Archive for September 21st, 2004

Accelerating Change Conference

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

Official conference site

I think I’m going to sign up to go to this conference on Accelerating Change at Stanford in early November. It’s only $350 if I sign up before September 30, and $300 if I take advantage of the discount listed here. Looks like it could be pretty interesting – some potentially interesting speakers, from Doug Engelbart to David Brin to Will Wright to Dan Gillmor. It looks like an opportunity for good conversations.

The Accelerating Change folks are interesting. I ran into them for the first time at Burning Man in 2000, where they were hosting daily discussions about various future-oriented topics. Had some thoughtful conversations with them, often playing devil’s advocate to their technology-oriented singularitarian extropian point of view. Didn’t think much more of it, until I started getting email a while later from them, as they started to put together an institute to study the impact of accelerating change on society. And then I started going to these future salons and found out that Mark Finnern, the organizer, started them in response to meeting the Accelerating Change folks. And now they’ve put together this conference, for the second year running, with relatively low conference fees, and a pretty interesting lineup of speakers. Even more amazing is the fact that most of the speakers have apparently agreed to waive their speaking fee in order to keep costs low. Neat stuff. I feel like I should support them. It’s really cool that they started off with a dream, and they’re putting it into action, and making it happen, as Mark Finnern reflects at the end of this post. It’s inspiring, really.

Anyway, you should come to the conference if you’re interested in such things. Heck, several of the people reading this probably qualify as potential presenters – I think the organizers may still be looking for speakers, although the schedule looks pretty packed at this point. And, no, I’m not getting any kickback for this invite, although I am thinking about volunteering at the conference itself. Yeah.

Extreme Democracy at Future Salon

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

I went to the Future Salon on Extreme Democracy last week. Some really interesting stuff was discussed. The Future Salon weblog has a full description with links, so I’ll just add my couple thoughts.

I really really like what Zack Rosen is doing over at CivicSpace. By making it easier for grass roots groups to hook up and exchange information, he’s building the infrastructure tools necessary for a new kind of bottom-up democracy that lets the best ideas bubble to the top. While I like the idea of representative democracy, it becomes hard to deliver when the representation is so coarse; in a discussion over at livejournal in response to one of my posts, doing the math made me realize that a House representative represents close to 600,000 people. That seems like far too big of a group to represent. Yet 435 Representatives in the House is already too many to have a substantive discussion. Over in that discussion, we posited the existence of something like “fractal democracy” where you have representatives of relatively small groups get together and hash things out, and then have a representative of that group go up to the next level, where it’s the same self-similar structure all the way up. And tools like CivicSpace are the way to enable such a thing. Very neat stuff.

I was also surprised by how much I liked the talk by Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute. Words like co-intelligence set off triggers in my brain of hippie new-age sentimentality, but Atlee concentrated on one key point, which is that discussions among different people often lead to better decisions. Just the very act of bringing people together who disagree can generate new and surprising solutions to old problems, as he outlines in this article. What struck me about his talk, which he outlines here, was that such deliberations allow for a new and better democracy. I lamented about democracy recently, partially based on the tendency that “When pollsters ask people for their opinion about an issue, people generally feel obliged to have one.” Given that such questions from pollsters are always framed multiple choice questions, it can lead to some pretty dumb choices. By giving citizens a forum in which they can discuss what they are actually looking for, rather than forcing them to choose among several ill-suited options, we could improve the feedback loop to government, which will hopefully lead to better decisions. It’s a way out of the bi-modal thinking that is so cognitively dangerous and limiting. A pollster asking “Are you for or against tax relief?” shuts down all other options. But in a dialogue, I could expand on my answer and say “Sure, I want lower taxes, but I also want better schools and transportation. I’m fine with the level of my taxes, but I’d like my taxes to be better spent, less on ridiculous boondoggle pork barrel defense contracts, and more on my local community.” It will be really interesting to see how Atlee’s focus on dialogue and mediation will cross-pollinate with the technology community represented by Zack Rosen at CivicSpace and Ross Mayfield at Socialtext.

It makes me want to get involved somehow. Need to start building up those tools, learning Perl, setting up a web server, etc. One step at a time.

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