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Stowe Boyd is a well-known media subversive, and an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and social technologies. His new blog is Message.
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August 09, 2005

Thomas Freidman on The Power Of Networks And Blogging

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Posted by Stowe Boyd

Thomas Freidman, in an 3 August column that I somehow missed (vacation), sharpens his ax for a while on the lamentable state of US cell service, and then plugs a forward-minded politico, Andrew Rasiej who "is running in New York City's Democratic primary for public advocate on a platform calling for wireless (Wi-Fi) and cellphone Internet access from every home, business and school in the city."

I'm down with that, and I hope that we can keep the telcom lobbyists from making it s federal crime to create no-cost wi-fi on a metropolitan or regional basis. Presuming that the electorate will embrace something that is both good for you and free, I am certain that Friedman is right, and a new generation of politicians will ride the wireless connectivity mandate to their respective city halls, state houses, and perhaps (gasp) the White House. This could really be a realignment of politics, leaving behind the current fissure between right and left, and replacing it with a dichotomy between progressives and luddites, as Friedman alluded to in the title of his column: Calling All Luddites.

Accelerating the democratization of Internet access through free municipal wifi is a radical act: it destabilizes the power now handed out to telephone and cable companies by the previous generation of politicians.

Friedman doesn't give it his full attention, but looming like the tip of an enormous, rolling iceberg is his nearly offhand characterization of Politics 2.0:

The technological model coming next - which Howard Dean accidentally uncovered but never fully developed - will revolve around the power of networks and blogging. The public official or candidate will no longer just be the one who talks to the many or tries to listen to the many. Rather, he or she will be a hub of connectivity for the many to work with the many - creating networks of public advocates to identify and solve problems and get behind politicians who get it.

"One elected official by himself can't solve the problems of eight million people," Mr. Rasiej argued, "but eight million people networked together can solve one city's problems. They can spot and offer solutions better and faster than any bureaucrat. ... The party that stakes out this new frontier will be the majority party in the 21st century. And the Democrats better understand something - their base right now is the most disconnected from the network."

The bottom-up, emergent model of social connectedness that we are making, here in the small, in the blogosphere, is like the genie getting out of the bottle. And once everyone is connected, then the blogosphere includes everyone; and then online social networks and realworld networks will increasingly be one and the same.

In the same way that pushing for free municipal wifi is an end run around entrenched interests -- the telcom and cable giants that want to charge us $60 per month for ever for so-so access to the Internet -- politicians like Rasiej see that creating a fully connected polity is an end run around the 20th Century political apparatus that now governs us. Rather than struggling to reform and revise the gridlocked system that we have -- lobbyists, political chicanery, ossified politicos, and a system more reminiscent of WWI trench warfare than a government responsive to the needs of the people -- let's hope that a batch of idealists seize the Internet as a way to leapfrog us into a new, and more connected form of political involvement.

It's not just a better form of communication -- fireside chats writ large -- but rather a step into emergent democracy, Politics 2.0, where the governance of our cities, states, and the country, will finally be directly in our hands, and not ceded to a caste of self-interested professionals to manage on our supposed behalf.

[pointers from Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, Dominic Basulto, and Glenn Reynolds]

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Politics


1. Joel Klien on August 9, 2005 10:18 AM writes...

Is Rasiej the one that sort of looks like a Gay Billy Joel...

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2. Micah Sifry on August 9, 2005 10:54 AM writes...

Actually, Andrew looks more like George Clooney with a good shave. Though the Billy Joel comparison is apt, too...

Stowe, I really appreciate your comments about the Friedman column and Andrew's campaign.

I think you've articulated better than anyone else just what the possibilities are here.

But we have a gritty and mundane task ahead of us if we're going to enable this transformation to flower. And that is, we have to prove these ideas are electorally popular. Otherwise, the political incumbents will continue to follow their lodestar: big money contributions from the telecom industry and the copyright cartels.

Right now, Andrew Rasiej's campaign for NYC Public Advocate is this year's test. No, make that this month's test (the primary is exactly five weeks away).

The good news is that we're in the hunt. It's a three-way race between Andrew, a tired incumbent, and an old-style civil rights activist. Not many people will vote because the mayoral primary is so desultory. Believe it or not, 200,000 votes might be enough to win the primary.

Can the net-roots be the tipping point in this race? That's the question.

We need three things to win: more money, more names/emails of NYC voters, and more volunteers.

It's not enough to hope that "a batch of idealists seize the Internet as a way to leapfrog us into a new, and more connected form of political involvement." We are that batch of idealists. Come leapfrog with us.

Micah Sifry
eCampaign Director
Advocates for Rasiej

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3. Ralph T. Gerwing on August 10, 2005 12:43 AM writes...

The movement of the masses, could be, the 21st
century interconnected revolution.
From calling out an action of celerity display
of bizzarness by a few; To the responsible of
social action of concern by many or almost all, or
at least a majority. The thumbnail visual of an
individual would struggle to be recognized for
social compensation for the light speed outcome.
So.. is this not just the hyper occurance of what
is in existance now?

Permalink to Comment

4. gina on August 11, 2005 01:31 AM writes...

"let's hope that a batch of idealists seize the Internet as a way to leapfrog us into a new, and more connected form of political involvement."

we're trying, we're trying:)

I am working with YearlyKos (from DailyKos) to help plan the convention for next year. We hope that our organization will produce a model of a bottom up open source collaboration that can be built upon for more democratic and inclusive political procecesses. CivicSpace found us some great programmers to help us use technology to that end. This collaborative effort has been the...well...coolest thing I have ever been a part of. Its also hard as hell. On top of the challenges of just managing volunteers, we have this very diverse and talented workgroup scattered all over the country.

This is a new industry with no model to follow and no mentors to go to. We take many leaps of faith. So far it is working. The bottom up processes put us in a position to have to trust "the people" and they have yet to let us down. Individuals may disappoint, but a great thing about bottom up collaboration is the biger pool of people invested in the process. Nothing is really dependant on one person.

On a related note, be sure to read Chris Bowers and Matthew Stoller's paper , "The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere."
Good stuff.

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