Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wanna Take Over the Government?

I have had an epiphany. I realized that I was wrong: we are NOT in the middle of a Revolution.

Revolutions are bloody, messy things that occur when the dissatisfied forcibly remove those at the "Top", and suddenly realize that it's much more fun to be a Revolutionary than it is to run a government. Revolutions are about what happens at the Top... and what we're doing right now is happening from the bottom-up. Sort of.

You see, this whole Internet fad seems to have taken a big leap forward the last couple of years. It's still full of cranks and flame-warriors... but instead of sniping at each other in newsgroup forums about which Star Trek was best, they are somehow beginning to work together to build Truly Useful Things. They've come up with a handful of simple ideas that have led to the creation of the world's largest encyclopedia, they've shaken the foundations of print media, and they've elected a U.S. President.

If you're not impressed yet, then check out this NPR story about some of the ideas that people are coming up with to handle all of the information being generated these days. Some ideas are of the "gee whiz" variety, but some are truly useful. Applications like Facebook and Twitter have been exploding the last couple of years, as most of you are well aware, while most of the innovations have had to do with new ways to shop or gossip, there are some gems out there - like Kiva.org - that have come up with ways to make a real impact on the lives of those who need help most.

And now it is the U.S. Government's turn. We are standing at the very beginning of the real change, but I think it is safe to call this new "Transparency" the Greatest Innovation in Government in the last century. Terms like "Transparency" and "Government 2.0" are, technically, buzzwords; but the substance behind them is that the Government is beginning to give information out to the Nerds of the world to make of it what they will.

A bunch of my friends have been skeptical of the impact that all of this will have. House Minority Leader John Boehner scoffs openly at the Obama Administration's efforts in his Freedom Project blog (ironic, since he is both blogging and Twittering). But notice that even his scoffing isn't about the use of the technology as much as it is a criticism of the Government's websites: "As with most things government tries to do, it turns out that private citizens and entrepreneurs can do it better." He is talking about the launch of the Government's Recovery.gov website there, and the similarly addressed Recovery.org, which is run by a private firm, and has used the Government's data to create an even MORE Transparent site than the Government was able to create!

Despite the scoffing, it is this kind of competition to "do better" that makes Transparency so powerful. It turns out, a LOT of people are eager to "do better". A LOT of us don't want to rely on the slow moving Bureaucracy to do it for us. And now that the information is being made freely available, there's no telling where we're likely to go with it. And this is funny when you consider what the LAST "Great Innovation of Government" was.

That last Great Innovation happened 125 years ago, when a little known Republican "machine" politician named Chester Arthur was sworn in as U.S. President after the assassination of James Garfield. Arthur reformed the Civil Service and basically gave us the Bureaucracy that we all complain so much about these days. At the time, it was a huge improvement, bringing all of the shady deals and corruption of the system out into the light. Over time, many have learned to "work the system", and my generation saw the greatest growth in voter apathy in our nation's history.

But now Transparency promises to reveal the inner workings of the Bureaucracy in a way that will revolutionize (there's that word again) things as drastically as the Bureaucracy did at the turn of the last century. And there's no need to wait; this isn't a distant future we're talking about. Go check out Tweetcongress.com, and get your representatives lastest thoughts. Or check out the White House blog, where you can find their latest websites and even access their raw data.

Or if you're not that savvy, just make sure that some of your friends are blogging about this stuff like Brian, Andrea, and Marvin are doing. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Of course, if you *want* to sit on your couch and gripe in front of the TV, that's still an option. Have a good time! We'll be over here, Revolutionizing the ways we run our Government.

1 comment:

Tad said...

Add this one to the list: http://www.govit.com/