A couple big updates for you; one professional, one more personal. You can read down and get the personal, but in keeping with how my life has been going for the past six or eight months, the personal comes first.
So I went to the Personal Democracy Conference and I was sort of bored. There interesting things transpire, but at the same time nothing really happens. I probably shouldn't say that, but I don't think I was the target audience for the thing, so I don't think I'll be hurting anyones feelings by being brutally honest.
I've heard all this before, only now more "important people" are saying it. The words I believe in are there, but they mouth them without passion. It sounds like politics as usual. It feels corporate. That this is a kind of progress I have no doubt, but the magic is gone. The little moments that peek through are good, but I don't know what to make of all this. It's the feeling I got the other week at the Tank -- the same surreal feeling of hearing what sounds like a self-echo -- but much more strong, and kinda unpleasent.
It makes me feel illegitimate. All the words are here, the words that I believe in, but little of the understanding and no one with passion. There are parts and people where it feels close; but there's a lot of resistence and a lot of faking it. The powers that be fear change. The redistribution of power isn't going to be a completely smooth process. It rarely is.
But few people were there pushing the revolution. Trippi did a good Trippi, talking up the future, but most of the others from the Dean camp were reflective or subdued. They had a chat screen behind the panel for some of the sessions, which provided some good live moments (technical difficulties aside) but what came through more than helpful contextual information was frustration. We're not hitting it yet. There's an elephant in the room that everyone can sense; but everyone is also blind, so no one knows what it is. I certainly don't have the answers.
The organizers should be commended. Such a conference, not to mention such a format, is a bold experiment. My sense is that it's difficult to talk about the emerging union between politics and technology without moving rapidly to tactics, to specifics and plans of action. It's also difficult to have a conference on something that's just emerging, that nobody really understands. The real players and honest minds will admit that they are inside something that is in flux, that they understand little and that nothing is fixed. The more hackish will step up act like they know. One kind tends to go on a panel more than another, tends to talk more, tends to dominate the atmosphere some.
A perfect example; David Weinberger was there, so wonderfully open honest about it all. I quipped to him in the lobby that I was glad he brought his "authentic human voice," and I don't know if he knew I was being sincere but I was. He's my McLuhan, a father (or at least kindly uncle) to the movement, and he's one of the few voices up there that I felt was actually and honestly attempting to grapple with the moment.
But as I said, the organizers should be commended. It's quite a thing, to bring all these folks together. Someday maybe I'll get to be one of the guys on the stage. That would be fun. I like talking to an audience.
As with most conferences, the real action was on the margins; in the cocktail reception and food-getting afterwards. I got another chance to goof around with Matt Stoller, who I now realize reminds me amazingly of Chris Wild. I got to talk a little more with Micah, Rob, Britt and Joe, who I think of as my grown-up allies and co-revolutionaries. I got to meet some great people from Indyvoter (attractive and almost San Franciscan Niana) and Billionares for Bush (adventurous and honest Andrew). Justin Krebs from the Tank put me in touch with a bunch of good people. I saw some familiar friendly faces from the Digital Democracy Teach-In. I shook an elected officials hand. I got to say hi to Matt Gross, who I had kind of avoided before because I didn't know if he knew who I was. Finally I got to drink a nice tall drink with Jay Rosen, who gave us some good hustorical analysis and a some excellent vocabulary to weild.
It's more social connections than you can ever use at one time, but I think the theory is that you're panning for gold, and everyone knows that most of the folks there are silt; and we're ok with that. Some good will come of this. The cause of humanity was advanced.