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October 11, 2008



Digital media certainly poses exciting new opportunities for networking, collaboration and public participation in decision-making and policy-making. However, there are still some challenges for the local/state government sector. For one, "Right to Know" laws in some states limit municipal committees/boards' use of digital communication technologies. For instance, by state statute, communication about the development of a Master Plan cannot be iterative. Decisions have to be made face to face. Second, most local governments do not have protocols for the use of digital technologies for planning and policy-making activities. More work needs to be done in this area to assist local and state governments to effectively use digital media without getting into legal limbo.

Nancy Stultz

OK. Are there any model regulations for digital planning yet? Do we need new legal advocacy group(s) in this area yet? I had early experience with cable television, including production. Is there even a hint on how governments can fund digital technologies? I'm excited about the high level assistance now willing to work on these questions. I am available as a research assistant, blogger, knowledge hungry, small d democrat. The revolution will be televised.

Prokofy Neva

Hi, Irving I haven't been to your blog in awhile. Naturally, I have some thoughts about your post. You mention it was a "small meeting" at MacArthur -- experts only, a prestigious foundation, etc. Then you go on to talk about "a hierarchic approach to management where authority and information flowed down from small groups of executives in headquarters". And so I have to point out the discrepancy and the perpetuation of old wine in new wineskins. Why a "small meeting"? Why not large? Couldn't we all come? Perhaps in Second Life? With forums? Twittered? etc.

You are on this presidential experts' panel. Can you all practice what you preach by having a web page with open forums (not just templates for a zillion people to post ideas in a symbolic act, like change.gov, but real forums), interactive dialogue, can you publish your white papers, can you tell us what *your* advice to Obama will be? Why does PITAC only have Obama contributors on it?

It's one of the paradoxes of America that even with some of the most free media and speech rights in the world, and lots of civil society and interest groups and of course constitutional liberties, the organizations within it can be as rigid and hierarchical as a khanate. Yet I'm not certain that suddenly declaring that "everything should be collaborative" is an authentic change.

There's a fetishizing these days of collaboration and groups (a la Beth Noveck) that overlooks what really happens in practice: instead of one hierarch running the vertical system at least transparently as what he is, you have several less visible autocrats unaccountably really running things while others are passive or intimidated in groups or networks. The demand for a constantly open system fuels new, elaborate forms of lying and shirking. If collaboration is "everywhere" it is "nowhere", especially if imposed as a top-down model to "fix the company".

And regrettably, you've fetched up the opensource model. You may know I'm highly critical of the opensource culture, and surely you realize how prone it is to extremism, zealous dogma, and shrill hysteria about proprietary code and commerce. Surely you as IBM don't mean to embrace any of that sort of anti-capitalist culture, do you? Please don't tell me you are going to run your company on the opensource chimera of having free software with costly consulting based on the complexity (obfuscation) of that constantly-changing and breaking code?

Opensource software-making is a very specific kind of activity, and usually relies on very obsessive, even aggressive leaders and fanboy followers who often see themselves in resistance to the Man (Microsoft, etc.) and who tend to clone, not create. While seemingly "open," it can be a tribe with very austere demands on its members, such as the "patch or GTFO" adage. It's simply NOT a model to be inflicting on other areas of human enterprise, even if you supposedly get good software out of it that "runs the whole Internet" as we are constantly told.

Your article reminds me a lot about this giddy piece in Fast magazine this month about Cisco's new "socialism" (technocommunism). There is this heavy fascination with groups and collectives now, and I think in the long run, we will see them fail just as they failed in communist systems. The individual, his rights, his dignity, his creativity, his ingenuity, should remain as a high value of any system. And institutions that have the rule of law and traditions, not just this or that group, are what make civil society lasting and protected from its enemies, which are increasingly non-state actors.

You're careful to say that "voting is not enough" -- as if to imply that it's still ok to have representative democracy (thanks!). But this is setting up the same sort of paradigm promoted by Beth Noveck, Clay Shirky and others who are over-celebrating chance groups and activist mobs on the Internet, and deliberately inciting them to do an end-run around elected politicians. We're told to distrust them as corrupt, bought, etc. - except, of course, when they are Obama and you get to be on the tech team.

I'm sorry, but I'd much rather have members of Congress who are prone to lobbyists but still elected and accountable in some fashion than anonymous nonce groups on the Internet -- or even if they are credentialled and not anonymous but simply self-appointed, using high tech, wealth, and influence to be indistinguishable from the lobbyists that they scorn.

Participatory democracy is not limited to voting. You can call, write, visit your Congressmen and that's what many groups and individuals do. You can demonstrate, write letters to the editor, volunteer.

You seem to be promoting civic engagement as a non-political process that will trump political processes, but then you swerve back to JFK and call on people, including politicians, to stop hating on government. What is government? It is the professionals who run things, the foreign service, the civil service, who serve which ever political party and president is in power. And that's ok; they know how to turn on the electricity. I don't want this function left to flash mobs.

I frankly don't understand what Sam Palisano is saying. It sounds as if he is saying that he believes human nature can be changed, and suddenly, people will stop working for their own interests, and work for the interests of the collective. I think experience shows that will not happen.

This concept, "they need these employees to become much more involved in the actual governance of the company" is a little bit like Lenin's idea that every cook should run the state. Not ever IBM engineer strikes me as capable of governance of the whole company; that seems a kind of fiction. It's one thing to encourage and not punish input, feedback, criticism, innovation. It's another to imagine you don't need managers and people who take higher and longer views.

Finally, I wonder, after reading Hamlet Au's blog, whether in fact you have been in Second Life lately, and whether in fact you feel IBM's activities there have been crucial to this platform's existence, as was claimed.

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