Finding Your Obviousmeter

Published on Personal Democracy Forum, by Matt Stoller, not dated.

Linked with Matt Stoller – USA, with blogpac bp, and with videos concerning the US.

(download this essay also as pdf).

I have an “Obviousmeter.” The Obviousmeter compares cultural trends and existing power centers and asks, “Can a sixteen year old do something our government can’t?” If the answer in any particular area is yes, then that’s a place to find out where the future is going to smack us in the ass.

I can’t predict the future of democracy in the digital age – no one really can – but certain characteristics of what the future will look like can be identified right now. And one of them is that obvious and stupid contradictions are ripe for attack …

… The asymmetry of power has been flipped in the Internet Age. Citizens can communicate online to potentially millions of people at no cost, but Members of Congress can’t. But this is real life, and regardless of the rules, members and staffers post videos on their sites, go offsite to join the conversation on blogs, do events in Second Life using congressional resources, etc. But the fact that the rules are in place tells us something very important about Congress, which is its antipathy to public spaces. Rather than delve into the difficult questions of whether an embedded YouTube clip of a government resource can be used on a political website, the Franking Commission just says “No” to YouTube. And the Obviousmeter goes off, and Members break the rules, and Congress appears to be clueless.

But it’s not clueless; it is protecting a lie. This lie is the supposed line between politics and government, a line that was always fiction but whose illusion could be maintained in a non-digital world. And there are similar fake lines between charities and political advocacy groups, government agencies and political parties, blogs and political action committees, citizens with websites and journalists, and foundations and corporations and governments. In David Weinberger’s book, Everything is Miscellaneous, he points out that there are no clear dividing lines between objects and institutions, and that this is particularly true in regards to information.

As the George W. Bush administration dissolves into a puddle of embarrassment, and the public begins to believe that change in governance and politics is possible, expect a massive increase of public spaces connected to political power, and a lot more confusion around bright border lines that, when put online, no longer seem particularly bright or even line-like. And listen to your own Obviousmeter, because the world is full of archaic Franking Commissions. (full text).

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