I’m attending techPresident’s PDF2008, and what’s most interesting to me here is not really the content of the conference, although that’s the main reason I’m here. But it’s really the culture of the crowd in attendance that’s notable.
It’s the strange and unique mix of what I’d call TechnoPoliGeek culture. A mix of policy wonk, tech geek, and Web 2.0 venture capitalist crowds, all merging together to listen to 10 minute mini-lectures from some really smart people, like Clay Shirky, Lawrence Lessig, and Douglas Rushkoff.
What’s most apparent are the toys. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a conference where it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that *everyone* is live-blogging and live-tweeting the event. Up in the rafters (where there are power outlets provided at many of the seats), there’s this undercurrent, a hum, a constant tap-tap-tap of the keyboards that’s playing like a white noise under all the speakers.
But it’s not only laptops; there are iPhone and vidcams everywhere.
There’s also an undercurrent of capitalist utopianism. Not so much by the folks who run this conference, but by many of the attendees and speakers. VC’s, you know who you are…It’s a strange thing — a push/pull between those who want to make a buck off our politics, and those who want to save our Republic. Not sure if the two are mutually exclusive…
Which was really the subtext of Johnathan Zittrain’s presentation earlier today — he pointed out the very tenuous nature of Web 2.0, stating that, for example, Wikipedia was always one hour away from complete meltdown (spambots, vandals, etc), and the only thing that keeps it floating is the hard work of dedicated individuals who feel they “own” Wikipedia. This hanging-by-a-thread-ness makes listening to the triumphilists an exercise in absurdity, as what’s need to make these technologies work is, in many cases, a “civic defense” team, like the wikipedians.
I’m not sure if technology can save our Republic. If it can create transparency, if it can enable civic defense technologies, if it can connect people, and inspire them to get involved, this crazy scheme just might work.