This week’s NESTA sponsored Reboot Britain conference brought together a mix of government, business, banks, technology, media people from the UK, and visitors from the USA that saw left leaning Labour/Liberal Democrat political views engage and collaborate with conservative Tory representatives. The crowd’s reaction saw the many of those who are normally distrustful of government, financial institutions and conservative politics try to mingle more with what they historically view as the “other side” of the spectrum.
Opening remarks from conservative Jeremy Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, had him lovingly embrace the Internet, new technology and the governments increasing integration of it into public services. He praised the transformative nature of new technology’s impact in delivering high quality factual content to the world from ordinary citizens, with Wikipedia, and talked about a new effort to publish and provide archives of government documents online for access to all. Hunt said that politics has been stuck in a rut toward progress, with its stance to first fight online, then ignore it, and only now begin to embrace it. People have flipped politics on its head by rushing online to express views and grassroots organizse around issues in powerful ways that have not beeen witnessed before, making for the emergence of a new movement composed of “collaborative individualism.”
“Huge change is possible with the Internet and the Internet also makes possible some very unpleasant things,” he said. “The Internet is a powerful way to connect voters and as a politician I have to engage more intelligently with my constituents.”
Hunt’s speech received mixed reaction and a bix of cheeky tweet banter from a crowd of professionals who live on the bleeding edge of the technological world, think liberally and radically, and often wonder why the conservatives, and the government, with its recent release of the Digital Britain report, have taken so long to embrace new technology that the left and leaders like Al Gore have been pushing the agenda toward for years. Now, it seems, the people have collectively forced politics to adapt or be left behind.
Visiting Reboot Britain was a digital celebrity group of Americans called the Travelling Geeks, who mingled with the guests and presented panel sessions throughout the day, including Craig Newmark, the nerd who many people feel changed the world with Craigslist.org.
“The Internet makes public service people feel they can come out of the darkness, and feel liberated and my hidden agenda is helping people in government affect change, and talk, and accelerate collaboration across the Atlantic,” he said. On the good side, most people want to be a positive influence, and on the evil side, noisy, idiotic spammers and trolls with extremist views pollute the channels of communication and need moderation to combat this ugly side.
To combat the ugly side of the Internet, people need a friendly “nudge” to do good, and regulations toward social media use among public service employees needs to be relaxed so that they can feel safe freely expressing views and using the tools to improve things, citing the example of Newmark’s favourite project FixMyStreet.
I caught up with Newmark after his talk, and you can listen to his commentary here on this Audioboo.
Pock marking the day was an insulting and demeaning panel presentation asking “Is the Web Female?” that attracted a majority of female attendants, only to sucker-punch them with horrible commentary from two of the American panelists who behaved like the scary, exclusionary popular girls in a Beverly Hills 90210 high school class. While lifestreamer Megan Asha and technology journalist Sarah Lacy may be respected digital influencers in US circles they did themselves, nor the women in the audience, any favours by describing how women behave online as being “catty, gossipy” and wanting to shop a lot. The comments provoked anger among the audience:
“Disappointed is the web female session seemingly stymied by pointless focus on imaginary gender characteristics. A waste.” tweeted @josiefraser
“A few minutes of listening to ‘is the web female’ debate and you lose the will to live.” tweeted @hollandshurst.
“Finally giving up on ‘Is the Web Female’, which is relying on a narrow, depressing & slightly weird definition of “female” tweeted @justinpickard
Panelist Joanne Jacobs balanced out the nasty catty female debate by smashing stereotype demographics and openly confessing that she often gender-switches online to allow herself more freedom with masculine-style expression. MT Rainey brought home the concept that the web is neither male or female but simply a place where humanity gathers.
The day’s closing address saw Howard Reingold outline ways to improve digital inclusion with digital literacy, and more activism.
“Boring blogs and Twitter accounts show that participating just isn’t good enough, being an active citizen is a start but from passive consumption you have to move toward participation,” he said. Reingold called for the end of crap content, miss-information, spam, porn spam and helping more people develop their own “crap detectors.”
Master of ceremonies for the day was Policy Unplugged’s Steve Moore who remarked at closing that he was thrilled to watch #rebootbritain trending above the dominant topic King of Pop Michael Jackson’s death on Twitter.
Feeling gossipy, catty and like shopping so guess I should get online and surf the Web today,