Friday, June 30, 2006

Gnomedex: John Edwards, Where are we, where are we going w/people's participatory technology?

Some one asks about "The Wisdom of Crowds" -- can we all make better decisions, by better informing the crowds in a democracy via technology.

Marc Canter identifies himself as a third generation "red-diaper baby" and asks Edwards why the democrats have no balls. John Edwards talks to that, says democrats DO need to stand up and show some spine.

Question by a blogger about why politicians can't talk like real people with real voices. Edwards says it's tough, with media all over you, if you are off-the-cuff and say something spontaneous which can be misinterpreted, you can get in trouble. He says that it forces politicians to be a little plastic and YES, he agrees, that ruins a real dialogue.

Questions are coming at him thick and fast ... about NSA spying ... about paper-receipt voting machines, similar to ATM transactions ... about the "next big thing" technology for a political campaign, blogs, text? ... I'll leave it alone and just give a summary. Feel free to watch the podcast for the specifics.

Summary: No question he was genuinely interesting in understanding how technology can help grassroots political organizing and debate. Edwards rightly agrees with an audience member that creating political engagement and "bottom-up" political conversation, as opposed to "talking at you" politicians canned speeches is the way to go ... but HOW?

Over lunch Werner Vogels of Amazon (he's Dutch) and I were talking about European politics and the political apathy in the US which is a big contrast. He was telling me how in Italy for instance, the Communist party was always "on the ground" and "in people's lives" helping them do things on a very local level. Politicians are part of Europeans daily lives and what they do and how Europeans vote are connected. I think the typical American is not at politically involved, does not participate in democracy, except in the most casual and interrmittent fashion. It's a dangerous lack of engagement we indulge in.

Edwards mentioned how many more people watch something like American Idol than participate in politics. Actually there was some shocking data about how many people actually voted for an American Idol candidate than voted in our political elections.