Tuesday, March 15, 2005

SXSW: Democracy and Technology

10 of 55 in the room are women

Jery Michalski (http://www.sociate.com)

    Little list of the obstacles (presumptions, fallacies, etc.)
  • People don’t know what they want
  • Focus groups fail at innovation
  • People don’t know what’s good for them, so we need benign representative democracy
  • People are easy to spin – sock puppets (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion)
  • BJ Fogg, Persuasive Technologies
  • The Madness of Crowds, the old book
  • The Wisdom of Crowds, the new book
  • Denial of Discourse attacks
  • Consumer politics
  • The failure of media to figure out what’s going on and to report on it, fair and balanced
  • Push polling
  • Money talks
  • People have bad judgement (behavioral economics) – fallacies, enumeracy, we don’t understand statistics
  • Our memory plays tricks on us
  • We make hasty judgements better than our more considered judgement – why deliberate (if you just glance at the Blink issue)
  • Overwhelming or scary – they Tyranny of Choice
  • People can’t actually communicate with each other so why bother. Dialog is too hard
  • What causes any individual to soften up enough to consider the possibility of changing some strongly held belief. Jed Miller, WebLab, people more likely to change their mind about another person than change their mind about the issue they are discussing together.

With this all too pessimistic start off Jerry passes to Jon Lebkowsky

Jon Lebkowsky – long time activist, publisher, technologist and then got involved in online activism, now evolving a guide for activists called Virtual Bonfire. It was going to be a book. As part of the book research, Nodal Politics (missed a bunch due to battery issues… oops) This is a pretty big undertaking, you have to have some kind of skilled facilitation to make it work. People have difficulty communicating and it requires some level of support. So I came to this point of Democracy and Technology. There is a promise in the technologies we have begun to develop for the internet, more highly interactive social software. The hope is to facilitate more widely meaningful participation and discussion.

Ethan Zuckerman – Based out of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. For the last decade technology and entrepreneurship in the developing world. We all throw modifiers on top of democracy because no one wants to deal with the entire span. I’m going to talk about semiotic democracy through a story. What happens before the deliberative process. How do we get information out of the media. New World Information Communication Order NWICO, debate in UNESCO. As satellite TV came into play starting in 1964 there were a lot of questions from developing nations why there has not been news from the developing nations. We can do it now, why is it not making it into European and American media. Shawn McBride put together an amazing report, so controversial that it caused the US, UK and >>>> to drop out of UNESCO. The fundamental idea was that underrepresented nations had a right to appear in the media of the developed world. Three reasons: if you are looking for economic development someone needs to know what you export. 2) if you are having a famine they could send you food. 3) if you are hosting a genocide, the UN can come and intervene. Debate about this right. Northern media took one look at this and said you aren’t going to tell us what to do, speech issue and our audiences don’t want it. Great story. If you did into the story what you realize is a lot of this had to do with the media, broadcast television. Now we have a secondary media revolution with an infinite number of channels and anyone with a computer or even a cell phone has access. Now constrained to attention. What ends up happening is we largely pay attention to each other. I pay attention to the people on this panel.

Same attention problem 25 years later. At the first instance we had a limited table. Now are we really ready to transform our social universe and open this debate to a much larger group. These tools have an amazing potential to let people deliberate. But the only work with those who use the tools. The direction we are in extreme danger in going, while these tools are being picked up as a leading bridger of the digital divide, but people going into their own echo chambers by language or other forms and losing the ability to relate to each other. We have the opportunity for a global conversation, but we talk to our like kinds. My hope for the future of semiotic democracy in that we see people standing up as bridge figures. Even more importantly, people bridging language and culture.

