I’ve been visiting Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) since the spring. The site covers the intersection of politics and IT technology, so the ’08 presidential campaign provided it with daily doses of gee-whizzery: Twitter plus GOTV! Obama plus FaceBook! YouTube plus McCain! Transparency plus the transition! If you’re interested in this kind of thing, the site is a great resource.

But the more I read it, the more clear it is that the professors, bloggers, campaign consultants, journalists and good-government activists behind the site are motivated by an anemic, professionalized kind of populism. Read the rest of this entry »


A People at War

December 10, 2008

Two things I remember about the morning of 9/11: First is groggily logging onto AOL and seeing a picture of the first tower exploding, then glancing down at the date to see if it was April’s Fools day. It wasn’t. Second is leaving for work, then walking back to my apartment and changing my Rockports for sneakers. Outside again I stopped and looked at the sneakers, thinking: They got to me, they reached out and got to me. 

I don’t need to remind you of what happened the next five or so years. Let’s just say it was gut-wrenching and exhausting. It is certainly a relief that the reign of the madmen is nearly over…but the 9/11 era remains for me hauntingly unresolved. It seems that if some other date were to be seared in our memory, the same mistakes would be repeated. 

It’s not enough to point the finger at Bush, the mainstream media, and Congress, who all failed miserably. The American people were in there somewhere, too, and we’re still hugely around. Read the rest of this entry »

An Interface for Politics

December 10, 2008

What happens when we bring interface standards to bear on the experience of politics?

A project manager once assured me he would be a “human interface” between me and another programmer, meaning he would be a two-way relay, transferring questions and requests between us. This turn of phrase was by no means unique. Anyone who lives or works among the digerati can supply their own examples. It stands to reason that, after assimilating great interfaces like Google, Amazon, Tivo, and the iPhone into our lives, we would assimilate the concept of interface itself.

As interface-shaped experience permeates our lives more thoroughly, there will be mutations on multiple fronts. In this post, I will explore the political front, and propose several interfaces that would seriously alter how citizens relate to their governments.

“Politics” is shorthand for the diffuse, diverse process that stretches from voters, to parties, ideologies, and media, and then to actual politicians and bureaucracies. Since the notion of mediation is as elastic a notion as they come, the number of ways we could apply the idea of interfaces to this process is staggering. My own staring point is here doggedly user-centered. What if we were to compare a voter confronting politics to a user confronting an interface? Read the rest of this entry »