Last year, we posed a very simple question: Is Personal Democracy Forum For Me? And this year, that question is being answered directly. Today, we celebrated the first day of the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) with inspiring talks and panels that showed how technology can improve government — and, in turn, our individual lives.
While we may be growing as a technological society, our government still has a long way to go to catch up. How can we use the technology that we have to improve our government? Our community? Our selves? As Robin Carnahan brought up, those who work in the tech sector (through government or otherwise) are woken up in the middle of the night worried about technology. If our websites are the “front door” to our offices, we need them to be accessible and open at all times to make sure we’re doing the work that needs to be done. And that’s exactly what PDF is exploring.
So where do we start? Kristin Soltis Anderson called up Hirschman’s theory on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty to show how everyone — including conservatives like her — can and should embrace civic tech. Using SimCity 2000 as an example, she showed how there are no exits or voices in the public sector. If we look at SimCity as a model for our government, we can see how to get the people to “love” us, to be happy, and to interact and improve our communities. But we need technology to leverage that, giving the people an option and a voice in government.
And then there was Alia McKee, whose inspiring talk on compassion (and subsequent dance of compassion) reminded us that, when it really comes down to it, what matters most is caring for each other — and for one’s own self. She wrapped up our morning session by inspiring us all to say no to our inner critic and to remember that we are capable of great things.
Finally, we wrapped up the PDF Speaker Series on Day One with none other than Danah Boyd, of Microsoft Research and Data and Society (which she founded). Danah explored how we can use technology to further our efforts in society. Technology, she says, comes at a cost. What, for example, is the environmental cost of all the open data we host blindly on the web? What is the cost of lazy and shoddy code on internet infrastructure? And, most importantly, are we paying attention to how our technology impacts everyone?
After two hours of breakout sessions, exploring everything from digital dystopias to civic features to Donald Trump, we see how the digital landscape is changing. As leaders in tech, PDF is inspiring us to bring tech straight to the people, for the people — isn’t that what civic tech is really all about? And we’re ready for another day of insightful, people-focused talks.