I was very lucky to have joined a great luncheon at Harvard’s Berkman Center today with Howard Rheingold. Howard had joined us at Pop!Tech in 2002 and gave a great talk so I was looking forward to a refresh… some little-known personal history is that Howard was one of the few tech-community-gurus kind enough to respond to my e-mails as a college student in ’91 conducting a philosophy research project on the collision of technology and culture… it blossomed into a year-long thesis dress rehearsal and into a foundational piece of my life. He seems to enjoy it when I remind him of that .. it mattered and I am in his debt. I suppose I should send him the paper someday.
Today’s lunch was great and we covered everything from game theory to collective action to the mass media, neatly tucked into a one-hour slot. David Weinberger was there and wrote a quick blurb, and Dave Winer got it all on MP3.
Much of my interest was in hearing him speak about the intersections between mass media, political action, and technology. I still think the nut has not been cracked – there remains a mutual dismissiveness between the worlds of technology and that of public service that I’m not sure how to bridge. I think (generally speaking) technologists are dismissive of the entire political world, as if it’s almost not worth bothering with; and politicians for the most part don’t get it and so, they fear it. As a result, public officials do not attach the same value to ‘net-mediated political action as they do to meatspace-mediated political action.
I made one statement at the lunch that I’d change somewhat if I could – what I said was that part of the problem with the way mass media handles American politics (driven in part by the perceived (or, sometimes, the demonstrated) interest of their audience) is that there was a problem with “the quality of the product.” I didn’t mean the networks themselves had quality problems – what I meant was that the candidates do – there’s no one for people to get excited about. Basically, even the relatively enlightened automatically assume that political candiates are full of shit. Unfortunately, they are all too often right. How to break this vicious cycle? Will there be a watershed moment or must we continue with the thousands of cuts?