As Sahar mentioned, he and I just attended the Personal Democracy Forum, a conference devoted to examining how the latest technology will impact politics and how the internet’s power can be harnessed to further one’s political cause. The main lesson I learned can be distilled into one simple sentence: the internet is a very powerful tool.
Now this is common knowledge; you would need to have been a complete hermit for the past ten years not to recognize the incredible extent to which the internet has revolutionized every aspect of our lives. So let me rephrase that statement give you a better sense of exactly what I now understand: the internet is a very, VERY power tool.
As in, so powerful that the revolution it has brought so far is child’s play compared to what the next few years will bring.
As in, so powerful that even if you think you already knew this, you still have absolutely no idea how vast the shift in politics will be. I doubt that anyone really does.
Needless to say, there’s a lot more to this idea than just that, and over my next few posts, I’m going to explore some of the ways the internet can be applied to further political and governmental goals, not only on a national scale but also at Brandeis and through Innermost Parts. The conference provided much food for thought, and I hope to apply some of the ideas presented there to improve the way in which our site functions. The speakers were excellent; highlights included Arianna Huffington’s smackdown of corporate media, former John Edwards blogger Tracy Russo’s searing condemnation of John McCain’s technological naivety, and Jonathan Zittrain and Mark Pesce’s insightful commentaries on the possible dangers of internet politics.
The moment that best summed up the entire conference, however, came courtesy of Elizabeth Edwards. It wasn’t in anything she said (though I was pleased to hear that Obama offered to make her a large part of his health care team). It was how she said it, or more accurately, the way in which she addressed the audience. Edwards was supposed to have attended the conference in person, but stormy weather in North Carolina prevented her plane from taking off. As little as five years ago, this might have made it impossible for her to address the group; however, due to the wonder of Skype, we were able to see and hear Mrs. Edwards from her home in Chapel Hill. The technical problems were minimal and easily solved, and we even got a cameo appearance from John Edwards as he returned home.
More than anything else, this demonstrated the reality and potential of hyperconnectivity, the developing state of interaction in which all people can be instantly connected to each other or to any piece of public information at the click of a button. This is a revolution beyond any in human history since the birth of long distance communication, and its applications will be monumental in every facet of our lives. Those of us in college right now are the lucky ones given a front row seat to this transformation, and while certain aspects of it may be daunting, I can’t help but feel anything but excitement. We are entering an era in which every significant problem humanity faces will be solvable, and while there’s no guarantee that we will actually take the steps necessary to solve them, we can rest assured that the information needed to discover who exactly is holding us back will be more and more readily available. So specifics and cautions will come later, but for now, take a moment to think about the paradigm shift to come and to marvel at a future where anything is still possible.