Rebecca MacKinnon – Recovering TV correspondent turned blogger. Worked for CNN in China and Japan for many years. How blogs might help us compensate for the mainstream media, working with Ethan at the Berkman Center and figure out where it is going and how we can create a more democratic conversation. Better democracy requires a better media, better news, better information. Theorists have talked… citizens cannot make informed decisions without the proper information. How journalism defined, provide citizens the information they need to be free and self governing. Democracy that we think can be improved. How do we improve the way we get and discuss information so we can have a better Democracy. As a journalist frustrated, most journalists want to inform the public, but news executives are seeking to maximize profits. The primary goal of news companies. How do we bring media back to a place where it services a democratic citizenry, equipped to make intelligent voting choices, to run, to lobby. This is only going to happen from the public. Media is not going to change. Blogs are a great way to highlight the inadequacies of the mainstream media and demand more responsibility. The mainstream media is trying to incorporate the audience more than in the past. Seeing their declining ratings. Greensboro S.C. trying to integrate citizen journalism.

Where do we go from here. How do we create a system of information and deliberation. There is some fear, the cyber mob, the tyranny of the majority of white geeks, how do you bring other socio economic groups online who are not blogging into the conversation so it is more representative of the population at large. How do you convince a person on welfare they should be blogging so their POV and interests can be heard if they can barely read/write and have 6 kids. Maybe you should not be getting them to blog, but get their voices included in other ways. As we think of a more democratized system of media. Where do we watch out where we tell people what we think they should do. Watch more news and less Lacy Peterson. Here is why it matters to you as a citizen. Without forcing them, how do you get them to pay more attention and be more participatory. To what extent are we trying to get people to adapt their behavior. What do they want to do, how, and how do we create new tools to the realities of how most human beings are inclined to spend their time and direct their attention.

Mitch Ratcliff – Editor of the other newsletter, Digital Media. Reporter. Built first online streaming news service. First web journalist to go on Air force one. Now launching a new company that maps social networks at a blink to surface information about relationships. Been tasked with trying to summarize the book, “Extreme Democracy” which Jon and I are co-editing. Taking principles of extreme programming, small groups working fast iterations for improvement, not assuming you are finished but you have more changes to make. Can be used to develop tools, policies and political strategies to respond to the changing competition. It is a form of politics that requires creating a string of small successes. Volunteers don’t burn out when there is some success. We gained a point in the polls, raised money. Small results build up into movements over time. Howard Dean – once this thing started it was unstoppable. WE became impatient. Dean had strengths and weaknesses. When the weaknesses turned up we turned away. He was not a good coalition builder, but good pot stirrer. IN terms of technology and democracy, there is this assumption that if you online connect good things will happen. I think if you only connect you get the same range of human behavior we see in society. Fascism, democracy, generosity, greed. Technology amplifies but does not solve. As we looked at technology over the last couple of days have heard some people trying to prove how technology supports democracy. We should instead be looking at what is broken. The small things will matter. It may make something of progressivism which it does not need to be. Analysis of power. When you start organizing politically, you have to adjust your strategies as you go. American politics is painted as a struggle between two poles. I don’t think it is. Book, “Creating a Learning Culture” and wrote about invisible dogmas we create in systems. For instance a VP of marketing says measure success like this. He moves on but measure stays and atrophies the system over time. We need a practice of historiography for our political tools and systems. A literary study of the previous writings about history. History of histories. We look at the 1950s books about communism are different than books about communism in 2000. There are prejudices in our historians. Have to look back to our prejudices. Not to look to have a revolution, one answer, but a constant evolution which constantly tests, in a Darwinistic way, and kills off what the people no longer need.

Over last couple of days struck by the juxtaposition of views on the panels. Yesterday Amalia was talking about the fact just to sustain a culture, they needed to collect stories to maintain their culture. The guy from EFF said legislators were surprised about copyright. Why is he talking about copyright when people are losing their culture. This is why politics is totally F++ up today. We need to bridge. … We create echo chambers, people talk to themselves about their issues. One issue constituencies. They are both the easiest to fool in an election and the easiest to dismiss because they won’t support you on a broad range of policies. This is why the Dean thing fell apart. In a time when we have post media, we should design systems to bring people into conflict where they can resolve that conflict and then build coalitions. (missed a bit here. He talks fast)> That is what the Democratic party was years ago. Local and national. People overlooked individual differences for a greater good. How do we think about who we are and what we want to be exposed to and what risks we want to take when we design systems. I think we have played it awfully safe up to this point.

