Wikileaks is a big deal; Mark Pesce’s written the most insightful comment I’ve seen yet explaining just why. Read it here.
Everything is different now. Everything feels more authentic. We can choose to embrace this authenticity, and use it to construct a new system of relations, one which does not rely on secrets and lies. A week ago that would have sounded utopian, now it’s just facing facts. I’m hopeful. For the first time in my life I see the possibility for change on a scale beyond the personal. Assange has brought out the radical hiding inside me, the one always afraid to show his face. I think I’m not alone.
Video archive of Saturday’s Wikileaks discussion, which was quite compelling… quite a bit about the new world of journalism and Wikileaks’ place in it. These are truly chaotic and “interesting” times.
In my obligatory post about Wikileaks as the story du jour, I point to the great set of questions Dan Gillmor has posted in his column at Salon. These are especially lucid. I like especially Dan’s point about the character of the communications that were leaked, that many of the messages are gossip. Journalists are dutifully reporting “facts” gleaned from the leaked material without necessarily digging deeper, verifying and analyzing. Of course, they don’t have time – the information environment moves too quickly, he who hesitates is lost, accuracy be damned.
Then again, journalism is so often about facts, not truth. Facts are always suspect, personal interpretations are often incorrect, memories are often wildly inaccurate. History is, no doubt, filled with wrong facts and bad interpretations that, regardless, are accepted as somehow “true.”
The high-minded interpretation of this and other leaks, that people need to know what is being said and done by their representatives in government, especially in a “democratic society,” is worth examining. We’re not really a democracy; government by rule or consensus of a majority of the people doesn’t scale, and it would be difficult for the average citizen to commit the time required to be conversant in depth with all the issues that a complex government must consider.
Do we benefit by sharing more facts with more people? (Dan notes that 3 million or so in government have the clearance to read most of the documents leaked – this seems like a lot of people to be keeping secrets… is the “secret” designation really all that meaningful, in this case?) But to my question – I think there’s a benefit in knowing more about government operations, but I’m less clear that this sort of leak increases knowledge vs. noise.
I’m certain about one thing: we shouldn’t assume that the leaked documents alone reveal secrets that are accurate and true. They’re just more pieces of a very complex puzzle.
There’s an election Tuesday, and you’re probably going to vote – whether your vote is meaningful or not. Some call voting a “ritual,” which is not at all to say that it’s not meaningful – rituals do have meaning. But the word is that it’s a symbolic rather than functional, practical event. The actual eddies and currents of power feel little or no impact from your single vote.
Where can you have a real impact? Doc Searls and colleagues working through Project VRM and the Internet Identity Workshop are catalyzing a redefinition of the computer-mediated vendor/consumer relationship, with the potential to transform power relationships in markets rather than in the political sphere. However market experiences dominate so much of our daily commitment of attention and thinking, a redefinition of marketplace relationships could be a redefinition of relationship and power more broadly. If we assume symmetry in vendor/consumer relationshiops, we will also assume that the relationship of an elected official to her constituents will be more symmetrical.
I’m reading Doc Searls’ “The Data Bubble II,” which includes a lot of homework – links to other articles and posts I might read to get deeper into the subjects of online identity and relationship as they pertain to marketing and the redefinition of vendor/consumer relationships. Doc quotes John Battelle, who discusses how emerging conversational media inspired an economic model he calls conversational marketing, “simply the tip of a very large iceberg, representative of a sea change in how all businesses converse with their constituents – be they customers, partners, or employees.” Battelle calls it “The Conversation Economy,” for which Doc says “we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered.”
Back to voting: the vote is symbolic of your share as a citizen within a power structure that is supposedly of, for, and by the people, though it’s increasingly obvious that votes and voters are manipulable and nodes within power structures are corruptible. In arguing for a more participatory or democratic set of structures, it’s important to know that supposed majorities are also corruptible and can be crazy as hell. We need structures that empower and that also include checks and balances on those empowered. We want to build sanity into the architecture of power, and ease dependence on the ethics and logic of mere mortals. If we build such structures for markets, they will have an impact on governance as well.
(Also interesting: Doc refers to David Siegel on “The Social Networking Bubble.” Siegel says “We’ve overstated and overemphasized the utility of social networking and are now in a marketer’s ‘greater fool’ territory.”)
Quick followup to my “standing in line for democracy” post: I had complained to Steven Clift of e-democracy.org about the message restrictions on the United States Issues Forum. He followed up with a couple of thoughtful emails. “The goal,” he says, “is to produce a more thoughtful, civil exchange.” He acknowledges that it’s an experiment that might not work. He notes that, in effect, message overwhelm turns potential participants off. This is an old issue with email lists, often a cause for moderation, less often handled with arbitrary constraints like this. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, and I’ve rejoined the list. I’ve been pretty silent on this stuff for a while, preoccupied with other issues, but I’m hoping to find ways to promote more and better conversational environments. What we’re calling “social media” often isn’t as social as we need to be.
This is odd – e-democracy.org’s 125-member United States issues forum, is described as “a civil, more deliberative discussion of national public policy issues and politics in the United States among people with diverse political perspectives.” I joined, and was having an interesting and potentially productive discussion with an intelligent, seemingly reasonable Tea Party conservative. However my last post in that discussion was blocked – the list limits members to one post per twelve hours. “We limit the number of posts any one person can send within a set time frame to increase the number of voices heard and keep overall e-mail volume in check. Please try posting again later.” The implication is interesting: democracy is not about enabling discussions, but restricting them. From their perspective, I suppose the idea is that an unrestricted list will be dominated by a few voices. Savvy online communitarians know that every forum will have a few vocal members, though, and many more observers who rarely if ever speak.
A restriction like this just seems tone deaf to me, especially on a list that espouses deliberative discussion. The restriction leaves the list inherently stilted.