I recently watched “Inception” again, a film considered Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpiece, in which Leonardo DiCaprio and his peers enter people’s minds and “steer” reality the way they wish. To be quite honest, I am not particularly enchanted by the character development in the movie, but there is something haunting about their ability to go beyond boundaries of the mind and create new spaces, new universes. All of a sudden, it seems that sometimes one doesn’t have to develop characters to convey the message. But is that really so? In the movie, and in real life, innovation comes in the form of expansion of mental space (conscious and subconscious) and new technologies. It seems that one cannot be achieved without the other.
I find “Inception” to be a good starting point for a short note about last week’s Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), an annual conference that this year brought together about seven hundred politicians, social activists, and evangelists of new technologies to move the frontiers of our minds and discuss new ways to address traditionally problematic issues such as community organizing, money in politics, campaigning, and voter mapping, but also how to confront new obstacles of contemporary social research, make money by focusing more on segments of population most active online, or explore the potential of new technologies and social media in China.
The two-day conference was divided into plenary sessions, where progressive online organizers, data analysts and strategists presented on the role of modern technologies in our daily lives, and individual workshops sponsored by various leading institutions, foundations, and companies in the world of modern technologies, such as Omidyar Network (disclaimer, Omidyar Network is a Global Integrity donor), Harvard Institute of Politics, Mozilla and Microsoft. The sessions included the following topics: “we” government (emphasizing the role of the public in decision-making processes), politics of 2012, Internet freedom, global view (examples new technologies around the world), and online organizing and campaigning.
Participants in the conference clearly knew what they wanted – innovations that make our world a better place to live in. In particular, participants want innovations that make our daily activities easier, completed in shorter time with less space (physical and online).
For an organization like Global Integrity, working on the cutting-edge of new technologies and transparency and accountability, PDF was an exciting event where we were able to share our thoughts with colleagues from various fields who are determined to produce high-quality end products. This year’s PDF once again reminded us that we could always go beyond what we know at any given moment.
Some of the more impressive ideas and tools that we brought back home included consumer organizing by SumOfUs.org, who showed us how to use new technologies for advocacy purposes, ways to build on the fact that minorities and women use the social media more than the Caucasian and male population (presented very emotionally by the fantastic Cheryl Contee), or Flackcheck.org’s impressive online tool to check the various misleading campaign advertising. On the margins of the event, Labels & Lists presented their VoterMapping project, which makes it possible to look into individual households and see a breakdown of political party preferences for each member of the household – truly impressive!
While new ideas and technologies are important and can be very useful, they do not necessarily result in tangible universal human progress. I saw the biggest value of the conference in the idea that progress is possible and effective only in so far as new technologies and ideas that aid it come hand in hand with the understanding that many communities still are deprived of a good Internet connection, are confronted with racism and sexism, or are crippled by corruption, all of which do not allow for ideas and technologies to flourish or bear fruits. The development of new ideas and understanding need time to take roots.
PDF offered many fantastic ideas that reminded participants from various fields of our common responsibility to address these challenges. And to be able to do so, like in the movie, we need new ideas and technologies and good character development for all participants on this journey defined by public engagement, social research and modern technology, and PDF certainly plays an important role in this. Is it inception time with technology in our dreams? Maybe not yet, but certainly a step in that direction…
— Marko Tomicic
— Image Credit: Marko Tomicic