Lawrence Lessig is like Clay Shirky, backtracking from some of his obvious extremism now that his man is in power and he has to trim his sails.
There's a very long piece that really goes nowhere to make any coherent public policy commendation here, whose objective is merely to make people say "Oh, let's make sure to put Larry on this panel/commission/task force, did you see he had that long thing in the New Republic".
Here's the short form of Lessig's article:"We need transparency of government, but only transparency to people like me who are a privileged elite who can use the transparency appropriately".
He's like Clay Shirky with his "Here Comes Everybody" theory -- the minute everybody indeed comes here, he suddenly wheels around and says well, he didn't really mean people of low, mass culture, he just meant other wired geeks like himself. Or Beth Noveck, who was all for empowering groups on the Internet and siccing them on stuffy government offices, but now that she's running the White House technology office she wants to modulate her notions and involve only knowledgeable appropriate elites who show up to filtered forums and managed wikis to participate. I've long since come to the conclusion that open government=closed society of gov 2.0 geeks baking their ideologies into the code, and insisting on the name of "technology" that they should get to frame every issue and control every discourse.
As for the destruction of business models with devaluing of content, this isn't an imperative of technology whatsoever and those opposing it aren't "filled with FUD"; it's a policy decision foisted on an unsuspecting public and economy by very vested technological interests who need free software, content, and Internet space so they can sell their consulting on top of it. "Your information wants to be free; mine is available for a fee."
Lessig was flogging government transparency -- until he began to see that it would require people he wanted to keep in power to become transparent, too (he has been an advisor to the Obama administration).
We have three branches of government for a reason: checks and balances. These checks and balances actually have always worked pretty good to force the transparency needed in the public interest. Sure, new media tools could accelerate or amplify or rationalize some of this work, but only if there is a basic concession to the institutional need for these three branches and their complementary powers.
But the Gov 2.0 Gang want it all achieved by executive fiat, with themselves at the helm, gaining the contracts and getting the power. That's where the transparency needs to start - with that process.
There really should be a Congressional task force on new media and social media, or some kind of hybrid executive-legislative commission that studies the impact of these tools on public policy, which plenty of public input. They are being soldered into place by over-enthusiastic techies who brook no dissent. Twittering and wikifying are going on everywhere with a lot of inanity and lost productivity, but it's a convenient cover for a lot of coders being given power not only beyond their competency, but beyond what is appropriate to be given for binary thinkers and Stallmanites who still think Linux should be on desktops.As for Craigslist, Lessig seems too reluctant to state bluntly what happened there: Craig was able to destroy the newspaper business and ruin a good business model by enabling people to place personal ads for romance and sex and other people to place personal ads for prostitution -- this was the lion's share of the views and the revenue, even if some toasters got sold along with it and some ride shares and apartment moves were facilitated, too. And the states attorneys generals then came calling when this got out of hand and forced Craig to rein in *his* business model playing to the lowest common denominator.
More than "transparency in government" we need engaged citizens who bring about the transparency in the natural course of becoming expert -- even as amateurs -- in various areas of public policy, interacting with officials whom they can't replace as amateurs. I've seen this happen time and again in years of RL advocacy with various governments and institutions. If you make yourself the expert on your niche topic and find the right people to talk to, they tell you more and more. Eventually you get it into the media, even if off the record, you find ways to get the story surfacing. You have a kind of alchemic action on institutions -- but it is not by deciding they are the problem and overthrowing them or even by taking power in them, which of course is the facile notion of the ObamaNation types.. It's ok that officials exist, that representative government puts them in place. Er, Obama would have it no other way...
Social media tools can make all this easier, but there is no substitute for the offline footwork and facetime in organizing in non-governmental groups and political parties which cannot be replaced by flash-mobs clicking up precooked intiatives online.
I'm glad the Goverati are taking a beating, sinking of their own weight even without me being able to take the time to flog them lately :)
I'm awfully glad to see at least some mild inside baseball criticism of this overwrought, elite and misguided movement but of course the entire thing should be overthrown. I do what I can to answer some of it.
The question is how to organize a framework for continued monitoring and engagement and pushback on the extremists opensource and goverati movements trying to undermine representative democracy and indeed, liberal democracy, period. These people seem to have endless budgets for conferencing and i-phoning at times when other groups don't or are focused on more urgent matters like "What the hell is Obama's Sudan policy going to look like Monday, is he really going to cave?"
There's going to be a Congressional hearing on the social media issues, "Twitter Against Tyrants" focusing on the ostensible use of Twitter to counter oppressive regimes abroad. Of course, we should not overstate the magic of social media to free people, especially if invocation of that magic only leads them to harm that we don't really help them with (it's like the latter-day equivalent of Western media broadcasting to the Hungarian freedom fighters that they were with them...when they weren't.).
We should also start at home first and see how these tools in fact oppress -- or alienate people -- right here in America. They are not panaceas. They will not save social movements facing murderous regimes. They won't even save us, who in theory already have a less destructive government ourselves.
Few of the human rights groups -- if any -- not to mention the geeks with new-found consulting opportunities on these issues are tackling the civil rights problems of the social media tools themselves. Let me just quickly sketch them:
1. Corporate ownership and everything that entails now that the industry has ensured that another court victory seals their power over users (cube, give me that link again, please).
2. Even so, with the fight on Facebook for more user rights, and the pushback on Twitter when the devs tried to nerf certain features, these companies can't always rely on getting the law on their side. And not enough coherent monitoring and advocacy around these developments. Other kinds of organizations besides those just mindlessly boostering new media and gov 2.0 need to come into being to watch the watchers and the watching-watchers.
3. A natural self-correcting factor for these tools with the leftist clientele on them for now is when the right becomes more conversant with them, as they already are, and begins countering the left everywhere. And when those in power around Obama find that transparency is good as a sword to get at people you want out of power but not good to have used on yourself, and then the battle will be on. And there will be a natural modification of all these things.
4. Regrettably, all of this is leading to the entrenchment of a New Class with titles like "Chief Information Officer" and "Chief Technology Officer", whereas before, such communications functions were performed with people with names like "public relations staff" subordinate to management. They are going to use the excuse of the complexity of the tools and the clashes that inevitably come in around them as a reason why more people need to elevate them and their titles or hire them and use their consulting services.
Yet it's this New Class itself that is a threat to whatever party is in power and needs challenging and oversight as well. It's an already entrenched Digital Beltway of those moving in and among government and corporate and non-governmental forces that has its tentacles everywhere and will be hard to dislodge. The biggest weapon that this octopus will use on those who try to criticize or challenge them, if they can't get somebody "banned for trolling" on some forums, will be to accuse them of being "filled with FUD" and behind the times. Almost by definition, anybody using the terms "Luddite" and "FUD' about the American people's natural skepticism about their newfangled tools is suspect as craving illegitimate power.
Comrade Larry really outdoes himself on that dense, unreadable and go-nowhere piece, because in like paragraph 3,872 where he thinks nobody is actually looking, he mentions that ordinary people aren't appropriate to run the government. Damn, and here I thought Lenin said every cook could run the state -- and if she had Wikipedia and i-phone APIs, what could stop her?