extent of the impact is likely to be argued extensively over the coming days. Yet there is a larger question, what affect has all of this had on the basic fabric of democracy and of our daily lives?
I must admit, I have not been as intimately involved with the Obama campaign as I was with the Dean campaign, so it may be that what I haven’t seen in this election cycle was there and I just missed it, but it seems like there were a few things that were missing that worry me.
The first is what I like to call the invitation to innovate. There was not the same imperative to innovate for the Obama campaign as there was for the Dean campaign. Many of the social network tools that we sought to create five years ago are done much better with off the shelf tools of today. I would go so far as to suggest that the use of social media far surpassed what we dreamt of five years ago. This time, the innovators have gotten lost in the crowd of early adopters and the early majority.
The second thing that I missed in this election cycle was the breathless theoreticians. Perhaps somewhere, someone was talking about whether or not the Obama campaign can bring about a Habermasian Public Sphere. A few different groups talked about publicly drafting policy, but like similar discussions in 2003 and 2004, this hasn’t seemed to get very far.
Now, grassroots organizations are talking about retooling, about how they can keep everyone that got energized by the Obama campaign involved. Will we see a real move towards a more open government? Will we see progress in eGovernance? Will we learn from those who came before us, and use technology, not only for fundraising and volunteer recruitment, but also to create a new Public Sphere?
Will we use technology to build a bridge to 18th Century Democracy?