And The Geeks Shall Inherit the EarthMay 23rd, 2008 — idteam
Digital Natives that were born after 1980 may not realize that the actual verse says the meek shall inherit the earth. David Brooks writes today about the rise of ‘alpha geeks’ to political and economic power thanks to the information revolution. He writes:
The future historians of the nerd ascendancy will likely note that the great empowerment phase began in the 1980s with the rise of Microsoft and the digital economy. Nerds began making large amounts of money and acquired economic credibility, the seedbed of social prestige. The information revolution produced a parade of highly confident nerd moguls — Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and so on.
Nothing really new here.
However, as we have written often, the spread of easy-to-use, interactive (Web 2.0) technologies, increased Internet penetration rates and the spread of cell phones to even the poorest countries may lead to changes in the political balance of power. As Yochai Benkler writes, technology eliminates gatekeepers in media, corporations and government that formerly dictated what content was politically and culturally relevant. These technologies put decision making about what is politically salient into the hands of the individuals instead of institutions, who can then produce culture and organize themselves for political goals without the need for formal institutions or hierarchies.
This does not mean that the value of leadership has diminished. Brooks notes the rise of Internet stars like Larry Lessig and others who can lead otherwise disparate groups of geeks towards common goals. And The Atlantic also argues that this US election may result in major structural changes in how government uses technology to put more information into the hands of citizens about how government works.
Since governments are rarely hotbeds of innovation, especially in their use of technology, the best thing they can do is to automatically release more information about how the government spends its money, makes policy decisions and writes laws–including who influences those decisions. Now, the onus is on citizens to first request that information. Because of the distributed collaboration allowed by the Internet, this information (once released) can then be used by groups like the Sunlight Foundation, MapLight, Change Congress and others to sift through those records with the help of citizens and make it politically useful to the population.
If the narrative of the 1980 and 90s was the rise of Alpha geeks, the narrative of the Web 2.0 generation’s impact on politics may be Justice Brandeis’s phrase from the nearly 100 years ago–“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”