Posted by: Mark | November 6, 2008

Change.gov = Democracy 2.0?

I am pretty damn impressed that Obama as only been president elect for a day and a half, and I already find via twitter about change.gov, the official site of the presidential transition. It’s a pretty in-depth site with bios about our future President and Vice-President, agenda items, information about appointees, a blog, space for user submissions, you name it. It has all the functionality of a solid website that seems to allow for user interface.

changegov

I’ve been a fan of Web 2.0 because I think that it is the closest we’ve ever actually experienced of what democracy really is. Corporations no longer hold monopolies. Youtube has completely trumped traditional media outlets, many people get their news from blogs instead of newspapers, you name it. A person’s voice can be heard.

I know that there are many reasons as to why Obama may have won, but the one that I settle with most is that he did so because he plugged into Web 2.0. He is on facebook, or at least some of his staff write for him like he is, and people can get text messages, facebook emails, and tweets from Barack Obama! That’s rather incredible, and I think that constant connection and awareness is what made him desirable, especially to the young voters. My friend Jabiz in his blog is skeptical of Obama as a brand, rather than a leader, and I understand that skepticism. But I see that skepticism similar to the disillusioned semi-nihilism that complains that all political leaders are puppets, none stand for themselves. I don’t think that mentality really gets us anywhere. So if Obama, as a politician, is just another puppet, he’s at least put his mind into being a puppet that we can all access…even if you want to call that a brand.

But, I do think it’s cool that so quickly on the heels of winning the office by interacting with the web, he has already shown that he plans on leading in the exact same way. The facebook messages will continue, as will the tweets. It’s almost as if it’s going to be an open-source presidency with a lot of transparency, or at least with a lot more than the Bush/Cheney administration provided, where we often didn’t even know where the hell Cheney was. We may actually feel connected to our presidency, he may poll Americans for their thoughts on major decisions, and will encourage open discussion and room for nuance. If wikipedia can self-regulate what had previously been institutionalized knowledge by a handful of volunteers, imagine what those volunteers can collectively do for our country and planet if they are likewise empowered? If Obama makes this step, then he truly will be a revolutionary president, not just because of his race, but because of his vision for the future.

changegov3I’m not certain if this is truly the angle that Obama’s camp is taking. And also, I can also easily see the counter-point here, that change.gov is not a sign of Democracy 2.0 but instead Propaganda 2.0. Do they really want to read millions of inspirational stories from the campaign, or do they just want people to think that they want to read them so that we like our president more, and therefore lend us more trust and make us more malleable as followers. This ambient awareness of not just our friends but of our president, as if he is our friend, may be a brilliant and conniving way to be that much more effective in producing propaganda.

I imagine that the truth about Change.gov, and any subsequent steps taken by the Obama administration to keep plugged into the constituency, is probably somewhere in between true democracy and potent propaganda. But for now, I’m going to be hopeful. After all, hope is what helped Obama get here in the first place.

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