Make the government work like the Internet

Today I got to watch a 12-minute talk that Jennifer Pahlka held for TED, often a great inspiration to me, and perhaps many others of you. It thrilled me, and I want to share it here on SGI, because it is truly enlightening for our actions as digital citizens.

The incipit of the speech is as follows. Yes you can make the government [of a city or a country, NdT] work as if it were the Internet, without permission and openly? Coder and activist Jennifer Pahlka believes it can, and that apps, built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments and their own neighbors.

The last 2 generations master the web almost natively, for them it is not difficult to imagine of work together for a common goal, precisely due to the very nature of the media they use the most: digital networks. Internet, its vocation, its architecture therefore constitutes the best solution to do things together, to solve problems collectively. You just have to design these solutions in the right way.

So-called digital natives don't need to ask permission to speak, they just do it, taking advantage of every channel that the internet makes available, from social networks to blogs. Often they are screams against someone, against something, often against the government and politics.

But many of them are people who also use their hands to build applications, which they can improve the governance and management actions of a city, and which in turn will allow all citizens to use their hands to shovel snow from a fire hydrant in Boston, or check that tsunami sirens are working properly in Honolulu, or even report piles of garbage in Naples (links).

These applications, these little “digital memos” – as Pahlka calls them – they remind us that we are not just consumers for the government, users of services in exchange for taxes, but above all we are citizens. And we can never improve the government if not we will improve the concept of citizenship, if we don't put some of our cognitive surplus at the service of the common good.

I want to share with you an old love at first sight: Clay Shirky expressing the concept of "cognitive surplus". That is, the free time that remains after work and the daily menage, often at the end of our days. The time advancer, as we call it among fellow co-authors of blog where I write. We each choose what to do with them, from seemingly trivial hobbies to volunteering. If you feel like it and have time, I suggest you also look at it his talk here.

But let's go back to Jennifer Pahlka, with the last important question she addresses to the audience: when we are all called to do one great thing together, we are just a crowd of voices, of screams, or can we also be a crowd of hands that operate, that act, that contribute to solving everyday problems?

In fact, it is necessary change the now old paradigm that we have of Government. It's not something to hate, for which to feel frustrated: it's raining, thieving government! A government, in its essence, represents what we can all do together, but we can't do alone says Jennifer.

Politics can hardly ever change, we have proof of this in this historic moment here in Italy. What can change, however, is precisely the way of governing. But only if each of us, as a citizen, feels that he can do it with his own voice, with his own hands, writing an application perhaps based on open public data, or even simply using it, to improve things, for oneself and for others.

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