Emergent Democracy

I participated last Friday in a “happening” organized by Joi Ito on Emergent Democracy.
The “happening” was an international phone call supported by simultaneous live chat and wiki-based project space. Ross Mayfield wrote a great colophon about how we used the tools.
The simultaneous chat reduced the stress of a long-distance teleconference, and enabled a higher-bandwidth discussion. We’re using the wiki to store references and to be a persistent project space going forward.
The conversation had two main themes:
* ideas about how emergent democracy could work
* creating tools to facilitate emergent democracy.
Pete Kaminski eloquently summarizes the key conversational threads:
* what are/are there architectural rules for emergent group-forming?
* how does weak tie/strong tie connectivity create emergent intelligence?
* learn from town meetings, mass media, talk radio, blogspace
* need to have local goals, but scalability as goals slide around themselves
There’s a version of the discussion that I find exciting and promising, and a version that I find troubling and less credible.
I’m excited to experiment with tools and techniques to help groups form, to amplify the signals from distributed groups, and to help groups move from discussion to action.
I’m a lot more wary about approaches that assume that political action will somehow “emerge naturally” from distributed groups of individual actors, in the same way that flocks of birds emerge naturally from simple behaviors to follow at a given distance and preserve line of sight, and termite mounds emerge naturally from termites dropping the next grain of sand near where they stumbled onto a grain of sand on the ground.
Human governing behaviors at the level of complexity required to implement systems like coalitions and policies and constitutions don’t happen automatically. People make them happen.
Networking tools and technologies can lower the activation threshold for starting groups, taking action, and combining into larger groups of influence.
Emergent Democracy won’t happen unless we — the node in the network — take delibrate steps to organize and make it happen.
The project space for follow-on work is here.

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