Clay Shirky on transparent vs. participatory government

Pay attention to what Clay Shirky says here, because it's important.

The commercial Internet is approaching 20 years of age. From an availability standpoint, it's a mature medium – there are few places in the world you can't access the Internet, and in the developed world, it is readily available to a large percentage of the population either in their homes, at work or in libraries or other places of public accommodation.

From a standpoint of what we're going to do with it, we're not even close.

Shirky points out that the printing press was invented in 1454; we know of erotic novels dating to 1499 but not scientific journals until the 1660s. So, LOLcats might be everywhere on the Internet in various forms right now, but give it time.

Mitch Joel recently likened Shirky to Marshall McLuhan, a comparison I've grown more comfortable with since I first read it a week ago. And if you can understand what that means, you can understand why Shirky's projections on the Internet's future are important.

Here in the U.S., we're in presidential election season. One of the toughest things for me in this season is our de facto two-party system. Anybody meeting a short list of qualifications (35 years old, natural born U.S. citizen) is allowed to run for president, but it's always a two-person race.

This means that typically, we're voting for the person whose policies we dislike least (or, in very bad years, the person we dislike least).

The continuing maturity of the Internet has opened up a more transparent government. We know more about who has done and said what, what our laws are, what legislation is coming up for votes and who is throwing stupid amendments on what.

What the Internet hasn't yet done for us is create a more participatory government. Participation starts and ends with voting for the average citizen. While the occasional letter to a legislator may or may not change someone's mind on an issue, but it doesn't directly contribute to government. Shirky explains how people are using GitHub for open organizational flow.

Pretty interesting stuff.

2 Thoughts on “Clay Shirky on transparent vs. participatory government

  1. sorry Josh–participation in government doesn’t happen online–just as much of a spectator sport as merely voting.

    Phil recently posted..List-o-mania: Rock Books edition

    • Phil,

      That’s exactly Shirky’s point — the Internet *allows* for participatory government (crowd-sourced legislation and such), but we’re not there yet.

      And you find me a viable candidate worth organizing for, I’ll do it. I haven’t met one in my voting career. Everyone I’ve voted for has either stood for me or has been a viable candidate, never both.

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