Aldon Hynes.
I usually introduce myself as an old guard, hard core geek. Perhaps I should qualify as an old guard, hard core, white male geek. I’m a perfect example of the guy who pays attention to the latest tools. For those of you who are feeling geeky, go to freenode.net swxw free democracy. I’ll comment that during one of the previous panels, I was on the IRC from my cell phone. There’s a lot of very geeky stuff happening here. Three of us, John, Mitch and Myself, we all write for a blog called greater democracy. Send us some essays. Extreme semiotic deliberative direct democracy. I want to try and tie together some of this. The opening question was do pervasive Internet connectivity make the concept of pure democracy more viable. Well, yeah maybe. I spent a lot of time in lots of different online social communities. How is this medium different than any other medium. I think we are hitting a little bit of that. All that’s happening that we are amplifying things. Important differences. First, the difference between the dominant medium of the past 40 years – broadcast. New media more multilogue, dialogue. Something important. The traditional media has been presented as fair, balanced, trustworthy. As we get into dialogues we get to make up our own mind about what we want to know. I have a 15 year old daughter. I ASKED her where she got her news about the Tsunami. I thought maybe Jon Stewart or Blogs. Her favorite source was Nation States – a site where you create your own nation and they set up scenarios. It has a forum associated with it. She gets news that is important to her. What do people pay attention to? My personal blog is all my political and technology and personal stuff. A few hours ago I just got some bad news, and I put up a virtual hug. 5 minutes later via IM via cell phone – people respond to that. Rebecca was on the Nightline show on blogging. One of the other people on the show wrote up about a proposed legislation about reporting of early pregnancy terminations. She blogged on the liberal blogs. The fertility bloggers picked up on it. 1:3 pregnancies end up in miscarriages and heard about this legislation. Hard core, Christian conservatives writing to the legislator telling him he was an abomination. When this sort of connectivity happens you can get things happening. Another thing is click exchanges. Being the geek I tried that. Got a little more traffic to my blog, but what was more important was finding those fertility blogs, and knitting blogs, one that I love, http://www.truecandygirl.com , a Xanga website, a 25 year old Hispanic woman living in Honolulu and she writes the blog for her husband who is stationed in Iraq. A military wife perspective about what is going on in Iraq. There is a community of military wife weblogs. You read and you get new perspectives. One of the things about deliberative democracy, the big thing we hit is that we have so much black and white thinking. When we hit these authentic, passionate blogs. It has the appeal of Lacy Peterson but real and touching and people pay attention to. This movement is important. Here in Texas there is talk about economic development as it relates to wireless. Some legislators think of econ development of large monopolies. I’m thinking more about moving away from the monopoly, from the monolithic, monopolistic, mono cultures to a more diverse environment. Think about mono-cultures. The mono culture of potatoes in Ireland in 1850. Grapes in California in 1980. Monocultures are effective and productive but can be wiped out with a little virus. Dan Gilmore in his keynote the other day he concluded his readers know more about his material than he does. We need to get politicians to realize their constituents know more than they do. Then we can have a deliberative democracy.

Q: David Eisenberg. We naturally associate with those like us. At ATT I used to walk by another group on my way in and out, it would up resulting in a couple of projects, one of which was a patent and another important thing where research and product marketing got together. All I did was change my route just a little bit. 90% of success is just showing up. That’s all I did.

Q: Jim Fishkin’s work and deliberative polling?
Mitch: The national polling process is interesting. He proposes we have a deliberative process that happens two weeks before an election to educate on issues. My feeling that was a little too much compressed in time. Prefer to see it over the primary period. It would be great if there was a deliberative process in every state, all the candidates appear in each state and poll/talk/poll. Then an election, rather than a horserace with a series of elections (primaries) and instead following what the candidates are telling their constituencies. Like the concept, not the prescription. I think George Lakoff, one of the most profoundly …. , concerned he has turned things too much into framing, arbitrary and closed minded way. When Marx said kill all the rich people, he went off the track. Lakoff did the same one.


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