Amazing set of speakers at the plenary this morning at PDF.
Doug Rushkoff, the author of Open Source Democracy, opened the session. He gave a passionate denunciation of the oxymoron of putting the ideas of “personal” and “democracy” together. Going back to the origins of the notion of the individual in the Renaissance, Rushkoff explained that the rights of the individual reduce a sense of community and inevitably to more centralized, and powerful, government.
This was reinforced in the last century era of top-down media that mythologized the idea that people as individuals are powerful and that they don’t need one another to collaborate to solve problems. We gave problem-solving away to others — elected officials, broadcasters, corporations — in this model.
The apex of this model is the idea of “branding.” In Rushkoff’s words, “The brand doesn’t want us engaged with one another , it wants us engaged with it.” Hmmm, fightin’ words for Millennials who are very engaged with and confident in the social responsibility of various brands.
Rushkoff wasn’t totally negative, and said that new social media can create the conditions by which we can finally do things for one another in local, place-based communities.
The next speaker was Morley Winegrad, the author of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics. He gave a great overview of the demographics of Millennials and their idealism which we here at Social Citizens know well.
Where we diverged was that Morley is very optimistic about Millennial participation in government and public policy beyond voting. His belief is rooted in a historical perspective of civic change generations like the Greatest Generation, the Civil War generation that preceded them. I’m not as optimistic based on the data that informed the Social Citizens paper. Worth another conversation.
Finally, Larry Lessig, professor at Stanford Law School, presented. If you’ve never seen Larry present, it’s a must-see — like the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal. He gave a very persuasive presentation on the history of corruption in the U.S. government and the grave threats to us now. I don’t have a video link for his presentation this morning, but you can see the way he presents here.